‘A real impact on public health’: Millions could lose unemployment benefits Dec. 26

Millions of Americans could lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas if Congress doesn’t take action as two government relief programs under the CARES Act are set to expire next month.

“I do entertainment production. We do everything from weddings to concerts,” said DJ Michael Duncan, who owns Miked Up Productions in Snohomish.

But since the pandemic started, the DJ business has come to a grinding halt, and Duncan has been stuck.

“Not much work for us,” said Duncan.

He’s been out of work since February. It took almost a month for him to get his unemployment benefits.

In order to pay his rent and his utilities, he has counted on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program from the federal government.

“Prior to pandemic, I’ve never been on unemployment. I’m on that special PUA gig worker, self-employed thing,” said Duncan.

Funding for two critical government relief programs created by the CARES Act is about to run out. The CARES Act is the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed in late March.

One program is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA –which supports gig workers, independent contractors, and the self-employed like Duncan. The other program is the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation plan which extends jobless aid and allows people to pay their bills for an extra 13 weeks. The program helps unemployed people who have used up their state benefits.

“There are additional extended benefits you could get, more than the standard 26 weeks. The money for the additional benefits comes from the federal support as well,” said Sage Wilson with Working Washington.

But both programs end Dec. 26.

“Those steps are all expiring which is coming at a terrible time given the state of the pandemic, the holidays as well. It’s frankly hard to understand how the federal government can’t come together and take action to provide relief to people,” said Wilson. “I have no idea how this is going to impact me. Not sure if it automatically renews or it’s done and we’re all stuck.”

Susie Thompson of Snoqualmie is also worried.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do to make ends meet with no unemployment,” she said. “I only have a few payments left.”

Thompson, who is a tow truck dispatcher, has been out of work since March.

“It took me quite a while to get my unemployment. I was really worried. I didn’t have any income at all,” said Thompson. “Right around April, I started getting my unemployment. It has been hit and miss ever since.”

She’s concerned about how anyone is going to make it if Congress does pass another stimulus plan.

“It’s so hard. Right now, we can’t go out; we can’t even go out and look for jobs because we put ourselves in jeopardy, if we do because of the COVID-19 (virus),” said Thompson.

“That lack of economic security people are going to face when they don’t have those benefits– is really going to have a real impact on public health,” said Wilson. “People are going to be faced with really tough decisions about staying home, staying safe, staying healthy or going back to work in circumstances that aren’t the safest for their families.”

Meanwhile, many more restaurant workers will be counting on unemployment benefits again.

“The last time it took me two months to get a dime after I filed,” said Connor Sweeney.

Sweeney has been working as a server and bartender at The Onion in Spokane while going to school. He lost his job this week after Governor Jay Inslee announced the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I have a decent amount of savings. But if it lasts more than a month, I’m out to look for another job,” said Sweeney.

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