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‘Can’t possibly be serious’: Trump’s bid to shore up jobless aid falls short

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The president’s order depends on already cash-poor states being able to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the aid.

Tens of millions of jobless Americans are unlikely to see their weekly unemployment checks grow anytime soon — despite President Donald Trump’s executive action promising an extra $400 a week.

The president’s order depends on already cash-poor states being able to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the aid, which for many governors would be a difficult if not impossible task.

It also would draw from a limited pool of funding, meaning enhanced benefits might only last a few weeks once the program is up and running. And it imposes a minimum benefit requirement, which could render some low-wage and gig workers ineligible.

“I honestly think this can’t possibly be serious,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project. “The White House must have released this thinking that this is just a negotiating tactic because it really is an empty promise.”

How would it work?

The action uses presidential powers under what’s known as the Stafford Act to use disaster relief funding, in combination with state dollars, to send money to unemployed workers.

The Labor Department has so far said it will work with states, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to help provide the relief, but it has not provided more specifics. Some states, like Hawaii and Missouri, have issued notices saying they are awaiting further guidance from DOL on how to implement the program.

States have to apply for the federal funding, and if they choose not to opt in or say they do not have the funds available to supply their portion of the aid, then unemployed workers in their state will get no extra benefit.

The memo instructs states to distribute the payments through their regular unemployment systems. But many experts and Democrats say they are confused as to how already struggling state systems would be able to administer Trump’s plan. “That’s something that we just don’t understand how that would work,” a Senate Democratic aide told POLITICO. “You basically need to set up this whole new entity.”

Where would the money come from?

Trump’s memorandum says the federal government would cover 75 percent of the costs, while states would provide the remaining 25 percent — or $100 per worker per week. But the president’s messaging on who would be required to foot the bill for the program has shifted in recent days, as he suggested he could have the federal government cover all of the costs or more than 75 percent.

“We have a system where we can do 100 percent or we can do 75 percent. They’d pay 25. And it’ll depend on the state. And they’ll make an application, we’ll look at it, and we’ll make a decision,” Trump told reporters Monday in New Jersey. “So it may be they’ll pay nothing in some instances.”

But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared to knock down that idea during a Monday press briefing, noting that states are legally required to pay for a quarter of the aid. She added that states can use CARES Act funding “as a way to bring that hundred dollars forward.”

A White House spokesperson told POLITICO that “states could also apply their existing state unemployment benefits” as funds that meet the 25 percent share.

But some cash-strapped state governments have been holding on to a portion of that money, hoping that Congress will provide them with the flexibility to use it for budget gaps caused by declining tax revenues.

Can states afford it?

Governors are already making clear that it won’t be easy to come up with their required portion of the aid, nor to set up a new system in the middle of a pandemic that has already wreaked havoc on state budgets.

The nonpartisan National Governors Association, which for months has been calling for $500 billion for states from the federal government, said in a statement Monday it was “concerned” about “the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.” The group called instead for Congress and the Trump administration to work out a solution that would not place new administrative and fiscal burdens on states.

“States are going broke and millions of Americans are unemployed, yet the solution calls for the states to create a new program we can’t afford to begin with and don’t know how to administer,” New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said on Monday.

And Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Sunday his state was still reviewing whether it could afford to fund its share of the new program. “The answer is, I don’t know yet,” DeWine said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

How quickly will workers get paid?

Requiring states to implement a new program could take weeks or months as they reprogram their antiquated systems to calculate who will be eligible. States will also have to find a way to separately fund administration of the new aid alongside regular unemployment benefits.

“It will definitely be months,” Evermore said. “And that’s in states that are able to pay it out at all.”

The White House acknowledged on Monday the uncertainty around standing up such a system. “I can’t pinpoint a timeline,” McEnany said during a press briefing.

Who is eligible for benefits?

The memo says workers must receive at least $100 in benefits a week in order to be eligible, a requirement that could leave out many gig-economy, low-wage and part-time workers.

State unemployment benefits, which vary by state, typically replace about 50 percent of a worker’s wages. Most states will pay a minimum benefit far lower than $100, suggesting that some part-time and low-wage workers could fall below the threshold to receive the federal help.

Will this help the economy?

Experts warn there is not enough money available to have a meaningful impact on the economy.

