June 19, 2021

Meet 2 Americans who just lost unemployment benefits as thousands of workers are cut off from $300 per week

[Business Insider]

  • As of June 19th, a dozen states have prematurely ended their federal unemployment benefits.
  • Those $300 weekly benefits weren’t set to expire until September, but 25 GOP-led states have opted out.
  • Workers in Missouri and Alabama, two states where benefits ended, tell Insider they need assistance.

Eight more states are ending their federal unemployment benefits today, June 19th, cutting off between 400,000 and 500,000 people from government aid ahead of their scheduled expiration in September.

Those states are Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming. That means a dozen have pulled out of enhanced unemployment insurance early. At least 13 more will join them in the coming weeks. 

It’s setting up a premature fiscal cliff for approximately 4 million workers, many of whom were set to receive federal benefits through September. But federal pandemic-era programs also expanded who’s eligible to receive benefits, and the duration. That means some Americans won’t just lose $300 a week. They’ll lose their entire incomes.

Karen Allen, 52, of Missouri, lost all of her benefits last week. “I kind of feel like the rug got jerked out from under me, and now people want to point fingers at me like, well, why don’t you go to work at the gas station for $9 an hour?”

She said she doesn’t feel like she’s above working such a job, but she doesn’t want to work part-time with no benefits “and take a chance on dying, basically. I just feel like I’m stuck.” She’s not alone.

Some states have already ended their benefits

Missouri ending federal unemployment benefits yanked aid for 340,000 people.

Allen, 52, had been collecting unemployment since January 2020, after the staffing firm she worked for closed down her branch in late 2019; she stopped working in November. 

But Allen has a rare auto-immune disease. She said that her neurologist told her to lay low during the pandemic and self-quarantine. She was also advised to hold off on getting a vaccine. 

Karen Allen posing outdoors
Karen Allen. 

“Here I am, absolutely willing and able to work. It’s just it could kill me,” she said. She was hoping that extension of expanded benefits through September would give her some leeway in terms of vaccine or safety progress. She was on Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), a federal program that expands how many weeks workers can receive benefits. On June 12, that program expired in Missouri.

Benefits are winding down today in Alabama. Shaina Cruz, 34, will lose all of hers. A graphic designer, Cruz was laid off in March 2020. She said it took about a month-and-a-half for her to start receiving unemployment benefits. She’s been on PEUC up until now, and said the benefit cut-off comes at a “horrible” time.

She’s facing down eviction at the end of the month — which is also when the federal eviction moratorium is set to end. She already lost her car because she couldn’t keep up with payments, and said it’s difficult to apply to a job when she has no idea where she’ll be in two weeks.

Shaina Cruz of Alabama in her car
Shaina Cruz. 

“I’m frustrated with it, just because I feel like the whole reason it’s been ended is just because of all these people on Facebook saying, ‘Oh, nobody wants to work anymore,'” Cruz said. “And it’s like, that’s not the case. I would gladly be working. I cried when I lost my job.”

Possible legislation on the way

Some lawmakers and advocates have argued that the Department of Labor is obligated to continue paying out PUA, including Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

But the Labor Department has concluded that there’s likely not much it can do, and the White House has said that states have “every right” to cut off aid in a sharp change of course after defending benefits a month ago.

Some Democrats are eyeing revamping the dilapidated systems as part of Biden’s multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package.

“We ought to cut to the bottom line here,” Wyden said in an interview. “This highlights the need for a comprehensive unemployment reform package.”

“I talk to the administration about these unemployment reforms constantly,” he added. He previously suggested he wanted to draft a legislative fix but did not specify if he was still pursuing that measure.

Some are already taking legal action. In Indiana, two law firms have filed a lawsuit against the state for prematurely terminating benefits — and have asked for a preliminary injunction to pause benefits being halted as the case progresses.

But in Alabama, there’s no relief on the way.

“I’m still just screwed, basically,” Cruz said. “Like I literally have no idea where my family is going. I’m trying to get enough money to rent a storage unit right now just to put all my stuff in.””I’m still just screwed, basically,” Cruz said. “Like I literally have no idea where my family is going. I’m trying to get enough money to rent a storage unit right now just to put all my stuff in.”

By Juliana Kaplan and Joseph Zeballos-Roig 

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