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Uber, Lyft drivers report delays in receiving unemployment benefits

Uber, Lyft drivers report delays in receiving unemployment benefits
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Some drivers for Uber and Lyft who have lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic are accusing the ride-hailing firms of slow-walking unemployment benefits, though the companies say they are working with states to deliver financial assistance to drivers.

Ruthie Como, a Florida-based Uber driver, told CBS News she applied for unemployment at the end of March and was unable to obtain a phone number for the state to use to verify her previous employment, telling her to instead use the general service number. She said she was rejected for benefits when that number was not recognized.

"I've told Uber support this a few times, and have [been] given the same answer: 'This is the only number we have at this time, [unemployment insurance] can call us to verify your status with us,'" Como told CBS.

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Kristie Contine, who drove full time for Lyft in San Diego, said she applied for benefits March 25 and that a customer service rep for the company refused to provide her quarterly earnings for her to enter into the unemployment app.

When she calculated her income herself using the Lyft app, Contine said she was told about 10 days later that she was not entitled to any money.

"You're thinking this whole time, 'I'm good!' And you open it up and it says, 'You will get zero dollars,'" she told CBS.

"Not one person I know has received an actual [unemployment insurance] check," Steve Johnson, who drove full time for both Uber and Lyft until mid-March and runs the driver resource UberLyftDrivers.com, told the network. Johnson partnered with former Uber operations manager David Pickerell to create an online calculator to assist drivers in checking the status of their benefits.

The economic crisis has intensified the debate over whether drivers for ride-hailing services should be considered independent contractors or employees, and more than 1,800 Uber drivers in New York have signed a petition asking the company to release earnings data to the Empire State’s labor department.

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"Uber has failed to provide the New York State Department of Labor with the wage data necessary to process driver claims quickly, heartlessly delaying payouts that drivers need to feed our families in a time of crisis," they wrote.

The companies have pointed to their states’ unemployment systems for the delays, saying they are working to provide assistance to drivers.

"We're working with states across the country to help them get the data they need to process Pandemic Unemployment Assistance applications quickly. We're seeing states move toward a streamlined application process that we think will help those who are self-employed, so drivers can self-certify their eligibility and income," a Lyft spokesperson told The Hill.

"We strongly advocated for independent workers to be included in the CARES Act; now we want to help drivers and delivery people get this financial assistance through their state governments. Millions of people have lost their livelihoods and are applying for aid, creating an unprecedented challenge for states to get this support to everyone who needs it, including independent workers," an Uber spokesperson told The Hill. "That’s why we’re launching online guides in all 50 states to keep drivers and delivery people updated and give them what they need to apply for government aid when and where it's available. We will continue to update these guides as we learn more from each state about their process."