The longer it takes the Senate to pass this, the greater the danger that people see their unemployment benefits lapse, even if temporarily. The creaky state systems will need to be reprogrammed with the new deadlines and the new provision that allows for $400/week payment boosts as opposed to the current $300/week boost. That’s after the Department of Labor issues its guidance on the new law, which it can’t do until it’s passed and signed by the president. According to the Century Foundation, there are still people who haven’t received about $17.6 billion worth of benefits from the last bill, which passed at the end of September.
About 4 million people getting the Pandemic Unemployed Assistance (help for freelancers, gig workers, some self-employed and independent contractors) and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (which extends the duration of eligibility in traditional state unemployment) could lose their benefits entirely in two weeks. The House bill extends them through Aug. 29; Biden and Senate Democrats want them to last through the first week of October.
“You’re just trying to hold on day by day, and it makes it so much more difficult when you have no communication with anyone,” Chantel Clark told NBC News about the rigamarole she’s faced in Georgia while trying to get UI. “It drains you so mentally and emotionally, and it makes you just feel worthless, like you’re begging someone to give you something that was entitled to be given.” Nicole (who withheld her last name), a California actor and teacher, agreed. “It’s just all the waiting and all of the calling that you have to do that takes time away from actually looking for work or actually bettering your life,” she said.
That makes it all the more important that the remaining provisions of assistance—expanded paid sick and family leave, small business assistance, nutrition support, housing protections—that are scheduled to lapse in the next several weeks and months are renewed in this bill, and as soon as possible. The tax incentive for employers to offer extended paid leave for illness and family care expires at the end of March if it isn’t renewed. People receiving food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, could lose the 15% boost to benefits by the end of June, another premature deadline demanded by Republicans.
This bill doesn’t extend the federal moratorium on evictions because that can’t be done in a reconciliation bill, but it does provide more than $19 billion to state and local governments expressly for housing assistance, covering back rent and utilities and $5 billion on top of that to help those at risk of homelessness. Another $10 billion is targeted to homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages, utilities, and property taxes. That will all help those at risk to stay sheltered, even while the administration works to extend the federal eviction moratorium.
The $1,400 survival checks will help, too, this time going out at the full amount for children and adult dependents as well a heads of household. So will the $3,600 annual tax credit payments to families with young children. So will the $50 billion for vaccine distribution and testing and tracing of the virus so that it can finally be contained and the economy can come back, jobs can come back, children can safely return to school, and we can start rebuilding. This bill can’t address the abysmal state of unemployment systems in this country, but that should be one of the first things at the top of the list for fixing when the emergency is over. We can’t afford as a nation to see a repeat of the debacle.