AUGUSTA — Senator Chip Curry, D-Belfast, introduced Wednesday a bill to help self-employed workers and independent contractors in Maine by creating an unemployment system to help them during an economic downturn.
LD 425, “Resolve, Directing the Department of Labor To Establish a State Unemployment Program for Self-employed Workers and Independent Contractors,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted serious gaps within our unemployment system. Traditionally, our state unemployment insurance provides temporary employer-funded benefits to eligible individuals who have lost their job through no fault of their own and are actively seeking work,” said Sen. Curry. “However, here in Maine we also have a sizable population of people who are gig workers, self-employed or independent contractors. Through no fault of their own, many of these people saw dramatic decreases in work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they didn’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.”
LD 425 directs the Maine Department of Labor to create an unemployment compensation system for self-employed workers and independent contractors.
In Maine, unincorporated self-employed workers make up 10 percent of the state’s labor force, compared with six percent nationally; in Sen. Curry’s district of Waldo County, self-employed workers and independent contractors make up 17.4 percent of the workforce, according to a news release.
To help workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government created Pandemic Unemployment Assistance through the CARES Act, which provides unemployment coverage for self-employed workers and others not formally covered by state unemployment insurance. This program has been incredibly beneficial to Mainers, with more than 109,000 initial claims filed.
“Self-employed Mainers exist in all areas of our economy: They include lobstermen, landscapers, entertainers, massage therapists, salon owners, accountants, child care providers and so many more. Small businesses and self-employed people are essential to the innovative, thriving and vibrant economy we want for our state,” said Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, who cosponsored the bill. “Just as we believe traditional unemployment insurance has value for individuals and for our society, the past year has shown us that there is also value in lending this support for other independent workers – consultants and contractors, as well as sole proprietors and micro-business owners. This growing and diverse segment of our workforce should not and cannot continue to be excluded from our safety net programs.”
Sen. Joseph Baldacci of Penobscot County and Rep. Scott Cuddy of Winterport are other cosponsors.
LD 425 faces further action in committee. As an emergency measure, the bill would take effect immediately upon becoming law.