12 Million Americans Could Lose Crucial Unemployment Benefits Just after Christmas

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As special pandemic unemployment benefits expire in the coming weeks, opera singer Brian Montgomery plans to leave the country.

Since March, Montgomery – a New Yorker who also works as a voice teacher and tour guide – has not been able to find stable work, but he has received weekly payments thanks to the historic expansion of benefits in the part of the $ 2 trillion federal stimulus package. But now, with Congress stuck on a new relief deal, the unemployment pandemic assistance program will run out just after Christmas.

If that happens, Montgomery and his wife, a part-time home helper, could travel to Japan, where Montgomery’s wife is from, or Hong Kong, where he has lived for 12 years and believes he can find some help. job.

“I had hoped our wonderful Congress would have figured it out by now,” said Montgomery, 63. “We would pay rent. We would put that money back into the economy. It’s not like we’re just going to store it. . We have to spend it. “

Montgomery is among 7.3 million independent contractors, small workers, freelancers and freelancers who would lose their unemployment benefits, according to a recent estimate from the Century Foundation. The program is also accessible to certain people affected by coronavirus, including those who are sick or quarantined or have family members and those whose children’s schools have closed.

A second measure, the Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation Program, is also due to expire. This provides the unemployed with an additional 13 weeks of payments after exhausting their traditional state benefits, which typically last 26 weeks. Some 4.6 million beneficiaries will see these additional payments expire prematurely unless Congress takes action, according to the Century Foundation – and many of those people will not be eligible for extended state benefits, which can last up to 20 weeks.

March closures have a lasting effect

The ranks of the long-term unemployed continue to rise, with increasing numbers unable to find jobs more than six months after being laid off in the record spate of unemployment that accompanied the onset of the pandemic in March and April. Nearly 3.6 million Americans were out of work for at least 27 weeks in October, an impressive jump of almost 50% from September, according to the latest federal jobs report. They now represent a third of the unemployed, against less than a fifth a month earlier.

“We’ve never cut unemployment benefits when so many people are touching it, when the unemployment rate is so high, so early in a recession,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

Congress, however, was unable to agree on another stimulus package to extend many of the relief measures it adopted in March. The $ 600 federal boost to weekly unemployment benefits is long gone, which expired at the end of July despite pressure from the unemployed, consumer advocates and Democrats.

The impending end of the remaining pandemic unemployment programs comes as coronavirus cases are increasing across the country, prompting several governors to renew restrictions on businesses and schools. This will likely lead to further rounds of layoffs – initial jobless claims already rose in mid-November for the first time in a month.

And it comes as several other federal bailout initiatives, including the moratorium on evictions and postponement of student loan payments, come to an end – putting additional pressure on the unemployed.

‘Astonishing’ inaction in Washington

The “indifference” displayed by lawmakers is “staggering,” said America Caballero, who lost her contract job as a human resources manager for oil and gas companies in late April.

Caballero will soon exhaust her state benefits, and her pandemic emergency payments will likely end before she gets the full 13 weeks. She fears that the extended benefits she will then receive will also run out next year before she can find work.

“Every time Congress tries to do something, it crashes because they can’t get over their differences,” said Caballero, 45, who lives with his mother and sister in a Houston suburb. “The American people are suffering.”

Meanwhile, vacancies are scarce and fewer have been posted in recent times, she said. And many of those she sees paying $ 35,000 to $ 45,000 a year, instead of the more typical $ 55,000 to $ 60,000 they were offering before the pandemic.

“We want jobs. We don’t want documents,” said Caballero, a master of business administration holder. “We want the economy to stabilize.”

A triple whammy

Gabbie Riley faces a triple whammy when it comes to landing a new job to replace the one she lost in late March.

She worked in sales for a Minneapolis hotel, focusing on booking clients in sports and entertainment. All of these industries shriveled up during the pandemic.

While the 39-year-old expects to switch from the emergency pandemic unemployment compensation program to extended benefits next month, she doesn’t think she’ll be able to find another job until the end of these payments in March.

“Congress needs to provide sufficient support for the individual, small businesses and large corporations involved until we are out of the woods. Period, ”said Riley, who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her son, who is practically in college.

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