Job­less ben­e­fit ter­mi­nates as talks col­lapse

30 MIL­LION WORK­ERS LOSE $600 PER WEEK Democrats re­ject GOP’S plan for short-term ex­ten­sion

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ELI ROSENBERG, ERICA WERNER AND JEFF STEIN

Nearly 30 mil­lion work­ers have lost $600 in en­hanced weekly un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits that have kept much of the econ­omy afloat th­ese past four months dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, as top law­mak­ers in Congress and the White House re­main at an im­passe over how and whether to ex­tend the ben­e­fits.

Most of the last checks went out this week, but the pro­gram of­fi­cially ended Fri­day, a day that Democrats and Repub­li­cans spent trad­ing barbs over who was to blame for the failed ne­go­ti­a­tions. White House Chief of Staff Mark Mead­ows said Democrats had re­jected rea­son­able of­fers, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- Calif.) de­rided Repub­li­cans for try­ing to ad­vance a short-term fix that would have ex­tended the ben­e­fits for just a week.

“The pres­i­dent has been very clear for us to be ag­gres­sive and for­ward-lean­ing to make sure that they get pro­tected, and yet what we’re see­ing is pol­i­tics as usual from Democrats on Capi­tol Hill,” Mead­ows said, ad­dress­ing re­porters in the White House brief­ing room.

As he was speak­ing, Pelosi held a news con­fer­ence on Capi­tol Hill, where she crit­i­cized Repub­li­cans

for propos­ing the short-term ex­ten­sion with their backs against the wall.

“What are we go­ing to do in a week?” Pelosi asked as she ex­plained why Democrats re­jected the pro­posal to con­tinue the en­hanced un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits at the cur­rent $600 level for an ad­di­tional week.

As many as 30 mil­lion work­ers, in­clud­ing gig work­ers and the self-em­ployed, are cur­rently re­ceiv­ing some form of un­em­ploy­ment in­surance, which has been sup­ple­mented by $600 in ex­tra fed­eral ben­e­fits each week — on top of what­ever state un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits a worker gets — since the cri­sis deep­ened in March.

Many economists and work­ers credit the ad­di­tional money with help­ing them keep up with ba­sic bills dur­ing the cri­sis: rent, mort­gage, car and credit card pay­ments, as well as ev­ery­day ex­penses like food. Most states cap weekly un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits well be­low $600; some pay as lit­tle as $275 a week as their max­i­mum.

Can­dida Kevorkian, 53, her son and her daugh­ter-in-law have all been laid off and live to­gether with her two grand­chil­dren in a two-bed­room apart­ment in South San Fran­cisco, Calif. She worked at the Westin St. Francis ho­tel; her son worked at the Moscone Cen­ter, a con­ven­tion cen­ter down­town; and her daugh­ter-in-law worked at a Mar­riott.

The ex­tra $600 Kevorkian gets brings her over­all job­less ben­e­fits to about $1,050 a week be­fore taxes. But she has about $1,700 in other fixed ex­penses on top of rent, which is $2,350 — af­ter she ne­go­ti­ated with her land­lord to lower it from $2,850. The fam­ily has al­ready cut back on cloth­ing, shoes and food, in­clud­ing cook­ing with meat once a week. Kevorkian said she has lit­tle hope that her job will re­turn, given how poorly the pub­lic health side of the cri­sis is go­ing, and she said she feels pow­er­less.

“Peo­ple are tak­ing de­ci­sions for you and your life,” she said. “In the mid­dle of this pan­demic, they’re play­ing with us.”

Back in March, when the econ­omy was be­gin­ning to fail be­cause of the forced shut­downs to stop the spread of the virus, law­mak­ers ral­lied around the idea that they were rush­ing to shore up the econ­omy dur­ing a short-lived pub­lic health cri­sis, agree­ing to pass more than $2 tril­lion in stim­u­lus that they thought would see the na­tion through the sum­mer, when they hoped the pan­demic would ease.

But surg­ing coro­n­avirus cases have spurred many states to re­verse course and close down restaurant­s and bars again, weigh­ing on the eco­nomic re­cov­ery. The novel coro­n­avirus has killed more than 150,000 peo­ple in the United States, ac­cord­ing to data gath­ered by The Washington Post.

In­deed, the pan­demic out­lasted the orig­i­nal re­lief efforts that Congress passed.

