Tina Morton stands on the porch of her home in Winchester, Ky., Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. Morton, one of 87,688 Kentuckians will lose unemployment assistance in December is worried about what will happen to her family when her Pandemic Unemployment Assistance runs out. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

A bleak outlook for millions facing cutoff of U.S. jobless aid

INDIANAPOLIS — Tina Morton recently faced a choice: Pay bills — or buy a birthday gift for a child? Derrisa Green is falling further behind on rent. Sylvia Soliz has had her electricity cut off.

Unemployment has forced aching decisions on millions of Americans and their families in the face of a rampaging viral pandemic that has closed shops and restaurants, paralyzed travel and left millions jobless for months. Now, their predicaments stand to grow bleaker yet if Congress fails to extend two unemployment programs that are set to expire the day after Christmas.

If no agreement is reached in negotiations taking place on Capitol Hill, more than 9 million people will lose federal jobless aid that averages about $320 a week and that typically serves as their only source of income.

Green, 39, and her husband are among them. An end to their unemployment benefits would force them to keep missing rent payments on their home in Dyer, Indiana, near Chicago. The couple have eight children. Green’s husband is a self-employed truck driver whose business disappeared when the pandemic erupted in the spring. Only in October did he start to pick up occasional work.

He now receives about $235 a week in unemployment aid. Even so, “all of our bills are late,” Green said. They’ve received several shutoff notices from utilities before managing to pay just before service was to be cut off.

“That’s really scary,” Green said, “because what are we going to do when we lose the unemployment money?”

The end of jobless aid is approaching at an especially perilous time. Job growth slowed sharply in November, and the resurgence of viral cases appears to be out of control across the country.

Even with the prospect of an effective vaccine being widely distributed in coming months, economists say the picture will worsen before it improves. Many foresee a net loss of jobs in December for the first time since April.

On Friday, President-elect Joe Biden called on Congress to quickly approve a bipartisan $908 billion package that would establish a $300-a-week jobless benefit as well as send aid to states and localities, help schools and universities, revive subsidies for businesses and support transit systems and airlines. Details are still being worked out, but the outlines of a final bill could emerge soon.

More than 20 million people are now receiving unemployment benefits. More than half are beneficiaries of two programs that were part of rescue aid legislation Congress enacted in March. One program made self-employed and contract workers eligible for jobless aid for the first time and provided 39 weeks of support. The other program supplied 13 weeks of extended benefits to the 26 weeks that most states provide.

About 9.1 million who are receiving aid from those programs will be cut off Dec. 26, according to a report from the Century Foundation. An additional 4.4 million are expected to exhaust all 39 weeks by year’s end. If Congress agrees to provide more weeks of aid and to revive both programs, those beneficiaries could keep receiving aid next year.

That would be a life-saver for Sylvia Soliz who lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. Soliz, 36, who still owes part of her rent for November and December, has received an eviction notice. She’s also just had her electricity cut off.

Back in March, Soliz was laid off from her job as a nurse’s assistant at a senior living facility. She’s now receiving $414 in jobless aid every two weeks. With four children, it doesn’t go very far.

“The day I get it, it’s already gone because my kids need so many things,” Soliz said. “Of course, I have to pay a portion to whatever bill I have, so that way I can stretch it out. But every time another check comes in, it’s another bill.”

Soliz is applying for a new job, and she checks in with her old employer. So far, no luck. She also worries about contracting COVID-19. Soliz is hopeful that Congress will agree to provide more aid, but she feels “they are basically gambling with us.”

A cutoff of jobless benefits now, with so many millions of Americans still receiving the aid, would be unusually early compared with previous recessions. In the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the government extended unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, and the additional aid lasted through 2013. When that program ended, about 1.3 million people lost benefits — a small fraction of the number who would lose jobless aid this time.

Other government protections will also expire at the end of this year, including a federal moratorium on evictions for renters. A suspension of payments on federal student loans will expire at the end of January.

“I am very afraid of people facing homelessness — that’s our top concern,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “It’s a terrible unforced policy error to make. It will slow the recovery that we’re having by cutting off these benefits so early.”

