Coronavirus: Financial assistance for Uber and Lyft drivers? That depends

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Coronavirus: Financial assistance for Uber and Lyft drivers? That depends
The federal stimulus bill expanded unemployment benefits to include self-employed and gig workers. But California is delaying benefits until it sets up new guidelines.

ELK GROVE, Calif. (KGO) -- Orlando Mims is a dedicated Uber driver. Some would even call him extreme. He estimates he drove about 200 miles a day working for Uber.

We first met Mims a year ago during our week looking at ride-hailing services as part of ABC7's Building a Better Bay Area coverage.

Mims, who did not want to be identified at the time, let us follow him for an entire day.

"I will run probably until 12, one o'clock this afternoon," he said in March of 2019. "So that would be nine straight hours. Then I will shut down, take a break, then probably around six I will start again and work until 10 o'clock tonight."

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He would sleep in his car and repeat this grueling schedule for weeks at a time before finally going home to the Sacramento area. It allowed him to maximize his earning.

But when COVID-19 hit the Bay Area, he was having a hard time finding passengers.

"There was no work," Mims said of his efforts to find work last month. "I was driving all the way around San Francisco, Downtown, Embarcadero, North Beach. I stayed online for 12 hours and made $23."

It's a reality Uber embraced in its latest ad. It thanks passengers for not riding Uber and staying home. But staying home means lost income for ride-hailing drivers.

Mims is staying home, too. Even if he wanted to drive for Uber, he can't. He got sick last month.

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"I ended up going to the emergency room. I had a 104 temperature and they put me under a 14-day quarantine. I had to notify Uber on that and they ended up cutting me offline for safety reasons," said Mims from his house in Elk Grove.

That put him in a financial dark hole. Contract workers don't typically qualify for unemployment insurance, but the federal stimulus bill changed that. The CARES Act temporarily made self-employed and gig workers eligible for unemployment insurance.

Uber also promised to help. Mims filed all the claims he could and waited. Uber was the first to come through.

"They gave me assistance and they gave it to me right away," said Mims as he looked at a message on his phone. "They put it right into my account."

In a strange way, he's lucky he got sick. An Uber spokesperson told ABC7 News that financial assistance is only being made available for some drivers.

"On March 6, we announced a financial assistance package for drivers and delivery people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 or had been ordered to self-quarantine or self-isolate by a doctor or public health authority because they were at risk of spreading the disease," said the spokesperson.

Uber calculates aid based on a driver's average weekly earnings for the six months preceding March 6. Lyft has been less clear about the aid it is providing. It states it is making payments between $250 and $1,000 to drivers affected by COVID-19, but is giving little details as to the criteria it is using to determine the amount.

An Uber spokesperson hinted that more aid may become available. "As this pandemic continues to evolve, our policy will continue to evolve, too, so we can help support as many of those who are driving and delivering food as possible," a spokesperson stated. The company says it has given out three million dollars in aid in the United States alone.

All that sacrifice of sleeping in his car paid off for Mims in this instance. He is getting $2,800 dollars split into two payments.

Now, he's waiting on unemployment insurance.

"You have to go online to file for unemployment. I have not received a letter yet, so I don't know if I am going to get it," said Mims.

The CARES Act left states scrambling to set up new criteria for self-employed workers. On its website, California's Employment Development Department is asking self-employed and gig workers to wait for instructions before applying for benefits.

"Because this is a brand new program, each state will need time to develop all of the necessary system programming, forms, processes, and procedures. This page will be updated as information becomes available, including when and how to apply for these benefits," states the EDD website.

Mims hopes to get a stimulus check too. He figures he can survive several months with aid, but worries about this dragging on.

"Nobody knows when things will get back to normal," said Mims. "What if this goes all the way into August."

For more information about unemployment benefits for self-employed and contract workers, visit the California Employment Development Department's website.

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