12 million Americans could lose crucial unemployment benefits just after Christmas

With special pandemic unemployment benefits set to expire in the next few weeks, opera singer Brian Montgomery is making plans to leave the country.Si...

Posted: Nov 21, 2020 6:22 PM

With special pandemic unemployment benefits set to expire in the next few weeks, opera singer Brian Montgomery is making plans to leave the country.

Since March, Montgomery -- a New Yorker who also works as a voice teacher and tour guide -- has not been able to find steady work, but he's gotten weekly payments thanks to the historic expansion of benefits under the $2 trillion federal stimulus package. But now, with Congress stalled on a fresh relief deal, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program will run out just after Christmas.

If that happens, Montgomery and his wife, a part-time home health aide, might go to Japan, where Montgomery's wife is from, or Hong Kong, where he lived for 12 years and believes he can get work.

"I had hoped our wonderful Congress would have figured it out by now," said Montgomery, 63. "We would be paying rent. We would be putting that money back into the economy. It's not as if we are just going to hoard it. We need to spend it."

Montgomery is among the 7.3 million independent contractors, gig workers, freelancers and self-employed folks who would lose unemployment benefits, according to a recent estimate by The Century Foundation. The program is also available to certain people affected by the coronavirus, including those who are ill or quarantined or have families members who are and those whose children's schools have closed.

A second measure, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, is also due to expire. That one provides the jobless with an additional 13 weeks of payments after they exhaust their traditional state benefits, which typically last 26 weeks. Some 4.6 million recipients will see these extra payments expire prematurely unless Congress acts, The Century Foundation estimated -- and many of those people won't be eligible for extended state benefits, which can last up to 20 weeks.

March shutdowns have an enduring effect

The ranks of long-term unemployed has been rising steadily as a growing number of people find themselves unable to land jobs more than six months after they were let go in the record-breaking wave of joblessness that accompanied the onset of the pandemic in March and April. Nearly 3.6 million Americans were out of work for at least 27 weeks in October, a stunning jump of nearly 50% from September, according to the most recent federal jobs report. They now account for a third of the unemployed, up from less than one-fifth a month earlier.

"We've never cut off unemployment benefits when this many people are collecting, when the unemployment rate is this high, this early in a recession," said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Congress, however, has been unable to agree on another stimulus package to extend many of the relief measures it passed in March. Long gone is the $600 federal boost to weekly unemployment benefits, which expired at the end of July despite heavy lobbying by the jobless, consumer advocates and Democrats.

The looming termination of the remaining pandemic unemployment programs comes as coronavirus cases surge nationwide, prompting several governors to renew restrictions on businesses and schools. This will likely lead to new rounds of layoffs -- already initial unemployment claims rose in mid-November for the first time in a month.

And it comes as several other federal rescue initiatives, including the eviction moratorium and student loan payment deferral, end -- putting an additional squeeze on the jobless.

'Astounding' inaction in Washington

The "indifference" displayed by lawmakers is "astounding," said America Caballero, who lost her contract job as a human resources staffer for oil and gas companies in late April.

Caballero will soon exhaust her state benefits, and her pandemic emergency payments will most likely end before she gets the full 13 weeks. She's concerned the state extended benefits she will then receive will also run out next year before she's able to find work.

"Every time Congress tries to do something, it breaks down because they can't get over their differences," said Caballero, 45, who lives with her mother and sister in a suburb of Houston. "The American people are suffering."

Meanwhile, job listings have been scarce and fewer have been posted lately, she said. And many of the ones she sees pay $35,000 to $45,000 a year, instead of the more typical $55,000 to $60,000 they offered before the pandemic.

"We want jobs. We don't want a handout," said Caballero, who has a master's degree in business administration. "We want for the economy to stabilize."

A triple whammy

Gabbie Riley is facing a triple whammy when it comes to landing a new job to replace the one she lost in late March.

She worked in sales for a Minneapolis hotel, focusing on booking clients in sports and entertainment. All of those industries have shriveled up in the pandemic.

While the 39-year-old expects to shift from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to extended benefits next month, she doesn't think she'll be able to find another job before those payments run out in March.

"Congress needs to provide ample support to the individual, the small businesses and large affected businesses until we are out of the woods. Period," said Riley, who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her son, who attends college virtually.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
Hendricks17244315
Clark12985191
Madison12673339
Vigo12449247
LaPorte11928211
Monroe11893170
Delaware10696186
Howard9924216
Kosciusko9410117
Hancock8284141
Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
Henry5720103
Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
Clinton427453
Montgomery424189
Whitley396139
Huntington391980
Steuben387857
Miami381866
Knox371990
Jasper366047
Putnam360760
Wabash354179
Adams341354
Ripley339770
Jefferson330981
White314354
Daviess297399
Wells291581
Decatur285492
Fayette280762
Greene278985
Posey271533
LaGrange266770
Scott266354
Clay260247
Randolph240781
Washington240732
Spencer232131
Jennings230149
Starke216654
Fountain212346
Sullivan211942
Owen200256
Fulton195440
Jay195130
Carroll189320
Orange183654
Perry183037
Rush173425
Vermillion169143
Franklin168135
Tipton162845
Parke146316
Blackford134932
Pike134334
Pulaski116845
Newton107834
Brown102141
Crawford99814
Benton98614
Martin89115
Warren82115
Switzerland7918
Union71010
Ohio56811
Unassigned0416

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1085733

Reported Deaths: 19441
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1261201400
Cuyahoga1124072120
Hamilton801491206
Montgomery515591014
Summit47292946
Lucas42275788
Butler38396584
Stark32412907
Lorain25046481
Warren24313300
Mahoning21629588
Lake20725369
Clermont19803238
Delaware18537133
Licking16436212
Fairfield16230200
Trumbull16082468
Medina15309264
Greene15099244
Clark14017299
Wood13113189
Portage12890203
Allen11675232
Richland11382199
Miami10686217
Wayne8843211
Columbiana8816229
Muskingum8815133
Pickaway8582121
Marion8539135
Tuscarawas8487244
Erie7917154
Hancock6929127
Ross6858155
Ashtabula6830170
Geauga6697148
Scioto6417101
Belmont5920167
Union571048
Lawrence5560102
Jefferson5544151
Huron5439119
Darke5364123
Sandusky5359121
Seneca5290121
Athens520058
Washington5160109
Auglaize491984
Mercer480885
Shelby470093
Knox4495110
Madison436661
Putnam4287100
Fulton423969
Ashland423189
Defiance421097
Crawford3978107
Brown395057
Logan382376
Preble379898
Clinton372963
Ottawa367479
Highland355662
Williams340275
Champaign333458
Guernsey316253
Jackson312652
Perry295350
Morrow285639
Fayette282250
Hardin271464
Henry269366
Coshocton265357
Holmes2611101
Van Wert243763
Adams238552
Pike237734
Gallia235949
Wyandot231555
Hocking215462
Carroll191647
Paulding173340
Meigs144940
Noble133337
Monroe132342
Harrison108537
Morgan108523
Vinton83515
Unassigned02
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