COVID-19

Expanded COVID-19 unemployment money is helping millions of workers pay their bills

Mitchell Hartman Jul 9, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Juanmonino via Getty Images
COVID-19

Expanded COVID-19 unemployment money is helping millions of workers pay their bills

Mitchell Hartman Jul 9, 2020
Juanmonino via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

More than 30 million out-of-work Americans are receiving unemployment benefits right now. For the week ending July 4, an additional 1.3 million workers sought unemployment aid as layoffs remain historically high amid spikes in COVID-19 cases, according to the latest jobless claims report.

Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, recipients of state jobless benefits get an extra $600 added every week. That makes the average unemployment check about equal to the median pay for working Americans nationwide.

Unless Congress extends the funding, those $600 federal pandemic unemployment payments will run out at the end of July.

Advocates for maintaining the payments say they’re a crucial financial lifeline for out-of-work Americans at a time when new jobs are scarce, and going to work could be dangerous due to COVID-19.

Opponents argue the payments are so high they discourage people from looking for work.

Dave Harris of Hoboken, New Jersey, has been on unemployment since March. “I didn’t really see much of a pay cut at all, with that expanded unemployment,” he said.

Harris is a car mechanic and still hasn’t been called back to his job.

“I was actually able to use that extra $600 a week to pay down some of my credit cards,” he said.

If the federal payments end, he says he’ll look for work or go back to school.

Miami bartender James Gamboa has been furloughed since March and says the federal money has allowed him to pay his bills. If it runs out?

“You know, got to get back in the swing of things,” Gamboa said. “I mean, you hope we can get a handle on the pandemic as well.”

He was about to start a new restaurant job — but Florida’s recent COVID-19 surge shut the place down.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The latest: President Donald Trump signed an executive action directing $400 extra a week in unemployment benefits. But will that aid actually reach people? It’s still unclear. Trump directed federal agencies to send $300 dollars in weekly aid, taken from the federal disaster relief fund, and called on states to provide an additional $100. But states’ budgets are stretched thin as it is.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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