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COVID & Unemployment

Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance money isn’t enough for many unemployed

Mitchell Hartman Sep 11, 2020
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A protester holds a sign calling for a fix to unemployment benefits at a protest in Miami Beach. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance money isn’t enough for many unemployed

Mitchell Hartman Sep 11, 2020
Heard on:
A protester holds a sign calling for a fix to unemployment benefits at a protest in Miami Beach. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
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It’s now been seven weeks since the millions of workers receiving unemployment benefits in this country stopped getting an extra $600-a-week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, helping them to stay afloat and pay their bills. 

At the end of July, about 25 million jobless Americans suddenly lost the extra federal benefits from their weekly unemployment checks, leaving the typical recipient with $325-a-week on average across the country. 

That benefit (passed in the CARES Act) ran out after Congress and the White House failed to move a new stimulus bill forward to extend the payments. And as of this week, Congress and the White House are still deadlocked with no new stimulus bill likely to move forward before the November election. 

Meanwhile, it has been five weeks since President Donald Trump announced a partial, temporary replacement for those $600-a-week unemployment payments: a program he called Lost Wages Assistance

That unemployment benefit — planned as a $300-a-week check from the Feds with $100-a-week kicked in by the states — is coming from the federal government’s FEMA disaster relief money. 

President Trump’s pandemic-unemployment replacement scheme, announced in early August, was slow to get off the ground, said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. 

“The stopgap that was put into place was tardy and insufficient, and it’s already running out,” Stettner said.

So far, about 20 states have distributed the FEMA benefits, most at $300-a-week. More states have applied for their FEMA money — which is capped at $44 billion nationwide, enough to cover just six weeks of benefits. 

“Almost as soon as people get the money, they won’t be getting it anymore,” Stettner said.

By his calculation, about $10 billion in extra jobless benefits have been paid out so far under Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance program, compared to $68 billion that would have gone out if the original $600-a-week payments had continued. 

Johanna Meagher, a health care worker, is trying to cope with the loss of that extra federal money. She lives in Maryland and has three elementary-age kids — all at home right now. Both she and her husband have been out of work since March, and both have received unemployment. 

She’s been struggling since their federal pandemic benefits ended in July.  

“I mean, it’s a significant difference,” Meagher said. “Our rent alone is $2,000 a month. Our rent is crazy here.”

Maryland just announced it’ll start paying out the extra $300-a-week benefits, but it hasn’t cut any checks yet.

“So now I’m trying to survive and pay our rent, our bills and our food on what amounts to $645 a week,” Meagher said. “I mean, it’s not survivable here.”

Federal pandemic jobless benefits are popular. According to a poll by Ipsos, 78% of Americans support additional payments to people unemployed due to coronavirus, including 85% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans.

Chris Jackson, senior vice president at Ipsos, said 46% of those recently surveyed had lost a job themselves or had someone in their family lose a job in the pandemic. And he said support for additional federal unemployment assistance is strongest among those most impacted by job loss — lower-income workers in service industries, whose jobs aren’t easily done remotely.

“People who are less affluent are more likely to support the unemployment insurance programs, presumably because they are more likely to use them,” said Jackson. “It’s not like the affluent oppose these things, they just support them slightly less strongly.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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