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Las Vegas gig economy workers find financial lifelines

Updated March 28, 2020 - 11:34 am

Joshua Domsky is an Uber driver. But there hasn’t been anybody to drive around.

Emily-Kate Niskey, a brand ambassador, has been out of work since all the trade shows cancelled their upcoming conferences.

And Sarah Skidmore, who paints houses, isn’t seeing any business come in as people practice social distancing.

Three Las Vegas area gig economy workers are just some of thousands finding financial lifelines in different places, including Friday’s passage of the $2 trillion stimulus bill, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Securities Act, that will for the first time extend unemployment benefits to independent contractors.

The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation estimates about 83,000 self employed workers in the state, based on census data.

Domsky started working for Uber at the end of last year and things were going great, he said, until the pandemic hit. Ride-share requests tapered off as residents opted to stay home. It “ruined my income,” he said.

When Domsky heard the stimulus bill was likely to be approved by the Senate Wednesday, he went to the state’s unemployment insurance website and said he’s now waiting to see if he’s approved for unemployment benefits.

Waiting list

But with the Labor Department already reporting Thursday U.S. jobless claims soaring to a record 3.28 million, Las Vegan and independent contractor Niskey said she and her husband still are looking at other options for income.

She isn’t counting on the unemployment system being able to handle the influx in claims.

Those trying to claim unemployment in Las Vegas already have reported difficulty filing a claim.

And last week, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation saw the most unemployment insurance claims in state history — 92,298 for the week ending March 21.

“I try to stay positive, but I’m being realistic,” Niskey said.

Niskey, who has worked for more than 20 years as a brand ambassador, explaining products at a company’s exhibit booth during conventions, found financial help through a GoFundMe campaign that originated in Virginia for gig economy workers, and specifically those in the experiential and promotional marketing fields.

She applied and received $500.

Her former employer Krystie Phannareth, owner of Virginia-based KPG Event Staffing, started the campaign last week and Cam Jennings, owner of experiential marketing firm ACTIVATE.vegas, helps manage the fund.

He said nearly $5,000 already has gone to 12 individuals with amounts up to $500. It’s received applications from nearly 600 people, who have expressed a need to pay for things ranging from food to health insurance.

“When you enter this industry, there’s a lot of money to be made,” Jennings said. “It’s awesome. You kind of get to be your own boss.” But, he said, there are no safety nets.

Jennings joined Phannareth and a number of other small business owners to manage the campaign and vet applicants. They hope to raise $50,000 and help at least 100 gig economy workers.

Extra funds

Another untapped resource for gig workers is the U.S. Small Business Administration’s new Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

The low-interest federal disaster loan for up to $2 million is geared towards small businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, but Nevada SBA District Director Joseph Amato said independent contractors like Uber drivers and trainers at gyms are also eligible to apply for the loan online.

“As long as they’re not an employee of an organization and they get paid as an independent contractor — yes, they are definitely eligible,” he said. “The SBA is trying to help every small business that exists and there is no harm in applying even if you think there’s a question about whether or not you’ll be eligible because the situation out of Washington is so fluid that you may not be eligible today but could be eligible tomorrow.”

Commercial painter Skidmore was unaware of the federal disaster loan but said her family has money saved to get by, though it is getting tight.

“Before the virus hit, I went and had a bunch of business cards made,” she said. “I wasn’t getting any work through the union so I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to try to do my own thing.’ I landed a couple jobs, but now that the virus has hit people are scared of each other. No one is going to invite you into their home to do any work for them.”

She said her husband is a construction worker and currently is employed, but the couple are unsure as to how much longer.

“The unknown is what’s really getting me,” she said.

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter.

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