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OVER 218,000 GEORGIANS TO LOSE ALL UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE WITHIN DAYS

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NEW ESTIMATE OF GEORGIA PEUC RECIPIENTS SHOWS OVER 114,000 LONG-TERM JOBLESS FACING COMPLETE AID CUTOFF JUNE 26

An estimated 218,434 Georgians will abruptly lose all unemployment assistance at the end of this week, according to a new analysis released today by the National Employment Law Project (NELP). That figure comprises 114,820 long-term unemployed workers currently receiving extended weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), plus another 103,614 Georgians currently receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits.

All together, more than 347,000 people are receiving some form of jobless aid in Georgia, and nearly two in three will lose all aid when the state shuts off all federal pandemic unemployment payments on June 26th at the direction of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Governor Brian Kemp.

NELP’s analysis of the impact of states’ unilateral cutoffs of federally funded pandemic unemployment benefits includes a first-ever estimate of Georgia PEUC recipients facing the cutoff of those benefits.[1] Georgia is one of only two states that do not report this data to the U.S. Labor Department.

Additional data on the impact of Georgia’s unemployment aid cutoffs include the following:

  • Of the 347,422 people receiving unemployment payments in Georgia, 114,820 PEUC and 103,614 PUA recipients will be cut off completely, leaving them with no jobless aid at all.
  • Nearly two-thirds (62.9%) of unemployment recipients in Georgia will be cut off completely.
  • Of the 22 states ending all CARES Act pandemic unemployment programs early, Georgia (347,422) ranks second only to Texas (1,149,892) in the number of people affected.
  • Black, Latinx, and other people of color will be disproportionately affected by the cutoffs: a majority (51.8%) of state unemployment insurance recipients in Georgia are workers of color.

Nationally, more than 4.7 million people will be affected by the cutoffs of federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), the weekly $300 supplement to all benefits; Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the expanded program for self-employed, gig workers, and others excluded from regular state unemployment eligibility; and PEUC, the extended weeks for people whose regular state benefits run out.

  • Nationally, in the week ending May 29th, 76% of all unemployment recipients were PEUC or PUA benefit recipients.
  • In the 22 states ending all pandemic jobless aid early, 74.7% are PEUC or PUA recipients who will be cut off completely.

“The CARES Act’s pandemic unemployment programs continue to be a critical lifeline for millions of people looking for work in a changed economy still jolted by the pandemic,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of NELP. “The decision by Governor Kemp and Labor Commissioner Butler to abruptly end these family-sustaining payments is callous and downright cruel. These programs fill huge gaps in unemployment eligibility, benefit adequacy, and duration. They are helping families and communities—particularly Black workers and other people of color—weather an economic crisis that the U.S. is only beginning to emerge from. The success of these programs is clear proof that our unemployment insurance system is in dire need of comprehensive reform. Congress should make UI reform an urgent priority this year, and extend the pandemic aid programs for as long as people need them.”

This blog originally appeared at NELP on June 23, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: NELP fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and the unemployed. 


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Unemployment Benefits Protect Seasonal Workers

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Sheila Regan (@Sheila_Regan) | Twitter

The Wisconsin state legislature wants to slash unemployment benefits. Seasonal workers rely on that money as job opportunities fluctuate throughout the year.

This article is part of The Wisconsin Idea, an investigative reporting initiative focused on rural Wisconsin.

Troy Brewer was pleased when the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs this year, and not just because he’s a big fan of the basketball team. 

Brewer works as a cook in Fiserv Forum, the arena where the Bucks play. He’s been there since the arena opened in 2018, and helped start a union there in the same year, the Fiserv Forum and Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH). The union’s contract ensures that Brewer and his coworkers make at least a $15 wage, and because of Brewer’s seniority, he’s at the top of the list whenever there’s work. 

But after the playoffs, the work schedule gets a little light. 

“I’m most definitely worried,” Brewer said. ?“Recently, we have emails saying we don’t have a schedule set for July, like there might not be any work.”

