Notably, the $100 weekly benefit provided in the new package is less than the $125 benefit that would have been provided under the HEROES Act, which passed in the House of Representatives but stalled out in the Senate. It is also more of a band-aid than a cure: Rather than correcting for the flaw in the CARES Act that led to the mixed-earner issue in the first place, it merely provides a small additional benefit to those who fall victim to it.
"We were hoping that all of the wages that a mixed earner earned would have been calculated to qualify them for a bigger benefit [in the new bill]," Freelancers Union president Rafael Espinal tells Billboard. "[But] it seems like this is the compromise Democrats are able to get from the Republicans."
While the $100 weekly benefit is certainly an improvement on the current situation for mixed earners and has earned praise from a number of music organizations, Espinal is concerned by a provision in the bill that allows states to opt out of providing it -- another capitulation, in his estimation, to congressional Republicans. "We are confident that states like New York and California will do the right thing, being that they're left-leaning states," he says, "but we do have independent workers and freelancers in states like Texas and Florida, [and] we're concerned whether or not those governors will choose to adopt the language of the new bill."
Additionally, with both the $100 benefit and the $300 in enhanced federal unemployment aid slated to expire in mid-March, freelance workers stand to see their earnings fall off a cliff once again unless Congress passes an extension.
"The saddest thing is that we have a huge portion of this country's workforce who are living on edge every single day, wondering whether they'll be able to get back to work or whether the government will do the right thing and provide them with the relief they need until the economy bounces back," Espinal adds. "And until Congress is able to come back and provide that reassurance, we're gonna continue to see a lot of anxiety and a lot of a lot of concern across the entire independent workforce."
Ari Herstand, co-founder of Independent Music Professionals United (IMPU), also feels the mixed earner benefit included in the new bill doesn’t go far enough. “I appreciate the acknowledgement, but the additional $100 for mixed earners doesn't come close to what's needed in this moment,” says Herstand. Part of the problem, he says, is the lack of a strong collective voice among the freelance/mixed earner community.
“The only reason that mixed earners really got on [Congress’] radar [this time] was because the entire music industry came together,” says Herstand, noting current labor laws do not allow gig workers to officially unionize. “That's no easy feat to rally all these various patchwork organizations together within a massive industry who sometimes don't necessarily see eye to eye on a lot of other issues.”
Herstand hopes the incoming Biden administration will begin listening to the needs of freelance workers and take steps to allow them real lobbying power in Washington.
“With unions, there's infrastructure, and they're paid to actually fight the battles of their constituents and their members,” adds Herstand. “It's hard to ask regular gig workers who are just trying to get by and scrape a living to put in the time necessary to lobby representatives.”