Unemployment 2020

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

Mitchell Hartman Sep 11, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY
A protester holds a sign calling for a fix to unemployment benefits at a protest in Miami Beach, Florida. So far, about 20 states are issuing the extra $300-a-week FEMA unemployment benefits. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Unemployment 2020

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

Mitchell Hartman Sep 11, 2020
A protester holds a sign calling for a fix to unemployment benefits at a protest in Miami Beach, Florida. So far, about 20 states are issuing the extra $300-a-week FEMA unemployment benefits. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY


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

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

Are we going to see another wave of grocery store shortages?

Well, public health officials are warning that we could see a second wave of the virus before the end of the year. And this time retailers want to be prepared if there’s high demand for certain products. But they can’t rely totally on predictive modeling. People’s shopping habits have ebbed and flowed depending on the state of COVID-19 cases or lockdowns. So, grocers are going to have to trust their guts.

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

A report out Tuesday 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.

Read More

Collapse

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.

There’s a LOT to celebrate!

It’s National Pumpkin Spice Day, the last day of our fall fundraiser, and thousands of fans like you have invested in Marketplace.

You inspire us, and your support makes us stronger, especially now.