Decline in unemployment benefits, displacements affecting millions of Americans devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic | MCUTimes

Decline in unemployment benefits, displacements affecting millions of Americans devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic

Mary Taboniar went 15 months without pay, thanks to the COVID pandemic. A housekeeper at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu, single mother of two, saw her income disappear completely as the virus devastated the hospitality industry.

For more than a year, Taboniar was completely dependent on increased unemployment benefits and a network of local food banks to feed her family. Even this summer, when the rollout of the vaccine took off and tourists began to travel again, her work slowly returned, peaking at 11 days in August — about half of her pre-pandemic workload.

Taboniar is one of millions of Americans for whom Labor Day 2021 represents a dangerous crossroads. Two primary anchors in the government’s COVID protection package end or have recently been completed. As of Monday, an estimated 8.9 million people lose all unemployment advantage. A federal moratorium on eviction has already expired.

While other aspects of pandemic assistance, including rental assistance and extended child tax credit still widely available, countless millions of Americans will face Labor Day with a sudden shrinking social safety net.

“This is going to be a double hammy of hardships,” said Jamie Contreras, secretary-treasurer of SEIU, a union representing managers in office buildings and food service workers at airports. “We are nowhere near finished. People still need help. Millioner For millions of people, nothing has changed a year and a half ago. ”

For Taboniar, 43, this means that her unemployment benefits disappear completely – even though her working hours disappear again. A new virus rise was given rise Hawaii Governor to recommend that holidaymakers are delaying their plans.

“It really scares me,” she said. “How can I pay rent if I do not have unemployment and my job is not back?”

She plans to apply for the recently expanded SNAP assistance program, better known as food stamps, but doubts it will be enough to make a difference. “I’m just grabbing for anything,” she said.

President Joe Biden’s administration believes the U.S. economy is strong enough not to be rattled by evictions or fall in unemployment benefits. Officials maintain that other elements of the safety net, such as The child tax credit and the SNAP program (which Biden permanently strengthened earlier this summer) are enough to even things out. On Friday, a White House spokesman said there were no plans to reconsider the end of unemployment benefits.

“Twenty-two trillion dollar economies are working not least on momentum, and we have strong momentum in the right direction on behalf of the U.S. workforce,” said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said he believed the country’s workforce was ready for the shift.

“Overall, the economy is moving forward and is recovering,” Walsh said in an interview. “I think the U.S. economy and the U.S. workers are better off on Labor Day 2021 than they were on Labor Day 2020.”

Walsh and others point to encouraging job numbers; last Friday was unemployment down to a reasonably healthy 5.2%. But Andrew Stettler, a senior member of the Century Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, says the termination of extended benefits is still premature.

Instead of setting an arbitrary deadline, Stettler says the administration should have tied the end of protections to specific economic recovery metrics. He proposes three consecutive months of nationwide unemployment below 5% as a reasonable benchmark to trigger the end of unemployment benefits.

“This seems to be the wrong political decision based on where we are,” Stettler said.

The end of these protections as the economic crisis continues can have a devastating impact on middle-class families who barely survived the pandemic. Potentially millions of people “will have a harder time regaining a foothold in the middle class that they lost,” Stettler said.

Biden and the Democrats who control Congress are at a crossroads so that the aid can expire, as they instead focus on his more comprehensive “build better back” package of infrastructure and other expenses. The $ 3.5 trillion proposal would rebuild many of the safety net programs, but it faces obstacles in the densely divided Congress.

In the meantime, families have to make do.

“These are two very important things that are coming out. There is no doubt that there will be families affected by their expiration and that they will have further difficulties, ”said Sharon Parrott, chair of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, in an interview.

The COVID-19 response has been sweeping in its size and scope, about $ 5 trillion in federal spending since the virus outbreak in 2020, an unprecedented undertaking.

Congressional Republicans had backed some of the initial spending on COVID-19, but voted the $ 1.9 trillion recovery bid for Biden earlier this year unnecessary. Many argued against extending another round of unemployment benefits, and Republicans promise to oppose Biden’s $ 3.5 trillion package, which lawmakers are expected to consider later this month.

There are still more options for support, although the actual delivery of this support has in some cases been problematic.

States with higher unemployment can use the $ 350 billion in aid they received from the relief package to expand their own unemployment benefits, according to a Aug. 19 letter from Walsh and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Federal aid funds are still available, though money has been slow to get out the door, leaving the White House and lawmakers pushing state and local officials to spread funds more quickly to both landlords and tenants.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley on Thursday estimated the economy to grow at an annual rate of 2.9% in the third quarter, sharply down from its previous forecast of 6.5%. This decline largely reflects a pullback in federal aid spending and bottlenecks in the supply chain.

And the economy is still facing obstacles. Trade union officials say sectors such as hoteliers and office specialists have been the slowest to recover.

“Our industry is at the forefront when it comes to COVID,” said D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, a union representing hoteliers – a field that is “primarily staffed by women and people of color.”

Many of these housekeepers never returned to full employment, even though the Americans resumed their journey and hotel occupancy swelled over the summer.

Taylor said several major hotel chains have moved to permanently cut labor costs by reducing the level of service under COVID. Taboniar’s hotel in Hawaii has e.g. Switch to room cleaning every five days, unless the guest specifically requests otherwise in advance. Even when the hotel had more than 90% occupancy in August, she was only employed for half of her usual number of days before the pandemic.

The Delta variant of coronavirus also poses a challenge and threatens future school closures and the delay in plans to return workers to their offices.

Walsh called the delta variant “a star of everything.”

The sudden disappearance of a crucial element in the pandemic safety net has given rise to calls for a reassessment of the entire unemployment benefit scheme. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Chairman of the finance committee, said in an interview that it is crucial that Congress modernizes the unemployment insurance system as part of the package.

“It’s heartbreaking to know it didn’t have to be that way,” Wyden said.

One of the changes he proposes is to have unemployment benefits more linked to economic conditions so that they do not expire in an emergency. “We need to take the unemployment system into the 21st century,” he said.

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