The backup for Brewer and workers like him, who work in fields that haven’t fully returned from the pandemic, is unemployment insurance.

Back in March of 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which in addition to other relief measures, supplemented the state’s unemployment benefits by $600 a week, a number which was halved in January. In March 2021, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which continued the $300 supplement, set to expire on September 6. Since then, 25 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, have announced their intention to stop accepting the federal subsidy. 

In Wisconsin, the legislature has voted to reinstate work search requirements for people receiving unemployment insurance, and declined Governor Evers’ proposal to add $15 million to the state’s unemployment system, as well as a proposal to add $28 million to worker training programs. Meanwhile, Republicans in the legislature have made moves to eliminate the $300 supplement from the federal government for UI. “It’s hard times out here right now, especially for the people in our work.”

Governor Tony Evers has questioned the logic that ending additional unemployment insurance would solve the labor shortage problem in the state, which predates the pandemic. ?“We had trouble finding people to come to work before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and after the pandemic,” he told the press on June 1. ?“I just feel confident that the people that are receiving unemployment compensation with an unemployment rate now that is similar to before the pandemic, need those resources to live on,” he said. 

But so far, the Governor hasn’t stated definitively that he would veto the Republican measure. ?“I will take a look at it,” he said when asked whether he would veto the bill. 

Brewer, who has two kids at home, says that he needs that extra boost. He just found out that his landlord is selling his house, so on top of everything, he has to find a new place to live. ?“It’s a good thing we do still get unemployment to help us stand a little better than what we usually would.” 

Lauren Stevens, another worker at the arena, feels a similar anxiety. Stevens is a retired educator, and has used her job doing concessions to make ends meet. The basketball season starts up again in the fall, so after the Bucks’ playoff run, there won’t be work again until the new season. Stevens and other workers will be able to use unemployment benefits until then, but only if the legislature doesn’t cut off the federal supplement. 

“I’m concerned?—?reason being I’m retired, on social security and this is a part time position for myself,” Stevens said. ?“I’m a little concerned with this gap.” 

Much of the discourse around getting rid of unemployment insurance centers around the notion that the benefit discourages people from returning to work. That conclusion isn’t born out in research on the subject, though. In ?“A Short Review of Recent Evidence on the Disincentive Effects of Unemployment Insurance and New Evidence from New York State, University of Chicago professors, who studied an increase in unemployment insurance in New York, found only a slight propensity for people on UI to continue benefits when they increased.

More recently, a study by a group of Yale economists found that there was no evidence that the $600 a week benefit provided by the CARES Act disincentivized people from returning to work. 

“Unemployment rates in Wisconsin don’t support the overdrawn and quite dramatic, self serving conclusion that there are a bunch of people sitting on the sidelines who are ready to go to go to work in otherwise low wage, no benefit, insecure, crappy jobs if $300 a week, supplemental unemployment benefits were eliminated,” said Peter Rickman, president of MASH. At the same time, Rickman sees the current economic landscape as an opportunity for workers. ?“The way the labor market is constructed right now is such that the balance of power instead of being wholly and entirely in favor of the boss class, has had a slight tipping towards the working class,” he said. 

Senator Melissa Agard (D?16th District) argues that cutting UI won’t put people back to work as much as it would harm struggling families. ?“It’s really unfortunate that my Republican colleagues in Wisconsin are continuing down the same path that they were on pre-pandemic: making it harder for people to be able to get ahead and take care of themselves and their families,” Agard told In These Times. ?“Folks are having a hard time finding people for jobs primarily because they’re not paying people a living wage, or respectable wage to do those jobs.”

Agard feels concerned the pandemic has only exacerbated the wealth gap that was in place before COVID-19 hit. ?“In my opinion, we should be learning about how it is that supporting people actually provides them with a step up for themselves and their families in our future,” she said. 

