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GOP refusal to back rescue package could push thousands of jobless down to $5 a week

Carolyn Kaster/AP

WASHINGTON—Can you imagine trying to live, or feed your family on five bucks a week? How about $10, or $15, or $25?

Tens of thousands of jobless workers could face that fate in December unless Trump gets a bill for and signs into law $600 in federal jobless benefits for workers who don’t qualify for state unemployment aid. The latest we’ve heard is that he is not signing anything unless he is reelected.

The $600 checks, on top of state jobless benefits, began after Congress in mid-March passed the Cares Act, the first big economic aid bill designed to help workers slammed by closures and joblessness due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the program shut down to new applicants on July 31.

Those $600 checks are vital to workers such as home health care aides, port truckers, adjunct professors, musicians, “independent contractors,” and gig economy workers who qualify for little or no traditional state jobless benefits. Every jobless worker who sought state aid got the $600 as well, though.

Many are still getting them. Some 17.5% of U.S. workers received state and/or federal jobless benefits for the most recent week of available data, a Bureau of Labor Statistics chart released Oct. 8 shows.

The number receiving state or federal jobless benefits, 25,505,499 as of Sept. 19, actually understates the widespread joblessness due to closures forced by the coronavirus pandemic. The big figure doesn’t count new applicants in the weeks ending Sept. 26 (1,307,772) and Oct. 3 (1,268,744).

But unless lawmakers agree to resume $600 weekly federal checks, a separate DOL chart shows jobless aid could fall to as little as $5 a week for tens of thousands.

The workers who get only the $600 checks will be up a creek as their checks run out between now and early December when the last ones will be sent. Trump and the Senate’s ruling Republicans refuse to reinstate and renew that special assistance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refuses to even consider—much less let lawmakers debate and vote upon—the Heroes Act, which the Democratic-run House has passed twice. It would reinstate all the $600 checks and extend them into 2021 or when the pandemic ends, whichever is later.

Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was bargaining over any additional benefits, though not necessarily the $600 weekly checks. with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Trump abruptly and unilaterally pulled the plug on the talks on Oct. 6. That will leave affected jobless workers with almost nothing.

When those checks end, the workers could seek 13 weeks of supplemental federal pandemic assistance benefits, or try to draw what little they can from state aid. “What little they can,” according to DOL data, can be as little as $5 a week.

State jobless benefits have minimum and maximum weekly payouts. The lowest minimums are $5 a week in Hawaii and not much more than that in Puerto Rico ($7), Louisiana ($10), Connecticut and North Carolina ($15), Nevada and Oklahoma ($16), Delaware ($20), West Virginia ($24) and Colorado ($25). The highest minimum weekly payout, in Washington, is $178. Organized labor is lobbying hard and marshaling public support for the Heroes Act, and resuming the $600 weekly checks for the jobless.

“To every single working person out there: Your president has given up on you. America’s labor movement never will,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka responded after Trump dumped the talks.

“Donald Trump has ordered everyone to stop negotiations on the Heroes Act, which would extend unemployment benefits to millions, implement a strong federal workplace infectious disease standard, and provide money to states for critical services. Donald Trump’s ship is sinking,” politically, Trumka explained. “And he wants to take the rest of the country down with him.”



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg 

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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