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The $600 is essential for the unemployed, extend FPUC now!

Commentary by Masao Suzuki |
July 18, 2020
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San José, CA - In less than two weeks the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation or FPUC, which provides an extra $600 a week to those who are unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will end. The FPUC was part of CARES act passed back in March as disaster relief as the pandemic began to ravage the U.S. economy.

In addition to the $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits, another part of the CARES act protecting tenants is about to expire. There has been an eviction ban on all apartment buildings that are part of federal assistance programs, or whose landlords have federally insured mortgages. These come to more than one out of four rental units in the United States.

At this time, the job market seems to have bottomed out. The latest report on unemployment insurance benefits or UI released by the U.S. Labor Department said that in the week ending July 11, 1.3 million new claims were filed, down 14,000, or about 1%, from last week’s initial estimate. New claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA, aimed at self-employed and gig workers, were about 930,000, for a total of new claims of 2.2 million, down slightly from 2.3 million the week before.

The broadest measure that includes regular state UI, the PUA, and the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, for the week ending June 27, also dropped by about 1%, from 32.4 million the week before to 32 million. Since the recession began in February, there are now 30 million more people who have lost their livelihood because of the pandemic and are receiving government aid. While millions of people are lining up at food banks and more people are going hungry, the FPUC and eviction moratoriums have prevented a wave of evictions, foreclosures and loan defaults.

All that is set to end at the end of July. While the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives did pass another relief bill two months ago, the Republican-controlled Senate has done nothing but criticize the HEROES act - Senate leader Mitch McConnell said that it was “dead in the water.” Like the Republican’s attack on the Affordable Care Act, where they promised to “repeal and replace” where they never proposed a replacement, the Republicans are now saying that they will have a new relief act but don’t have a specific bill.

Part of the reason is that the Republicans really don’t care about working people or small business - just their big business buddies that fund their campaigns. But below this is the belief that government aid will keep the poor from working - thus their targeting of the FPUC, which allows two-thirds of the unemployed to take home as much or even more than they made before they lost their income.

In fact, people would like to work - but not at the risk of their and their family’s health and safety. Nor do they really want to work for the low-paying, no benefit, often part-time and/or temporary jobs that made up more and more of the jobs even before the recession hit.

If the FPUC was keeping people from jobs, we would see wages rising to entice more people to work. In fact, for the first time since the Great Depression in the 1930s, we are seeing more and more businesses cutting wages. Other businesses that increased wages right at the beginning of the pandemic have almost all eliminated these raises.

In addition to the FPUC’s ending, the pandemic itself is growing to new records. The latest daily infection count of more than 75,000 is up 50% in just two weeks. Hospitals in the hardest hit states of Florida, Texas and Arizona are again scenes of overflowing beds, staff shortages, shortages of personal protective equipment and medicines. Deaths are hitting record highs in the hard-hit states. In response, Republican Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed an executive order forbidding cities or counties from mandating masks and is suing the city of Atlanta for doing so.

But more and more cities, counties and states are rolling back their ‘reopening’ of the economy, which started too soon and went too far, laying the ground for the current resurgence of the pandemic. This is taking an inevitable toll on jobs, which like the infections themselves, may not show up for a few weeks. With the pandemic again bearing down on the economy, extending the FPUC is more important than ever.

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