Since Trump doesn’t have authority to order the spending of new money, the most he can do is push existing programs to spend their existing funding in new ways, said Jack Smalligan, who previously worked as deputy associate director at the Office of Management and Budget.

There’s roughly $44 billion available in the Disaster Relief Fund, from which the government will draw the federal portion of the benefit. Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the progressive Century Foundation, calculated that would provide about six weeks of benefits if every state were to take up the extra unemployment insurance program — “not enough to endure the current Covid-19 surge and get to the point when jobless are able to go back to their jobs,” he said.

He also noted that the extra $400 per week for eligible jobless workers would still represent an average 22 percent pay cut for those who had through July been receiving an extra $600 weekly from the federal government.

And that in turn is likely to lead to a drop in consumer spending that has been supporting jobs. The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, estimates that cutting the enhanced benefit by $200 per week would cost 1.7 million jobs.

“Compared to actually doing another installment of emergency unemployment insurance legislation,” Smalligan said, “what’s done in the executive order is really quite paltry.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro.


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These Workers Don’t Get Aid and Are Going Hungry. A Tax on New York Billionaires Could Help Them.

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Coronavirus cases continue to climb across the Southern and Western United States. In New York, previously the nation’s epicenter, many of the residents reeling from the economic consequences are excluded from any government assistance.

Clara Cortes lives in Long Island with her family. Both she and her husband tested positive for the virus, and while Clara has since recovered, her husband spent 54 days in the hospital. Now he is in a rehabilitation center dependent on a ventilator to breathe. “My husband is fighting for his recovery right now and it’s all because of the simple fact that he went to work to support his family,” Cortes said in a virtual press conference. Cortes is out of work, and without steady access to income, it is difficult to pay her mortgage, her husband’s medical bills and support her family. Her husband used to work in a supermarket. “It was there that he got sick because he was not allowed to use a mask,” she said. “When he had it on, the owner told him to take it off because he would scare the customers. He complied and, unfortunately, has suffered a lot.”

Families across New York state are facing food insecurity. As an undocumented immigrant, however, Cortes does not qualify for state or federal financial assistance excluding her from unemployment, food stamps or the coronavirus relief bill. Cortes’ daughter and husband are both U.S. citizens, but mixed status households were excluded from the meager assistance the bill provided.

State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assembly Member Carmen de la Rosa have proposed legislation to create an excluded workers fund. The bill would enable workers who do not qualify for unemployment insurance—such as undocumented workers like Cortes—to receive $3,300 in monthly financial assistance. As New York faces a budget crisis, the bill would produce revenue by taxing the capital gains of billionaires’ assets.

Cortes is a member of Make the Road, an immigrant rights organization advocating for the bill. For Angeles Solis, organizer at Make the Road, a major obstacle for the bill is the lack of any indication of when the legislature will reconvene “to pass lifesaving legislation for our communities.”

The bill would also benefit informal workers such as day laborers, street vendors and sex workers. For many transgender individuals facing widespread discrimination, sex work is one of the few available work options that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic.

Alisha King is an advocate with the Bronx Sex Worker Outreach Project and a trans woman and former sex worker. King noted the funds would “help [trans sex workers] survive because they won’t be out there in the streets or online trying to find some way to make money dealing with this john and that john. It would keep them housed and keep them fed.”

Advocates anticipate Governor Cuomo’s opposition to the worker’s fund. While the governor’s office did not response to requests for comment, Cuomo has consistentlyopposed increasing taxes on the wealthy despite support from both the public and legislators. He has said providing financial support to undocumented immigrants would be fiscally “irresponsible.”

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) expressed her support for the fund in a statement to In These Times noting that undocumented immigrants “pay a greater share of their income in state and local taxes than many big corporations and billionaires. Yet, during this pandemic they have been left alone to struggle to get food and financial aid, and to make matters worse, we are on the cusp of an eviction crisis.”

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) is a community organization building the power of working-class South Asians and Indo-Caribbean members. During the pandemic, their members (who are mostly undocumented) were forced to choose between risking exposure to Covid-19 in order to work low-wage jobs or deal with the financial implications of unemployment. Two members, Rajkumar Thapa and Rashida Ahmed, chose the former and died from the coronavirus. As proponents of the bill, it is clear to DRUM that the current  crises members are facing are a result of neoliberal capitalism. They describe capitalism as “governments and systems that serve the rich, and punish the poor.” Fahd Ahmed, the executive director of DRUM, explained that neoliberalism builds on capitalism to cut spending on social needs and systems such as safety net programs.