For Debbie Steidl, who normally does stagehand work for touring Broadway shows at the Marcus Performing Art Center (PAC) in Milwaukee, the end of the expanded unemployment benefits won’t necessarily spell financial doom. That’s in part because years in the business as a union member, and support from family and friends, left her in a good position to make it through the pandemic year.

In addition to other theater work, Steidl, who is a member of IATSE Local 18, had been in show business for 35 years when theaters across the country closed down due to the pandemic, bringing her work to a screeching halt in March 2020.

“I just reached the point on my seniority level where I have steady income, where I can actually plan things and all of a sudden, the rug is pulled out from under me,” Steidl recalled. ?“I was very angry.”

Fortunately, the PAC had just put on a showing of The Lion King, so she lived off the income she made from that last show before hunkering down. 

Since the shutdown, Steidl has gone to work for a few events, such as the Democratic National Convention. ?“There were little bits here and there, jobs not enough to support myself, but enough to keep me interested in my job,” she said. When not taking short-term gigs when they come, Steidl has taken unemployment, but she feels optimistic about her financial situation as theater begins to come back later this season. 

“Some of the riggers and foreman of the Union are already going into the Summerfest grounds,” Steidl said. ?“We just had a union meeting a couple days ago, and they said that things are going to start looking up, like towards the end of July and August. So we’re being hopeful.”

On June 9, the Wisconsin legislature voted to end contracts for federal employment benefits beginning the earliest week the measure is passed. That depends on Evers signing the bill. 

As for Brewer, he has hope, but the crisis is not over. ?“It’s hard times out here right now, especially for the people in our work,” he said. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 14, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: SHEILA REGAN is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She has covered news for the Guardian, the Washington Post, and Salon, as well as the Sahan Journal, The Uptake, and other publications. She also
writes about the arts.


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Laying the Groundwork For the Workplace Protection Policies We Need

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For most, attendance was taught to be a priority. The American Educational system, in particular, stresses that without near-perfect attendance, it would be impossible to hold a job or manage the business world. As a result, Illness and extemporary circumstances are associated with failure, weakness, and irresponsibility.

However, the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic forced a reshuffling of priorities for businesses and governments across the world as they realized that a humanistic approach to worker policies just might improve the survival rate of their industries.

Now, long-avoided workplace protection policies are being considered and implemented that focus on worker well-being first. However, there are many problems to recognize before true progress can be made in cementing worker’s rights. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Recognizing the Problems

Everywhere, workers combat inequality and safety risks due to the lack of protective policies. These obstacles are clear in the data, which shows systemic issues of corporate disdain for low-wage workers as well as dehumanizing conditions that put employees at risk.

Laying the groundwork for better workplace policies requires understanding the problematic circumstances we face. The following is just a sampling of the data regarding workplace inequality in the U.S:

  • Income inequality levels are nearing those just before the Great Depression.
  • CEOs make over 185 times more than the average worker.
  • 750,000 Americans are homeless on a given night, many of them disproportionately male, black, veterans, or individuals with disabilities.
  • Women earn about 80% of what men earn.
  • 30% of workers in low-wage jobs don’t have health insurance.
  • The number of discouraged workers is on the rise and disproportionately includes minorities.

These problems have long been standards of American working environments, and the coronavirus has only served to exacerbate them. With millions of people in the service industry now expected to put their and their loved ones’ health at risk, the wage inequality and limited employee protections have never been so clear.

If any good can come from this realization, it will be in the advancement of solutions for workplace protections for all kinds of issues.

Advancing the Solutions

In the emergency circumstances of the pandemic, the U.S. government elected to pass the CARES Act — legislation that provided working people with some necessary protections. These protections included enhanced unemployment insurance benefits as well as extended family and medical leave provisions. At the same time, many private financial institutions came together to offer deferment plans for many loans and rental programs. 

However, these protections are simply patches on systemic problems that are much greater than the pandemic. As millions of American workers lose their employer-tied health insurance plans along with their jobs, many recognize that it is time to institute worker protections on a larger scale.

