How Our Lab Grew an Emergency Fund

by Eddy Morales, on September 2, 2020 at 1:55 PM
The Workers Fund - How Our Lab Grew an Emergency Fund from Idea to Implementation

 When COVID-19 hit, we were tasked with developing a plan for getting emergency cash to workers quickly. Our role as a lab for ideas that increase worker power helped us answer that call, and so did our partners at the Marguerite Casey Foundation, who were the critical seed funders of this effort.

Today, as the pandemic’s financial impact on workers only becomes more acute, The Workers Fund  remains uniquely positioned to distribute emergency aid to workers who need help.

Here’s How

Even before the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 27, The Workers Lab had an emergency relief fund up and running. This fund, called The Workers Fund, provides emergency cash to gig and low-earning contract workers impacted by COVID-19.

Within a few short weeks, we were able to collect  and distribute funds to workers facing sudden and devastating financial losses. By the week of April 7 -  while states were still figuring out how to include gig and contract workers in their unemployment systems and how to distribute the $600 weekly federal unemployment boost – we were already filling the gap for gig workers who had seen a 50% drop in income. 

Working part time now, third shift in the middle of the night, but thanks to good people like you I can make my bills this month." - Ed B.

How could The Workers Lab act so quickly? How could we have a ready pool of qualified applicants with income verification? How could we get hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash into workers’ checking accounts so quickly – well before state and federal governments?

The key is that when the crisis arrived, we didn’t start from square one. We already had trusted relationships, tested tools, and respected partners in place to be a financial first-responder. We had already answered many of the questions others were beginning to ask about how to get emergency cash to workers. Our role as a learning and sharing laboratory to build worker power is what made The Workers Fund possible.

Having already done an emergency cash-transfer experiment, The Workers Lab was ready to help out gig workers financially during the pandemic." - Fast Company, May 1, 2020 

In 2019, we conducted a large-scale Design Sprint for Social Change experiment to explore the impact of emergency cash to workers. In the course of this previous work, we forged a relationship with Steady – a platform designed to help gig and low-wage contract workers gain economic stability and build wealth.  

With over two million members, Steady makes it easier for workers to fill their income gaps, manage goals, gain insights and improve overall financial well-being. Steady’s core technology is built around understanding how workers earn, and then providing insights that help them improve their earnings. To receive these insights, Steady members consent to sharing their bank transactional data. This visibility into workers’ income fluctuations, combined with Steady’s income intelligence, allows Steady to flag members whose incomes have dropped in work categories heavily impacted by COVID-19. Steady can then invite impacted workers to apply for an emergency cash grant from The Workers Fund. Here's how it works:


Steady shares our love for data. The data they provide tells us additional stories about who is benefitting from The Workers Fund. Here is a breakdown of who we are helping.

  • 46% Identify as Black or African American
  • 39% Identify as White or Caucasian
  • 13% Identify as Hispanic or Latino
  • 4% Identify as Asian American
  • 3% Identify as Native American

Here's why we are helping them:

simplified who-youre-helping1600x900

To date we have given over $1.6 million to almost 2000 workers. 

By working within the Steady ecosystem, we can grow our understanding of who needs help, why they need it, and how much cash makes a meaningful difference.

We can also get to know who is being helped.

Workers who receive emergency aid through The Workers Fund have been invited to share video comments about the program. From single fathers to multi-generational households, we’ve received dozens of heartfelt thanks from beneficiaries of The Workers Fund. All of them are gig and low-earning contract workers without employer-sponsored benefits. Many are parents who work multiple jobs to make ends meet and now find themselves without one or two or three of those incomes.

I actually lost three part-time jobs. It's just such a blessing that you guys are able to get this money out. All the grant money [I get] will be going to my seven-month-old child. Thank you."  - Dejorian T.

Looking Ahead

We remain committed to helping workers manage this incredibly volatile time. If you'd like to help, please consider contributing using the link below. Thank you in advance for your generosity and commitment to working people.

CTA The Workers Fund - Donate WIDE

Inspired to make a major contribution?

Contact our Director of External Affairs, Eddy Morales. We have background data to support your decision and the impact of your gift.
You can contact Eddy here.

Topics: Design Sprint