“For a state like New York which claims to be progressive, has a large immigrant and undocumented population, why in the past did we never think of setting up economic support systems for undocumented immigrants?” said Ahmed, “The only answer is that, under the neoliberal logic, that wouldn’t make sense. Why invest in people?”

Lexii Foxx is a 29-year-old Black transgender woman and sex worker. Foxx said she receives $162 in government assistance every month via food stamps, but living in Brooklyn, it’s not enough to survive. “I have a lot of regulars that have actually stopped coming,” Foxx said referring to clients. “As far as the roads, it’s not as many cars that’ll be out. I’m even working corners. Just a little bit helps. I don’t need much. I just need to stay afloat.”

When Foxx’s cousin recently passed away she prepared to return home to North Carolina. With no savings, she needed to work to pay for her trip despite the risks. Tahtianna Fermin, co-founder of Black Trans News, which supports and uplifts Black trans sex workers, was able to intervene when she learned of Foxx’s plans.

“Thank god, with the organization, people have been donating. We were able to give her $200 so she wouldn’t have to go out and sell her body for the night,” Fermin said. “She was so thankful she started tearing up and that touched my heart. That right there shows me that these girls need this money. These girls need this help.”

Black trans sex workers, many of whom are homeless, were also in a precarious economic situation before the pandemic. New York has the highest ranking of per capita homelessness in the country. The bill itself captures how massive wealth inequality has become the new normal: Taxing the investments of the 112 billionaires residing in New York state would produce $5.5 billion in revenue, which is more than the $3.5 billion cost of the entire worker bailout fund. While $200 from a Black trans led organization (currently soliciting donations) made Foxx emotional, billionaires across the country have increased their wealth by $584 billion.

Ahmed described Cuomo as the “quintessential representative” of “the neoliberal logic,” citing his persistent austerity measures such as cutting Medicaid or education funding. Absent federal aid, Cuomo has warned of 20% cuts to public schools, healthcare and local governments.

“Investing in people is not going to maximize profits for the corporations and for the elites,” Ahmed said. “The more precarious we leave people, the further we’re able to keep wages lower, have easily controllable labor populations and maximize the profits that can be made from exploiting their labor.”

Many of these workers are now unemployed. In New York City, Solis speaks to people on winding pantry lines, urging them to join the campaign and call their representatives. Fermin is expanding Black Trans News to support more Black trans sex workers like Foxx and step in where the government—and the current economic system—has failed.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Chowdhury is a freelance investigative journalist based in New York City. A native New Yorker, her work focusing on underreported communities has appeared in The Appeal, The Indypendent and Human Rights Watch.


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This week in the war on workers: Pennsylvania state college and university faculty strike

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LauraClawson
After going without a contract for more than a year, and with their administration withdrawing from negotiation, faculty at Pennsylvania state colleges and universities (but not including Pennsylvania State University, confusingly enough) went on strike Wednesday. The administration is running the usual “oh, those greedy workers” playbook because the faculty don’t want to make concessions on healthcare expenses that other workers have been pressured into.

apscuf

Meanwhile:

Union President Ken Mash stood outside the chancellor’s office building Thursday afternoon in Harrisburg to push for a resumption of contract talks.

“If they want to come out and right now and negotiate, we’re willing to go ahead and do that,” Mash said. “But, I don’t want to be totally unfair either, because they do have my cellphone number, so if they want to call later on and say that they’re ready to negotiate, we’re ready to do that too.”

This might have a little something to do with the faculty’s grievances:

State funding for the system, at $444 million this year, is about the same as it was 17 years ago, even as full-time enrollment has risen more than 10 percent.

And:

The union also balks at having to take on other duties without compensation, including a 67 percent increase in the supervision of interns who go into the business world. The increase would raise the annual allotment of interns to 120. The union also balks at cuts to competitive grants for research and professional development. Another issue is the state system’s plan to put part-time adjunct professors on a lower pay scale for the first time. And it objects to changes in the promotion, tenure and grievance rules.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on October 22, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.


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