Luckily, however, literature, science, and proposed legislation are out there attempting to advance solutions to workplace injustices of all kinds. These efforts include:

  • Expansions to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Right now, the FMLA protects up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a certain group of qualified workers and should be laid out in any business’ policy handbook along with other working-hour and PTO benefits, in order to protect the employee and the business alike. A legal expansion of FMLA benefits might broaden the ability of a worker to earn PTO, leave, and vacation time, protecting their economic status against unfortunate circumstances.
  • Public health insurance. Broader public protections, like Medicare-for-All, have been proposed to fill the needs of low-wage workers. Having insurance not tied to employment could help navigate the problems and inequalities that arise in managing workplace illness
  • Robust premium pay. A legally protected living wage that ensures higher pay for workers on the front lines of the service industry—especially in the middle of a health crisis—could combat wage inequality and more fairly support disproportionately affected groups like women and minorities.

While these solutions are sure to be hotly debated by decision-makers, advancing these policies will ensure better protections for all American workers. 

After all, the pandemic should have taught us that workers are above all human beings—not machines whose attendance and well-being we can simply demand.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and technology topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.


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Toomey calls for Fed special loan programs to end, setting up clash with Democrats

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The Federal Reserve has doled out billions of dollars in emergency loans to keep the economy afloat during a crippling pandemic, garnering broad bipartisan praise.

Now, the lawmaker who is likely to head the powerful Senate Banking Committee if Republicans keep control of the Senate is signaling that the Fed should stop.

“If someone wants to make the case that we need the government to give money to people or businesses because they’re struggling, by all means you can make that case,” Sen. Pat Toomey told POLITICO. “But that’s not a Fed exercise.”

The Pennsylvania Republican believes that the central bank’s emergency programs — which he called “wildly successful” — should wind down at the end of the year, a spokesperson confirmed. He’s concerned that if the programs are extended, they will be seen as a substitute for fiscal policy, the tax and spending decisions that are the responsibility of Congress and the president.

“That would be a huge mistake,” he said.

While the Fed is an independent agency whose board makes its own policy decisions, it is overseen by the Banking Committee and is sensitive to its views.

Toomey’s stance could put him at odds with the next presidential administration, which will want to continue to prime the pump as much as possible to boost the economy as the coronavirus crisis shows little sign of abating.

It will also set up a conflict with Democrats, such as House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who have faulted the Fed for not doing enough to provide financing for state and local governments, as well as small and midsized businesses that are relying on temporary lending programs.

They have urged the central bank to make the loan terms more generous as the darkening financial outlook for many companies and municipalities heightens the risk that even more Americans will be put out of work.

But Republicans like Toomey, who have historically sought to limit the central bank’s role in the economy, say the Fed’s emergency lending programs have largely served their purpose.

The mere existence of the programs helped restore stability to the financial system after panic over the coronavirus earlier this year threatened to shut down key debt markets. That means borrowers can go to private markets to obtain funds at reasonable rates without needing to turn to the Fed, GOP lawmakers say.

The divergent opinions put the Fed, which seeks to avoid the political spotlight, in an awkward position as the parties debate how much additional money is needed to sustain the economic recovery.

“I would not want to turn what are supposed to be liquidity backstop credit programs into a fiscal, giving-away-money program,” said Toomey, who also sits on a congressional watchdog overseeing $500 billion in coronavirus relief funds.

The emergency lending facilities are already set to expire at the end of the year, though the Fed and the Treasury Department, which together have authority for designing the programs, could choose to extend that deadline. Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters Thursday that they were “just now turning to that question” and had not made a decision.

The central bank might want to maintain its ability to buy corporate bonds on the open market in case investors once again get spooked. It has made more than $13.4 billion in purchases so far, one of its most controversial moves during this crisis, with critics saying it’s propping up weak firms and subsidizing large ones like Apple and Amazon that don’t need help.

If Joe Biden wins the presidency, a new Treasury secretary would also have the power to nudge the Fed to take on more risk in who it lends to. The Fed, in consultation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has been extending credit with the expectation that most of the funds will be paid back. That means the aid won’t go to some of the borrowers that need it the most.

