Outdated laws prevent gig economy workers from getting benefits. This pilot program shows the path forward

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Even with unemployment declining and wages rising, millions of people in America still need extra money to feel financially secure—whether because of increasing prices, unexpected expenses, or just the complexities of everyday life. In the gig economy, more than 7 million Americans are taking advantage of opportunities to supplement their income at the push of an app’s button. While innovation has opened new doors for workers, it also requires policymakers and the private sector to rethink how we support workers, especially when it comes to essential benefits.

Policymakers in the Beltway and state capitals across the country are struggling to find a solution that works for everyone, with the loudest voices often blocking progress. One state is offering a roadmap for others to consider: Pennsylvania.

There have always been trade-offs when it comes to work. Full-time employees may get company-sponsored benefits, but most have little flexibility in their work lives. Part-time employees don’t get benefits or flexibility. Independent contractors choose when and where they want to work and which jobs to do, but our outdated laws discourage companies from offering benefits to those workers.

There is a better path. With the support of Governor Josh Shapiro, DoorDash is taking action. We recently launched a six-month portable benefits savings pilot program that will allow Pennsylvanians who meet an earnings threshold on our platform in the next few months to receive extra money from DoorDash toward benefits.

Our vision for this program—and the future of work more broadly—is guided by three core ideas.

First, benefits should be proportional. Work more, earn more. A person who works just a few hours per week might not qualify for benefits, whereas a person working 15 hours per week will get some, and a person working 25 hours per week will get more. Indeed, the freedom to spend as little or as much time as they choose is one of the most appealing aspects of flexible work, and benefits should be allocated accordingly.

Second, benefits should be flexible. Those participating in the pilot program can use deposits as they see fit, whether for retirement, paid time off, or health, vision, or dental insurance. Many people already have health insurance through their full-time job, a spouse, or a parent. Different needs call for options, not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Finally, benefits should be portable, meaning they stay with the individual who earns them, rather than being tied to the company. Linking benefits to employment is challenging, as anyone who has lost a job—and the benefits that come with it—has experienced. According to a Gallup survey, one in six workers have remained in jobs they might otherwise leave for fear of losing their health benefits. If anyone wants to leave our platform for weeks or months at a time, the benefits they have earned should stick with them.

Pennsylvania has blazed a trail of progress, from steel mills to robotics labs, and it can be an ideal testing ground for this program. Gov. Shapiro has demonstrated that he is committed to making tangible progress for all workers.

Ultimately, this is a pilot. It represents a starting point. But we hope it shows that we can simultaneously empower people to work the way they choose, allow them to access benefits, and keep services affordable. Pennsylvania is taking strides so that workers can be more empowered to choose the way they want to work, without sacrificing their security. Let’s hope others take note and follow suit.

But one thing is clear: Independent work is here to stay. App-based platforms contributed more than $212 billion to the U.S. economy in 2022, a number poised to double by the end of the decade.

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935, the country was at a similar crossroads. As people lived longer and migrated to hubs of economic activity, the old ways of providing for workers needed an update. 

Nearly a century later, we face a similar situation, and a similar need for action.

Max Rettig is the head of public policy at DoorDash.

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