Sen. Mark Warner wants to make it easier for contract and freelance workers to get benefits, as they often can't sign up for health care or retirement plans through their employers. The Virginia Democrat introduced a bill on Thursday that would establish a portable benefits pilot program for people who don't work a traditional full-time job.
Roughly 35% of the U.S. workforce was freelance in 2016, according to an Upwork and Freelancers Union survey. So there's a large chunk of the population that could benefit from an alternative benefits plan. "The nature of work is changing rapidly, but our policies largely remain tied to a 20th century model of traditional full-time employment," Sen. Warner said in a press release.
His legislation, titled the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act, would create a $20 million grant fund within the U.S. Department of Labor to incentivize nonprofits and local governments to set up portable benefit programs. Essentially, the programs would allow employers and employees to both put money into a fund going toward employees' health care and retirement benefits that would stay with employees regardless of where they work.
The bill doesn't specify how employers would be encouraged to participate.
However, it does dictate that the programs would have to focus on more than just retirement benefits and the Department of Labor would favor the ones with the potential to be used on a national scale when granting funds.
Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene introduced its sister legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, saying in the same press release, "Whether you make a living through mobile car services or by selling crafts online, workers deserve access to benefits."
The Freelancers Union, as well as executives from Lyft and Postmates, praised the bill. Postmates CEO and Co-Founder Bastian Lehmann tweeted his support for Sen. Warner on Thursday, writing that he welcomes a national discussion on ways to balance contractors' flexibility with economic certainty portable benefits would allow.
The bill was just introduced in both the House and the Senate, so it still has a ways to go before becoming law. And since both branches of Congress are controlled by Republicans, Democrats would have to rally a lot of GOP support in order to push it through.