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Lexi Gervis, PhD

May 24, 2022

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Public Benefits Are Missing the Mark for One-Third of the Workforce. Here’s What We Can Do

Public Benefits Are Missing the Mark for One-Third of the Workforce. Here’s What We Can Do

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons learned from the pandemic is that our country’s infrastructure is not prepared for an onslaught of the unknown, especially when it comes to public benefits. While there  have been attempts from both sides of the political spectrum to structure policy that helps constituents, the struggle to deliver assistance to those who need it, when they need it, remains.

One of the populations that has been hit the hardest by this lack of infrastructure is the gig workforce (non-traditional gig and contract workers like app-based, farm, freelance, and domestic workers), which accounts for one-third of the workforce today, and is growing. While policy was rolled out to extend unemployment benefits to this sector for the first time in 2020, for most states, it was a huge delivery challenge: states struggled to verify non-traditional income, and compared to W-2 employees, these workers had a more difficult time producing the documentation required for approval.

“Despite the fact that an estimated 57.3 million U.S. workers are in non-traditional employment relationships, our systems are still not designed to serve them—and we aren’t keeping up with the pace of change,” says Adrian Haro, CEO of the Workers Lab, in a recent Real Clear Policy op-ed. “Automating the process of verifying income can have a transformative impact on economic mobility in this country.” 

This problem isn’t exclusive to unemployment benefits in times of economic crisis – emergency benefits, SNAP, Medicaid and other programs are also struggling to provide equal access to benefits for this new and growing workforce in an efficient manner. 

In March, Haro testified in front of the U.S. House Congressional Subcommittee on Government Operations with ways the government can combat improper payments, while also better supporting states in delivering these services.  

“So many of the ways that we serve and take care of workers in this country are outdated and exclusive,” he explained. His challenge to the government was to: 

  • Use its resources to evaluate potential technology solutions and support states that want to test them, providing funding and advice so that states can take advantage of innovation; 
  • Establish policy guidelines and requirements across federal agencies that incentivize states to adopt more innovative worker-centered technologies; and
  • Share best practices and successful technologies across states, and help solutions be adopted at scale through funding and other incentives.

The automation Haro has spoken and written about isn’t just hypothetical. In partnership with The Workers Lab, Steady (developer of a fintech app used by more than five million gig workers) created the only income verification solution for the non-traditional workforce, first put into practice to solve unemployment benefit challenges in Louisiana and Alabama in 2021. The solution not only provides more access and equity for gig workers, but also bolsters the integrity of benefit programs. Haro’s testimony stated that in Louisiana, Steady’s data found that 90% of unemployment applicants who did not complete their income passport either would not have qualified at all or were identified as fraudulent.  

The success of the income verification tool, along with successful partnerships with Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and municipalities across the country, fueled the formal launch of SteadyIQ, a product suite used by the public sector, businesses, and NGOs for real-time data and insights into this workforce, unlocking opportunity in part by verifying non-traditional income—reducing administrative time and burden, increasing equity, reducing fraud, and improving outcomes. 

In practice, this means that state agencies can automate income verifications of non-traditional workers by integrating their systems with the SteadyIQ technology (click here to watch a 4-minute video explaining the technology and efficiencies it can help state agencies realize). Not only do gig workers have quicker access to benefits thanks to the real-time data integration, but the technology helps ensure that only those workers who legitimately qualify for benefits are approved to receive them. 

For more information on SteadyIQ, visit steadyiq.com/.

For more information on The Workers Lab and how they are helping workers succeed through new ideas, check out theworkerslab.com.

About the Author

Lexi Gervis, PhD is an economic sociologist who has conducted extensive research on benefits for non-standard workers, low-wage work, income volatility, and the institutional transmission of inequality. Since completing her doctoral work on portable benefits, Lexi has turned her attention to the private sector, working with tech start-ups focused on improving financial outcomes for non-standard workers. Formerly the Head of Policy at Catch, a portable benefits platform, she is currently the Director of Public Sector & NGO Engagement at Steady, a platform designed to improve the earnings potential and income stability of its 5+ million members. At Steady, Lexi coordinates efforts with state and federal leaders on benefits’ access, leads the platform’s impact work on guaranteed income, and manages collaborations with think tanks and research institutes on Steady’s broader policy goals.

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