Jim Queb­man, 61, an en­gi­neer in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif., was ini­tially told he’d be back at work in two weeks when he was fur­loughed in March from his job at a ma­chine shop. But the date for his re­turn keeps get­ting pushed back.

He’s been re­ly­ing on the $600 he gets from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, in ad­di­tion to $450 in state ben­e­fits, to keep up to date with his monthly pay­ments: $2,200 in prop­erty taxes, $1,200 to keep his health in­surance once his em­ployer stops pay­ing in Au­gust, a $300 car pay­ment, and other ex­penses like food and re­pairs.

With­out the $600, he said, he might have to raid his 401(k) re­tire­ment sav­ings.

“I’ ll be in trou­ble within two months, ba­si­cally,” Queb­man said. “How can you re­tire if you don’t have a pen­sion and health care that’s paid by, let’s say, a gov­ern­ment?”

Raven Holmes, 38, a sin­gle mother of two who lost her job as a sec­re­tary in New Haven, Conn., in Fe­bru­ary, said she al­ready in­sti­tuted cuts in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the ben­e­fits’ ex­pi­ra­tion. She started car­pool­ing to the gro­cery store, split a BJ’S Whole­sale Club card with fam­ily to buy food in bulk and stopped get­ting take­out or restau­rant food.

She also said she’s be­gun vis­it­ing food banks to help feed her and her sons.

“Once you have ab­so­lutely noth­ing, it’s not hard at all,” she said of ac­cept­ing char­ity.

The longer Congress stalls, the more likely it is that Holmes will have to plead with her land­lord, util­ity com­pa­nies and other bill hold­ers to let ac­counts go into ar­rears un­til she lands on her feet again.

“Money is not a re­source that can be de­pleted. It’s a man-made thing: If you need more, make more,” she said. “There are other coun­tries — their cit­i­zens are fine, no­body is suf­fer­ing and every­body is healthy. All our gov­ern­ment wants is money in their pock­ets, while the peo­ple are poor and starv­ing and scroung­ing.”

The wran­gling over whether and how to ex­tend job­less ben­e­fits has oc­cu­pied Washington for months.

Ea­ger to avoid blame for Fri­day’s ex­pi­ra­tion of the en­hanced un­em­ploy­ment aid, Repub­li­cans in­creas­ingly co­a­lesced around the idea of a short-term fix. But Democrats repeatedly re­jected that ap­proach and con­tin­ued push­ing for a wide-rang­ing $3 tril­lion bill the House passed in May. That bill would ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits through Jan­uary.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mccon­nell (R-KY.) un­veiled a $1 tril­lion coun­ter­pro­posal Mon­day, but it was quickly re­jected by many mem­bers of his own con­fer­ence and has in­creas­ingly seemed ir­rel­e­vant.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans have pro­posed cut­ting the $600 weekly fed­eral ben­e­fit to $200 per week for two months while giv­ing states time to tran­si­tion to a more com­pli­cated sys­tem that would aim to re­place 70 per­cent of a worker’s prior wages. A sec­ond pro­posal emerged this week that would give states the choice to im­ple­ment the $200 bonus or move to a sys­tem that would re­place up to 66 per­cent of wages.

Pelosi and Mead­ows have held meet­ings for four days straight, along with Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Pelosi said a short-term ex­ten­sion might make sense if a deal were in sight on a larger bill and more time was needed to com­plete it. How­ever, she said, that is not the state of play as the par­ties re­main far apart.

“We an­tic­i­pate that we will have a bill, but we’re not there yet,” the speaker said.

Those who are re­ly­ing on the ben­e­fits have been watch­ing the de­bate un­fold wearily.

“Just a few men have to make this de­ci­sion for how many mil­lion peo­ple? Ten guys to make a de­ci­sion over th­ese mil­lions of peo­ple’s lives?” said Wil­lie Woods, 60, who has been fur­loughed from his job as a ho­tel ban­quet server in New Or­leans since April and is also los­ing the ex­tra $600 a week in job­less ben­e­fits. “This coun­try not tak­ing care of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens like they’re sup­posed to. We didn’t bring this pan­demic home. We were at work, and you hit us with a pan­demic.”

PHO­TOS BY MARIO TAMA/GETTY IM­AGES

TOP: Men wait at dawn to be the first in line to fill out un­em­ploy­ment forms in Calex­ico, Calif., on July 24. ABOVE: Other job­less work­ers join the line as the day pro­gresses. Since March, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had sup­ple­mented state un­em­ploy­ment aid.

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