As mil¬≠lions of U.S. work¬≠ers face unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment, food inse¬≠cu¬≠ri¬≠ty and evic¬≠tion amid the coro¬≠n¬≠avirus pan¬≠dem¬≠ic, the lim¬≠it¬≠ed aid pro¬≠vid¬≠ed by the fed¬≠er¬≠al government‚Äôs flawed CARES Act from March has long since dried up.
Last week, fol¬≠low¬≠ing more than six months of stalled nego¬≠ti¬≠a¬≠tions with con¬≠gres¬≠sion¬≠al Democ¬≠rats over a new eco¬≠nom¬≠ic relief pack¬≠age, Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Trump abrupt¬≠ly announced he was halt¬≠ing talks until after the Novem¬≠ber election.
While the pres¬≠i¬≠dent quick¬≠ly back¬≠tracked and is now report¬≠ed¬≠ly con¬≠tin¬≠u¬≠ing to nego¬≠ti¬≠ate, the fed¬≠er¬≠al government‚Äôs ongo¬≠ing fail¬≠ure to pass a new relief pack¬≠age spells cat¬≠a¬≠stro¬≠phe for a U.S. work¬≠ing class already pushed to the brink by an eco¬≠nom¬≠ic cri¬≠sis seem¬≠ing¬≠ly on par with the Great Depression.
Here‚Äôs a break¬≠down of what the con¬≠tin¬≠ued lack of fed¬≠er¬≠al help means for workers:
Sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant¬≠ly reduced unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment checks
Per¬≠haps the most ben¬≠e¬≠fi¬≠cial part of the CARES Act was the extra $600¬†a¬†week it pro¬≠vid¬≠ed to work¬≠ers on unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment‚ÄĒa tem¬≠po¬≠rary life¬≠line that the GOP-led Sen¬≠ate allowed to expire on July¬†31.¬†
Week¬≠ly unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment ben¬≠e¬≠fits vary wide¬≠ly by state, rang¬≠ing from $44 in Okla¬≠homa to $497 in Wash¬≠ing¬≠ton. The $600 week¬≠ly sup¬≠ple¬≠ment was an across-the-board ben¬≠e¬≠fit that ensured unem¬≠ployed work¬≠ers in any state main¬≠tained a decent income despite los¬≠ing their jobs due to the pandemic.
The Eco¬≠nom¬≠ic Pol¬≠i¬≠cy Insti¬≠tute found that the con¬≠sumer spend¬≠ing gen¬≠er¬≠at¬≠ed by that extra $600 per week sup¬≠port¬≠ed over 5 mil¬≠lion jobs, and that con¬≠tin¬≠u¬≠ing the sup¬≠ple¬≠ment through the mid¬≠dle of next year would have raised U.S. gross domes¬≠tic prod¬≠uct (GDP) by a quar¬≠ter¬≠ly aver¬≠age of 3.7 percent.
After this ben¬≠e¬≠fit expired, rather than agree to Democ¬≠rats‚Äô demands to extend it, Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Trump¬†signed¬†an exec¬≠u¬≠tive order slash¬≠ing it by¬†50¬†per¬≠cent‚ÄĒallow¬≠ing states to use fed¬≠er¬≠al funds to pro¬≠vide only a $300¬†week¬≠ly unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment sup¬≠ple¬≠ment. At least sev¬≠en states have already¬†exhaust¬≠ed¬†these¬†funds.¬†
Mean¬≠while, by los¬≠ing the week¬≠ly $600¬†boost, unem¬≠ployed work¬≠ers saw their incomes drop by¬†two-thirds, mak¬≠ing it more dif¬≠fi¬≠cult to pay the bills and afford gro¬≠ceries. There are cur¬≠rent¬≠ly¬†25.5¬†mil¬≠lion¬†work¬≠ers receiv¬≠ing unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment ben¬≠e¬≠fits. With at least¬†14¬†mil¬≠lion¬†more job¬≠less work¬≠ers than job open¬≠ings, mil¬≠lions will be forced to rely on unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment insur¬≠ance for the fore¬≠see¬≠able future‚ÄĒbut now with a¬†great¬≠ly reduced¬†check.