About one in six renters in the United States are behind on their rent, according to a survey from the Census Bureau. And 12% of adults say their families didn’t have enough to eat at some point in the past week, the survey found. That’s up from just 3.7% in 2019, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

A wrenching set of choices has confronted Keli Paaske, who lives in the Kansas City area. Since being furloughed in the spring from her sales job at a company that makes fire doors, Paaske, 56, has cut back her grocery budget. She thought she’d be called back once the virus waned. But when her boss phoned in August, it was with a different message: Her job had been eliminated.

Paaske had hesitated to spend $360 needed to euthanize her 15-year old dog, who had a brain tumour, before going through with it. Without unemployment aid, Paaske isn’t sure how she would manage. She may seek financial help from her parents, who are in their 80s, something she has resisted doing. If she doesn’t find a job by March, she said, she’ll stop leasing her car.

Across the country, a cutoff of jobless aid would disproportionately affect Black Americans, according to data from the Century Foundation. About 18% of unemployment aid recipients are Black, the Foundation said, though Black Americans make up just 12% of the workforce. More than 57% of recipients are white. Nearly 13% are Latino. (There is no demographic data on about one-fifth of recipients.)

Tina Morton used to clean houses near where she lives in Winchester, Kentucky. But there’s been little work since the pandemic struck. Like many other single mothers, she has struggled with the need to find another job while simultaneously caring for children — a son and two nephews she has custody of — who are attending school online at home.

“Single parents cannot go out here and … just find any job,” said Morton, 39. “We’ve got our kids here that are stuck at home.”

Last week, Morton had to choose between paying a phone bill and buying one of her nephews a birthday present. (She got him a present). If her jobless aid ends, she expects to face painful decisions.

She’s particularly worried about her two nephews.

“That’s what hurts me the most,” she said. “My job is to give them more — give them better than where they came from.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Red Deer says its roundabouts have sharply reduced the number of injury collisions at a pair of busy intersections. Alberta Transportation wants to incorporate five roundabouts into plans to twin Highway 11 from Sylvan Lake to Rocky Mountain House. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Highway 11 roundabouts will increase safety based on Red Deer’s experience

Injury collisions sharply reduced at roundabout intersections in city

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

Alberta reported an additional 643 COVID-19 cases Friday. The province now has… Continue reading

About 110 students from Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools participated in March for Life rally in Edmonton May 9. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school has COVID-19 case

St. Joseph High School in Red Deer confirmed a positive COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Lacombe High School logo.
Two more COVID-19 cases at Lacombe Composite High School

Lacombe Composite High School confirmed two more positive COVID-19 cases at the… Continue reading

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

There are two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Red Deer College. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Central Albertans were promised a university

Central Albertans were promised a university

A digital Intensive care unit room at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital in Vaughan, Ont., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are down slightly in Ontario and Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Justin Trudeau mulls mandatory hotel quarantine for returning travellers

Justin Trudeau mulls mandatory hotel quarantine for returning travellers

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8

Schumer: Trump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8

Paramedics take away an elderly patient at the Tendercare Living Centre, long-term-care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Blood thinners help moderate COVID cases and may reduce strain on ICUs, trials show

Blood thinners help moderate COVID cases and may reduce strain on ICUs, trials show

This image released by Baobab Studios shows an avatar representing actress Daisy Ridley, left, with her character, Magda, at the virtual reality premiere of her short film "Baba Yaga." It’s being called the first ever VR movie premiere. And consumers can experience the premiere space and the film now through Oculus Quest. (Baobab Studios via AP)
‘Baba Yaga’ introduces with a virtual reality movie premiere

‘Baba Yaga’ introduces with a virtual reality movie premiere

With new album, Epik High endures in South Korea music scene

With new album, Epik High endures in South Korea music scene

A man wears a face mask as he walks by a storefront window advertising after Christmas sales on Boxing Day in Montreal, Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. Statistics Canada says retail sales climbed 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November, rising for the seventh straight month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Retail sales rise 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November as online shopping surges

Retail sales rise 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November as online shopping surges

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Look past Keystone XL to areas of Canada-U. S. alignment, Trudeau suggests

Look past Keystone XL to areas of Canada-U. S. alignment, Trudeau suggests

Most Read