Neither the Fed’s municipal lending program nor its “Main Street” lending program — intended for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 15,000 employees — have come close to doling out all of the funds that are potentially available.

Treasury has set aside as much as $75 billion of CARES Act relief money to cover potential losses from up to $600 billion in Main Street loans, although only about $4 billion in loans have been made under the program, which opened its doors this summer.

Similarly, the Fed has only lent to two entities through its municipal facility: Illinois and New York’s public transit system.

A Biden-appointed Treasury secretary could take a different tack.

“What will be the attitude of the new Treasury secretary who can get through a Republican confirmation?” said Peter Conti-Brown, a Fed expert at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Is it going to be more hands off? Is it going to be more dictating terms?”

He noted that banks have been hesitant to make loans under the Main Street program — under which the Fed will buy 95 percent of a bank loan to a qualifying company or nonprofit — because they still have to do extensive underwriting and bear the risk if a loan defaults.

“The Main Street program has been criticized for having a cumbersome procedural structure that was instigated by the Treasury, so it’s possible that gets relaxed and might see a lot more take up,” Conti-Brown said.

In the meantime, some Democrats have criticized the Fed for not doing more to make the terms attractive to key sectors of the economy that are struggling.

Last Friday, the Fed did move to make its “Main Street” program available to more small firms by lowering the minimum loan amount to $100,000 from $250,000, which could provide struggling small businesses with a low-cost lifeline as the pandemic rages on. But it’s unclear if that will push up demand for the Fed-backed loans.

Bharat Ramamurti, a former aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who now serves on the Congressional Oversight Commission with Toomey, said the Fed should ensure that state and local governments don’t needlessly lay off workers by lowering the rate they charge municipal borrowers and lengthening the terms of the loan.

“To me, it is consistent with the overall mandate of the Fed to provide this money in a way that seeks to promote employment, and I think the state and local program is the most obvious example of that,” Ramamurti said.

“The relevant section of the CARES Act says this money is supposed to be used to address liquidity problems related to Covid,” he said. “It’s a huge stretch to read the word liquidity as just ensuring that private markets provide the loans.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico at November 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Victoria Guida is a financial services reporter covering banking regulations and monetary policy for POLITICO Pro. She covers the Federal Reserve, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, as well as Treasury, after four years on the international trade beat, most recently for Pro and previously for Inside U.S. Trade.


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Jobless Americans face debt crunch without more federal aid as bills come due

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A new phase of the economic crisis is looming for the winner of Tuesday’s presidential election: potentially massive defaults by jobless Americans on consumer loans as the chances for more federal relief this year diminish.

Both President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden have called for robust new rescue packages for an economy still suffering from the pandemic, but Congress’s inability to agree on key issues such as the size of unemployment benefits has kept the talks at an impasse for months. Now, millions of Americans are running out of money and will face hard choices between food purchases and payments on rent, credit cards and student loans.

Generous unemployment benefits and stimulus checks given out earlier this year helped many people weather the early months of the crisis — with some even managing to increase their savings. But that support has faded and some of it will run dry by the end of the year. JPMorgan Chase Institute found that in August alone, typical unemployed families spent two-thirds of the additional rainy day funds that they’d built up over the previous four months.

“I fear jobless workers are going to have to make tough choices,” said Fiona Greig, director of consumer research at the institute.

The “Lost Wages Assistance” aid program that Trump ordered after the expiration of more generous federal benefits — including a $600-a-week boost in jobless payments that ended on July 31 — helped bolster some families in September. But by early this month, much of that small pot of money had already been depleted. As a result, the largest U.S. banks warned investors this month that they expect credit card delinquencies to start mounting early next year.

And with coronavirus cases spiking in places like the Midwest, pressure could increase on already struggling small businesses, pushing jobless numbers back up.In a Census Bureau survey this month, roughly a third of small businesses reported only having enough cash to get them through a month or less.