Mass fur¬≠loughs in the air¬≠line industry
Anoth¬≠er one of the CARES Act‚Äôs most help¬≠ful pro¬≠vi¬≠sions was the Pay¬≠roll Sup¬≠port Pro¬≠gram (PSP), which pro¬≠vid¬≠ed $32 bil¬≠lion in grants to the avi¬≠a¬≠tion indus¬≠try for the sole pur¬≠pose of keep¬≠ing work¬≠ers on pay¬≠roll and pro¬≠vid¬≠ing ben¬≠e¬≠fits dur¬≠ing the Covid-19 cri¬≠sis. The avi¬≠a¬≠tion indus¬≠try employs 750,000 work¬≠ers, many of them union¬≠ized, and accounts for 5 per¬≠cent of GDP.
The Sen¬≠ate allowed the PSP to expire on Octo¬≠ber 1, result¬≠ing in 40,000 air¬≠line work¬≠ers imme¬≠di¬≠ate¬≠ly being fur¬≠loughed with¬≠out pay or health insur¬≠ance. The industry‚Äôs unions are wag¬≠ing an aggres¬≠sive cam¬≠paign to extend the pro¬≠gram. With¬≠out the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment con¬≠tin¬≠u¬≠ing the PSP, more fur¬≠loughs are like¬≠ly to come as pas¬≠sen¬≠ger air¬≠lines suf¬≠fer a loss in busi¬≠ness due to the pandemic.
More lay¬≠offs at small businesses
The Pay¬≠check Pro¬≠tec¬≠tion Pro¬≠gram (PPP), anoth¬≠er com¬≠po¬≠nent of the CARES Act, offered up to $659 bil¬≠lion in for¬≠giv¬≠able loans to small busi¬≠ness¬≠es to keep work¬≠ers on pay¬≠roll. The pro¬≠gram has been crit¬≠i¬≠cized for allo¬≠cat¬≠ing mil¬≠lions of dol¬≠lars to large cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions and com¬≠pa¬≠nies con¬≠nect¬≠ed to politi¬≠cians, but it has also offered much-need¬≠ed finan¬≠cial sup¬≠port to small busi¬≠ness¬≠es across the country.
The appli¬≠ca¬≠tion dead¬≠line for PPP loans was on August 8. While the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion claims the pro¬≠gram saved 51 mil¬≠lion jobs, econ¬≠o¬≠mists have put that num¬≠ber at any¬≠where from only 2.3 mil¬≠lion to 13.6 mil¬≠lion.
What¬≠ev¬≠er the pre¬≠cise num¬≠ber, the PPP‚Äôs impact is quick¬≠ly run¬≠ning out of steam. Bor¬≠row¬≠ers say they expect to lay off work¬≠ers with¬≠in six months, while a Nation¬≠al Restau¬≠rant Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion sur¬≠vey indi¬≠cates that a whop¬≠ping 40 per¬≠cent of all U.S. restau¬≠rants could go out of busi¬≠ness in the com¬≠ing months, lead¬≠ing to mil¬≠lions of more layoffs.
No sec¬≠ond $1,200 stim¬≠u¬≠lus check
While Sen. Bernie Sanders and pro¬≠gres¬≠sive Democ¬≠rats have been¬†call¬≠ing¬†on the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment to pro¬≠vide a $2,000¬†month¬≠ly check to every U.S. adult for the dura¬≠tion of the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic, the CARES Act instead pro¬≠vid¬≠ed a¬†one-time check of $1,200‚ÄĒwhich exclud¬≠ed many¬†undoc¬≠u¬≠ment¬≠ed immi¬≠grants¬†and¬†col¬≠lege-age adults. Econ¬≠o¬≠mists report that the checks did¬†vir¬≠tu¬≠al¬≠ly noth¬≠ing¬†to stim¬≠u¬≠late the econ¬≠o¬≠my, though they did help poor and unem¬≠ployed work¬≠ers par¬≠tial¬≠ly¬†cov¬≠er¬†a¬†few weeks‚Äô worth of basic¬†expenses.
Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Trump and con¬≠gres¬≠sion¬≠al lead¬≠ers have been say¬≠ing for months that a sec¬≠ond $1,200 check is on the way. But with¬≠out anoth¬≠er relief bill, even this mea¬≠ger finan¬≠cial assis¬≠tance will not materialize.
An uncer¬≠tain future
On Octo¬≠ber 1, the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic-con¬≠trolled House of Rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives passed a scaled-down ver¬≠sion of the HEROES Act, an eco¬≠nom¬≠ic relief pack¬≠age they orig¬≠i¬≠nal¬≠ly passed in May that extends the lim¬≠it¬≠ed aid from the CARES Act.
Among oth¬≠er things,¬†the $2.2 trillion bill¬†would con¬≠tin¬≠ue the $600¬†week¬≠ly unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment sup¬≠ple¬≠ment to the end of Jan¬≠u¬≠ary (mak¬≠ing it retroac¬≠tive to Sep¬≠tem¬≠ber¬†6), allo¬≠cate anoth¬≠er $25¬†bil¬≠lion for air¬≠line work¬≠ers, allow small busi¬≠ness¬≠es to apply for a¬†sec¬≠ond PPP loan, send out a¬†sec¬≠ond $1,200¬†stim¬≠u¬≠lus check, pro¬≠vide $50¬†bil¬≠lion in emer¬≠gency rental assis¬≠tance, and give an addi¬≠tion¬≠al $10¬†bil¬≠lion to the Sup¬≠ple¬≠men¬≠tal Nutri¬≠tion Assis¬≠tance Pro¬≠gram (SNAP).
Over the week¬≠end, the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion¬†coun¬≠tered¬†with a¬†small¬≠er, $1.8 trillion pro¬≠pos¬≠al that would include a $400-per-week unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment sup¬≠ple¬≠ment, $20¬†bil¬≠lion for air¬≠lines, anoth¬≠er $330¬†bil¬≠lion for PPP loans, and a¬†sec¬≠ond $1,200¬†check, among oth¬≠er mea¬≠sures‚ÄĒbut nei¬≠ther House Speak¬≠er Nan¬≠cy Pelosi nor Sen¬≠ate Repub¬≠li¬≠cans appear ready to push this bill in their¬†caucus.
While mil¬≠lions of U.S. work¬≠ers are left in the lurch and mass lay¬≠offs con¬≠tin¬≠ue to mount, Trump and Sen¬≠ate Repub¬≠li¬≠cans are instead focus¬≠ing their atten¬≠tion on ensur¬≠ing right-wing, anti-union judge Amy Coney Bar¬≠rett is hasti¬≠ly con¬≠firmed to the Supreme Court in time for the election.
‚ÄúIf this gov¬≠ern¬≠ment doesn‚Äôt work for us, then we need to focus on the fact that it is our labor that gives all the val¬≠ue to this coun¬≠try,‚ÄĚ Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Flight Atten¬≠dants pres¬≠i¬≠dent Sara Nel¬≠son‚ÄĒwho famous¬≠ly¬†called¬†for a¬†gen¬≠er¬≠al strike to end Trump‚Äôs fed¬≠er¬≠al shut¬≠down in Jan¬≠u¬≠ary¬†2019‚ÄĒsaid¬†last week.¬†‚ÄúThis coun¬≠try doesn‚Äôt run with¬≠out us as work¬≠ers. So we have to think about that option as¬†well.‚ÄĚ
This blog originally appeared at In These Times on October 19, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work¬≠ing In These Times con¬≠trib¬≠u¬≠tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His¬≠to¬≠ry from the Uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ty of Illi¬≠nois at Chica¬≠go and a Master‚Äôs in Labor Stud¬≠ies from UMass Amherst. Fol¬≠low him on Twit¬≠ter: @JeffSchuhrke.