Millions of unemployed Americans faced a “break in income” in July when an additional $ 600 in unemployment benefits ran out. But millions of people now face another – and perhaps more serious – loss of income as they exhaust all of their unemployment options at both the state and federal levels.
“People say, ‘My God, I’m running out of money,’ and they have no idea what will happen,” said Alex Emanuel, an actor, director and musician in New York whose unemployment benefits ended two months ago.
This issue concerns a number of workers, including people who lost their jobs by the end of 2019 and went through many extensions of unemployment benefits provided by Congress earlier this year. Cyber workers and others who took part in the federal unemployment benefit program (PUA) at the beginning of the crisis will also soon run out of aid.
These payments aren’t very generous – a typical weekly unemployment check is $ 333 a week – but adults who don’t work tell CBS MoneyWatch that the extra money helped them pay for needs such as utilities and rent.
Unemployed workers also say they are frustrated with the lack of progress in Washington, D.C., by knocking out another, which would renew an additional $ 600 a week in benefits, and they are concerned about how to cope as their benefits dry up. According to unemployment experts, restrictions could create more economic downturns as millions of the unemployed will find themselves without income.
“I was very worried about what would happen when $ 600 went, but when people lost even the basic benefits, people would become desperate,” said Michele Evermore, a senior political analyst at the National Employment Project. “You’ll see this pain spread further into the economy.”
Although there are no clear figures on how many unemployed people are losing unemployment benefits, that figure is likely to reach millions over the next few months, according to Andrew Stettner, an expert on unemployment at the Progressive Fund of the Century.
For example, the PUA offered 39 weeks’ pay to people who lost concerts or freelance work starting on January 27, meaning that the first applicants would exhaust their benefits on the week of October 19. Meanwhile, all 11 million recipients of the program face a difficult deadline – December 31, when the program expires.
Even extending unemployment benefits is not enough to protect unemployed Americans as long as unemployment remains high, said Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center for Budgetary and Political Priorities. The CARE Act has lifted 18 million people out of poverty, but many have retreated because that extra money has run out, according to Columbia University researchers. They found that poverty was now higher than it had been before the pandemic.
“The measures provided for in the Care Act have been quite generous,” Stone said. The loss of benefits “will be hit hard and people may be surprised.”
“Entering absolute zero”
Employees who lost their jobs in the second half of 2019 are among the first to lose benefits. “I applied for unemployment in August 2019 due to lack of acting at the time,” said unemployed New York actor Emanuel, 49, of CBS MoneyWatch. “My application ended first in April, but then they had such extensions” under the Coronavir Aid, Assistance and Economic Security Act or the Concern Act.
But, having exhausted all its extensions, his pay for work without work ended in August. “I was doing absolute zero,” he said.
Emanuel said he was suspended for one month. Because New Yorkers can apply for unemployment benefits after a full calendar year has passed since the previous unemployment claim, he has applied for benefits. He now receives about $ 170 a week after taxes – less than the $ 230 he received for the previous round of unemployment benefits. This is because the payment is based on the income of the employee for the previous year who received a blow from the pandemic. He said he had cut food and transportation costs to make ends meet.
Some people are already afraid of the end of unemployment benefits. Joe Simon, a 53-year-old actor in New York, said his benefits would end in March and he wasn’t sure how he could cut more than he already has. He said he receives about $ 130 a week in unemployment benefits and that his family helps pay him rent.
“It’s very difficult to smile or do everyday things, including getting out of bed if you don’t know where your next dollar will come from,” Simon said.
“They said I had exhausted everything”
Another unemployed person whose benefits recently ended is Mary Kagun, 43, of Oakdale, Connecticut. In March, she was fired as an administrative assistant when a pandemic broke out. Her benefits expired last week.
“They said I had exhausted everything,” she said.
Kahun said she set aside some money when she received an additional $ 600 a week in unemployment benefits. After its expiration in July, her unemployment check dropped to $ 317 a week, or about $ 200 less than she earned at work. She said she sent out about 100 resumes and gave 10 interviews, but did not receive an offer.
“I’m not too panicked right now – we’re better off than many people,” Kahun said, noting that her husband was employed. But she worries that the money she set aside this summer will run out before she finds a new job or if a new round of incentives continues.
“Everything is covered now,” she said, “but in time it will end.”
Experts say that some unemployed people may not know they are entitled to a continuation, such as compensation for an emergency unemployment pandemic, or the PEUC, which provides an additional 13 weeks of assistance to unemployed workers who exhaust their regular state benefits.
About 3 million workers have exhausted their normal state benefits by August, but only 2 million receive extensions under the CARE Act. This suggests that some people may lose benefits, Stettner said.
“There have been cases where people have moved from government benefits to enlargements,” he added.
The right to participate in PEUC is a problem faced by 40-year-old Shavenda Rice, a bartender in Cincinnati. Her bar has been closed since March, when she applied for unemployment. She said she stopped receiving state aid three weeks ago, but was told she was not eligible for PEUC. She was later told that she was in fact eligible to participate in the program. Now Rice is in uncertainty, not sure if she will get more help.
“I’m stressed,” she said. “I don’t know where the money comes from. When the bills came in last week, I called and asked to continue.”
Rice is also worried about how she will pay the bills over the next few months and when her food supplies will run out. She hopes that her bar may reopen on Halloween, but she is also concerned about COVID-19, given that she constantly has problems with pleurisy, a lung disease. Bar patrons are allowed to remove their drinking masks indoors, which can increase the risk of infection.
Asked what she would say to lawmakers who are currently negotiating a new stimulus package, to no avail, Rice said: “It’s not just you. It’s important to take care of the American people.”