NEW YORK - Uber and Lyft driver Doh Ouattara has been off the road since the coronavirus pandemic erupted.

He says he needs unemployment benefits to support his three young children.

What You Need To Know

  • Gov. Cuomo and the state Labor Department were hit with a federal lawsuit from four app-based drivers and a labor group over delays to unemployment insurance.

  • The suit alleges that the drivers are employees of Uber and Lyft, when it comes to state unemployment benefits.

  • The state Labor Department is making app drivers get unemployment benefits through a federal program created in the pandemic.

"I can't risk my kids life, going out to work, without even knowing what to expect," Ouattara said.

Since filing his claim, he spent nearly two months in bureaucratic limbo, while falling behind on insurance and rent, and relying on food stamps.

"I'm not used to being weeks, months without having any money," Outtara said. "That's why I work hard for Uber and Lyft."

Now, he's one of four drivers who joined the labor group the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in filing a federal suit against Gov. Cuomo and the state Labor Department.

They charge drivers are waiting months for state unemployment benefits, far longer than the two or three weeks it typically takes to to process claims.

Bhairavi Desai, director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, says her group has connected with thousands of drivers during the pandemic.

"The delay in unemployment is the number one issue," she said.

It's the latest legal fight over the status of Uber and Lyft drivers - whether they should be treated as employees of the companies or independent contractors.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance says the answer is clear, citing a state labor board's decision giving employee status to three Uber drivers.

But the Department of Labor is weighing each driver's claim on a case-by-case basis, delaying payments.

The lawsuit claims the state is not requiring Uber and Lyft to provide information on workers’ earnings that it requires of other companies.

That forces the workers to complete more forms, complicating the application process. Lyft says it is working with the state on the issue. Uber says the company provides what the state requires.

"We have been moving heaven and earth to get every single unemployed New Yorker their benefits as quickly as possible, including Uber and Lyft drivers who are treated no different than any other worker," Cuomo administration spokesman Jack Sterne said.

Some drivers have been encouraged to apply, as a stopgap, to the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, created to help independent contractors.

Ouattara says he just got approved for $182-a-week federal benefit. It's no substitute, he says, for state unemployment.

"How are we supposed to survive," Outtara said.