The Labor Department said Thursday that more than 22 million people were claiming benefits in all federal programs as of the week ending Oct. 10.

Other government data released at the same time showed that the economy in the third quarter regained roughly 60 percent of the economic activity it lost, as many businesses have reopened. But Greig said without additional government support, the results could still be severe for many families, particularly if there is not more improvement in the job market.

“The GDP growth recovery looks much better than the job market numbers” because people are buying goods, but there’s still a severe drought in using many services, which is where most people are employed, said Greig, whose think tank has access to proprietary data from Chase Bank.

The burdens of the pandemic are falling disproportionately on lower-income workers; people making less than $27,000 have seen a nearly 20 percent drop in employment since January, while the job market is almost fully recovered among workers making more than $60,000, according to private-sector data compiled by Opportunity Insights.

Some relief measures are still in place; there’s a nationwide ban on evictions until the end of the year, and many borrowers have had the chance to put off credit card, student loan and mortgage payments. Roughly 7 percent of households with mortgages and 41 percent with student loans were skipping or making reduced payments as of the beginning of October, according to Goldman Sachs researchers.

But those debts are still piling up in the background, which could leave consumers with a crushing burden once those protections expire without something to keep them afloat.

“There will be a massive balloon payment on what people are supposed to pay,” said Megan Greene, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Lots of people won’t be able to afford that.”

“It’s been surprising to me how long consumers have been able to hold on,” she added. “We’re tempting fate by waiting until next year to re-up some of the stimulus measures.”

Thanks to government aid, aggregate personal income is still up from before the coronavirus crisis, even though wages and salaries are still below pre-pandemic levels, according to economic data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Personal income decreased $540.6 billion in the third quarter, after rising $1.45 trillion in the second quarter, a drop the agency attributed to a decrease in pandemic-related relief programs.

Part of the danger is that complete information isn’t available, so some areas may be suffering more than we know.

“A lot of the work I do focuses on rural communities, and there’s just not a lot of good data there,” said Gbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “There are canaries in the coal mine, but … we don’t see the areas that are getting hurt because we don’t measure those areas.”

Researchers at Columbia University found that the monthly poverty rate increased to 16.7 percent in September from 15 percent in February, with about 8 million people falling into poverty since May.

Life has gotten harder for the poorest Americans. “We find that at the peak of the crisis (April 2020), the CARES Act successfully blunted a rise in poverty; however, it was not able to stop an increase in deep poverty, defined as resources less than half the poverty line,” that report said.

Maurice Jones heads up the Local Initiatives Support Corp., one of the largest community development financial institutions in the country, and said this has been the biggest year ever for the nonprofit — both in terms of donations and in relief they’re paying out.

“We have something called financial opportunity centers, and the focus of them historically has been on getting people prepared to compete successfully for living wage jobs — thinking more long term, if you will,” he said. “We have had to really adjust and focus on immediate relief. … People are literally having to choose between paying rent and buying groceries.”

Jones said his firm gave out $225 million in grants or forgivable loans between March and the end of September. “We’ve never had a six-month period like that in our history with that kind of deployment of those kinds of dollars,” he said.

He said it could be “a decade’s work” to get poor people back to where they were before the pandemic.

Also, many people don’t have ready access to aid from institutions like Jones’s, which focus on underserved markets, and banks have been tightening lending standards as the financial picture darkens for many borrowers. That means low-income Americans will turn to high-cost payday loans and check cashers to pay their bills, which can mean getting caught in a cycle of debt.

“These are not folks who are in a position to absorb loans at this stage of the game,” Jones said. “We’re not talking about a small chunk of the population. We’re talking tens of millions of people.”

“We gotta get this election behind us and get back to the federal government’s next chapter in helping folks weather the storm.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico at October 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Victoria Guida is a financial services reporter covering banking regulations and monetary policy for POLITICO Pro. She covers the Federal Reserve, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, as well as Treasury, after four years on the international trade beat, most recently for Pro and previously for Inside U.S. Trade.


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