Millions of workers who’ve relied on pandemic-era unemployment benefits are cut off from jobless aid altogether as they recently had expired on September 6. As a 44-year-old male food service worker and also a resident of New Haven, my PUA benefits were “a lifeline” to stay in my apartment, pay for utilities and buy groceries.
The state of Connecticut stopped providing PUA on September 6. If it weren’t for PUA, I wouldn’t be eligible for jobless aid to make up for lost wages.
I drained a large majority of my savings in order to pay bills before my PUA payments kicked in during the spring of 2020, and my payments were less than what I would of earned while working full-time. At one point I had to shut off my cellphone service in order to afford food for my family. I’m frustrated that lawmakers are letting benefits expire for millions of Americans like myself. As some job sectors go back to normal, others have been forgotten about.
And with the delta variant beginning to surge again, I’m worried. Are they going to have to shut down the school’s or prohibit public gatherings again. With so much uncertainty around [Covid], it feels like the worst time to end benefits. Also with the rent/eviction moratorium also being expired, we also have to take into account homelessness for those who fall behind on their rent or mortgage payments.
Critics of pandemic aid argue that generous benefits, including a $600 weekly supplement that dropped to $300 per week last summer, have made people stay at home and become lazy, but I would argue that the PUA hasn’t kept people from taking jobs, but rather the availability of paid work; workers’ individual health and safety concerns, and proper child care plays a large part in whether one can find suitable work during the pandemic.
It is too soon to allow the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs to end. These programs addressed many systemic inequities many people of color face daily, and with PUA covering workers who do not qualify for regular unemployment examples, gig workers, the self-employed. The benefits are ending at a vital time of the pandemic spike.
Cases and hospitalizations from the Delta variant are now on the rise, and many people of color relied on their unemployment benefits as a key lifeline over this year to get them through hard financial times, and now we have to be worried we’re living in a new corona virus wave. Those benefits should be extended to help the hardworking American people.
Jahmal Henderson of New Haven belongs to the People’s Center jobs and unemployment committee