Labor Day is meant to celebrate U.S. workers. But this Labor Day will bring a major blow to more than 7 million workers left unemployed during the coronavirus pandemic: Their unemployment benefits will be expiring.
Three programs enacted in the March 2020 CARES Act and extended in the American Rescue Plan are ending: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which covers freelancers, gig workers, and others not traditionally eligible; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which extends aid to long-term unemployed people who exhausted their state's benefits period; and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), the $300 weekly boost to make unemployment insurance come closer to covering lost wages.
With those programs in effect, ”I didn’t have to worry as much about the fact that I had lost a ton of my income and was now required to be home 24/7 with my children,” Portland, Oregon, resident Briana Linden told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “It’s really nerve-wracking to think that that one tiny piece of stability is ending.”
“This is a 5-alarm fire that we’re treating as if the danger has passed,” Andrew Stettner, a fellow at The Century Foundation, wrote in late August. “It is policy negligence to allow a record number of workers to be completely cut off from unemployment benefits as the Delta variant surges, jeopardizing the economic progress we have made.” But the federal government isn’t moving toward another extension, and state governments aren’t stepping up either.
At the same time, billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance haven’t been distributed by the states, and the Supreme Court ended the Biden administration's eviction moratorium, so people will be losing their unemployment aid right after they lost their protection from eviction, but before the housing aid that should already have reached them goes out.
Thanks to Republican governors, we already know that the unemployment cut-off isn’t going to spur a big rush of people onto the job market. After dozens of Republican-controlled states cut off benefits early, employment did not soar. The people who lost their fragile lifeline suffered—and they spent less money, creating a drag on their local economies. And, by the way, studies showed this would happen before the cut-offs.
This is disaster piled on disaster for people struggling to get by in the pandemic, and it doesn’t look like there’s any political will to fix any of the problems. So, yeah. Happy Labor Day.