It has been a terrible couple of weeks for unemployed Americans.
An extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits ended July 31. And while Congressional leaders and the White House negotiated on a follow-up COVID-19 relief package, the talks stalled last week. Democratic leaders wanted a larger plan that included money for cash-strapped cities and states, while Republicans wanted a smaller one that reduced the extra unemployment benefits. Talks folded.
President Trump announced a hastily taped-together executive order that could pay an extra $300 per week in benefits from the federal government, but the specifics are unclear and states say it could take weeks to implement. If they implement it at all.
This is indefensible. Roughly 30 million people are without jobs right now in the United States. Let that sink in for a moment.
Thirty million people.
In Kansas, the unemployment rate in June was 7.5%. A year before, it had been 3.1%. That more than 110,000 unemployed Kansans, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That extra $600 a month — when folks were able to receive it from an outdated computer system — went directly to paying for food and rent. It circulated directly into our state’s economy. And any idea that it was a disincentive to work is ludicrous, damaging nonsense. We are in the middle of a pandemic and hiring has fallen off a cliff. There is no secret trove of thrilling, good-paying jobs out there.
There’s another problem, too. With these benefits ending, the rest of our country will suffer too. Restaurants, grocery stores, landlords, and others will see their income dry up. More of them will go out of business. And even more people will lose their jobs.
The emergency is here and now. The pandemic has caused a once-in-a-generation economic crisis. Congress did the right thing earlier this year in approving a sweeping stimulus package. But it’s become clear that the road back won’t be simple or easy.
So how do we get to a post-pandemic world from here? We support the unemployed. We backstop state and local governments. We improve food aid programs like SNAP. We spend what we need to spend to make sure not a single person goes without during this time of national crisis.
Congress and the White House must act.