COVID-19

Laid-off workers now worry about health care during health crisis

Meghan McCarty Carino Mar 25, 2020
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One employer said he "just wanted to make sure that everybody’s taken care of through this." Mario Tama/Getty Images
COVID-19

Laid-off workers now worry about health care during health crisis

Meghan McCarty Carino Mar 25, 2020
One employer said he "just wanted to make sure that everybody’s taken care of through this." Mario Tama/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

One week ago, Sonya Znati was laid off from her job as lead bartender at the Maialino Mare restaurant in Washington, D.C. She’s been scrambling to apply for unemployment benefits and figure out how she’ll pay the rent. She’s also losing her health insurance soon, “which is probably the scariest part of it for me because we’re going into a pandemic,” Znati said.

She expects to get insurance on the health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act, but in the past that’s cost her $400 a month for a plan with a $4,000 deductible. She hasn’t figured out whether she’ll qualify for Medicaid, which varies from state to state. But for now, COBRA is just too expensive.

“It’s terrifying,” she said, contemplating what a hospitalization could cost her. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this scared about my financial situation before.”

At least Znati’s employer, Union Square Hospitality Group, agreed to pay insurance premiums for a few weeks after she was laid off.

Asher Schofield is doing the same for five former employees of his shuttered gift shop, Frog and Toad in Providence, Rhode Island.

“Not being covered at a time like this is very scary,” he said. “We just wanted to make sure that everybody’s taken care of through this.”

Schofield is funding the benefit through online sales, but he’s not sure how long he can keep it up and he has had to let go several part-time workers who didn’t get health care benefits.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, more than 27 million people in the United States had no insurance, according to the census data from 2018. That includes many part-time, freelance and gig workers who don’t get health care or other benefits, like paid sick leave, through an employer but might not qualify for public assistance.

New York University business professor Arun Sundararajan said the reliance on traditional full-time employers to deliver safety-net benefits for workers had been breaking down long before the current crisis.

“What is transpiring now is underscoring the critical need for us to refashion the social safety net,” he said.

He hopes the recent moves to extend paid sick leave, family leave and unemployment benefits to workers who didn’t qualify before the pandemic will be a first step to permanently providing benefits to all workers, not just traditional full-time employees.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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