Unemployed Americans thought they would receive benefits by September. Now this aid is in jeopardy
Justin Mackey, his wife Cassie and their three young children: Camdyn, 14, Connor (7) and Charlie (3).
While Justin Mackey worked to rebuild his locksmith business, the 38-year-old was reliant on receiving a $ 420 weekly jobless check for another four months.
That money was a fraction of what he brought home before the coronavirus pandemic closed his Arkansas business, but it at least kept his mortgage and other bills paid. And it allowed him to buy clothes and school supplies for his three young children: Camdyn (14), Connor (7) and Charlie (3).
“It’s better than losing it all,” said Mackey.
But last week, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said the state would prematurely end federal unemployment programs, including the $ 300 weekly top-up. These benefits will now expire at the end of June, more than two months earlier than Mackey expected.
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“It is not necessary to continue these programs until their scheduled expiration date of September 4, 2021 and will actually affect employers’ ability to fill over 40,000 open positions in Arkansas,” Hutchinson wrote in a letter. He joins Republican governors in Montana, South Carolina and Mississippi who have also announced an early end to aid, saying it is preventing people from taking jobs. Other states could follow suit.
As a result, many unemployed people in these states will soon only receive their state benefits. The average weekly check in Arkansas is $ 248. in Mississippi it’s $ 195.
Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said it was myopic and dangerous to let people with inferior benefits.
“We’re going to see family troubles,” said Dixon. “We are seeing a tsunami of debt, displacement and food insecurity on the horizon, and it is mostly women and people of color who will bear the brunt of it.”
As federal programs expand the pool of workers eligible for unemployment benefits, many self-employed, gig workers and freelancers will be completely excluded from assistance in July.
Mackey is one such worker.
His unemployment benefit has enabled him to keep his locksmithing business, Jonesboro Lock & Key, going. He’s owned it for more than a decade.
But if that help ends prematurely, he may have to grab a job and leave the store. He said the wages on offer in his region are often unsustainable.
“I couldn’t afford to work in a fast food restaurant,” said Mackey. “I made the money in high school.” (Arkansas minimum wage is $ 11.)
Before the public health crisis, he was making around $ 2,000 a week. He and his family lived comfortably.
And Mackey’s business is just getting better, he said, and more people have been calling lately.
“One of the reasons this pandemic unemployment is important for now is because it is helping people with small businesses like me rebuild,” he said.
The movement to end federal unemployment programs increased after April’s job report showed the US economy created 266,000 jobs, compared to an expected 1 million.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the voices calling on states to end the $ 300 boom.
The lobby group also estimates that one in four unemployed people earns more with unemployment than with work.
However, cutting aid will only make it harder for people to get back on their feet, said Megan Dishong, an attorney with the Montana Legal Services Association.
Instead of looking for jobs, people will be worried about being displaced and forced to spend their time seeking additional government assistance like grocery stamps and rental subsidies, she said.
“People are in that situation,” she said. “The end of the $ 300 benefit will only tie the knot tighter.”
If the goal is to get people back to work, the focus must be on increasing wages and access to childcare. (President Joe Biden’s suggestions include a plan to make childcare affordable or free for many families.)
“Until you have a safe, affordable place to send your child to, you just can’t go to work,” Dishong said.
People are in such a position. When you end the $ 300 benefit, the knot will only get tighter.
Meanwhile, some of the barriers to return to work are unique to the pandemic, she said. For example, some of their clients deal with the long-term symptoms of Covid.
“They want to go back to work, but they are still suffering,” she said.
As the number of states announcing an early end to unemployment benefits grows, Julianne O’Brien fears Florida will be next.
She was fired from her job as an appraiser for a manufacturing company at the beginning of the pandemic and was recently diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Without government aid, she’d only have $ 275 a week. She lives with her two children about 40 minutes north of Palm Beach.
Source: Julianne O’Brien
“People say we are lazy and collect unemployment,” said 46-year-old O’Brien. “I’m just trying to survive.”
Accepting a job is currently not an option for her.
“My doctors say I should stay home most of the time because my immune system is weak,” she said. “Covid is still out there.”
Ashley Broshious said the $ 300 rise in unemployment was a lifeline for her during the pandemic and helped her start a restaurant consulting and career coaching company.
In the past she has worked as a wine director and general manager in various restaurants and has earned more than $ 65,000. Those same positions now offer $ 40,000 or less, an income that doesn’t allow her to pay all of her bills.
She has been on unemployment benefits since April 2020 when she was laid off from a restaurant in South Carolina, one of the states, to announce an early end to aid. (She recently stopped receiving her jobless checks, but is working with a nonprofit attorney to get them back on.)
“There are people like me who need that money to start something new and if we lose it, all these plans end,” said 33-year-old Broshious.
It is not just frustrated plans that she fears.
“If these benefits are cut and I don’t win this case, I’ll lose my home,” she said. “I need to pack my car and move in with my mother in her tiny home in Toledo, Ohio.”
Do you live in any of the states that are ending federal unemployment early? How will that affect you? When you’re ready to speak for a story please email me at [email protected]