Although the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen, the $600 weekly federal unemployment insurance payout to impacted workers is set to end on July 25 in most states.
In order to save this funding program, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) is organizing a campaign to #SaveThe600.
In late March, the U.S. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This $2.2 trillion stimulus package supplements states’ unemployment insurance payouts to workers and businesses financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic crisis.
A key provision of the CARES Act, known as the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) program, provides unemployed workers $600 a week in addition to their states’ usual unemployment benefits.
However, when these benefits cease at the end of this month, millions of Americans will be left worrying about how to make ends meet.
But the big rock in the road to HEROES assistance is the U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is in no hurry. He’s called the bill “crazy policy,” and wants to hit the pause button on more relief, and President Trump has called the bill “dead on arrival.”
Instead, the White House is looking to limit the next relief package to $1 trillion. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dismissed the White House’s plan, saying in a press conference, “No, we need a trillion dollars for state and local. We need another trillion dollars for unemployment insurance, and direct payments.”
If the PUC program is not extended, 30 million workers and their families will be affected. Failure to extend the program will disproportionately harm Black, Latinx and indigenous workers. That’s because unemployment rates are higher among these groups than their white counterparts.
Additionally, Black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in front-line jobs such as child care, grocery, warehouse, delivery, cleaning, building and public transit services. Notably, these are jobs where telework is not an option and social distancing is near impossible.
Without the $600 weekly benefit, unemployed workers pressured back into the labor force will be putting themselves, and consequently their families, at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19—a disease already disproportionately affecting minority communities.
Unemployed women will also be more negatively impacted by the loss of the PUC program, given their higher unemployment rates during the pandemic. In particular, mothers of color are more likely to be the primary or sole breadwinners in households with children under the age of 18. As rent and other bills pile up, failing to support women with cash assistance during this pandemic ultimately hurts entire families.
That’s why the NELP— along with the Center for Popular Democracy, MomsRising, the Groundwork Collaborative, and the Economic Policy Institute—are calling on Congress to #SaveThe600 by extending the PUC program.
By raising awareness and creating media buzz, the #SaveThe600 campaign is putting pressure on Trump and McConnell to protect those affected by the current economic crisis. In fact, a majority of Americans support the extension of the PUC program.
“As gaps in benefits for unemployed workers have taken center stage, it is important to remember that the CARES Act you enacted is having a dramatic and positive impact on tens of millions of people who are out of work and must stay home to care for their families. Particularly for workers who are paid low wages, these benefits are the difference between not making ends meet and being able to afford to stock up and remain home safely. These benefits are saving lives.”—Excerpt of testimony by Michele Evermore, NELP, during a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Finance on June 9, 2020.
The White House and Republican lawmakers have signaled they are willing to reconsider extending the federal unemployment benefits—albeit for less than the $600 per week outlined in the HEROES Act.
If you want to help #SaveThe600, consider signing this petition, which has already garnered over 1.5 million signatures. You can also contact your federal representatives and use the hashtags #ExtendUI and #WeAreTheEconomy on social media to express your support for saving the PUC program.
Congress is on recess until July 17, but Ms. will keep you updated as more information becomes available.