Personal finance

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Heidi Hansen was making $72,000 a year as a purchasing and warehouse manager in Emmetsburg, Iowa, until she was laid off last month.

Her weekly state unemployment benefit of under $500 in Iowa wouldn’t be enough to cover her monthly bills, including her $830 mortgage, car insurance and utilities. With the $300 federal boost, though, she could get by and focus on finding a new job, hopefully one that could carry her to retirement.

But now that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced that the state will end the federal unemployment programs in less than a month, Hansen is panicked.

“I thought I had three to four months,” Hansen, 54, said. “And now it’s just like, ‘You have 30 days, find a job.'”

Heidi Hansen
Courtesy: Heidi Hansen

States across the country have announced an early end to their federal unemployment benefits, surprising millions of Americans who thought they could rely on the checks until Sept. 6, when they were set to expire under the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed in March. Some states are stopping the benefits as early as June 12. The cuts could impact more than 3 million people.

Republicans have blamed the more generous jobless benefits for slowing down the country’s recovery from the pandemic and labor shortages across a number of sectors.

Proponents say the aid gives people the time necessary to find jobs that match their skill level and more bargaining power with employers. A number of large companies, including McDonald’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill, have recently announced wage increases to attract more workers.

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Hansen worries that the early end to her benefits will force her to take a low-paying job that doesn’t match her decades of experience.

“I will do what I have to do to eat,” she said. “But I worked really hard to build a career.

“To go from a manager to a grocery clerk, how’s that supposed to look on a resume?”

She said it was insulting and frustrating to hear unemployed people be described as lazy and complacent.

We’re going to see children go hungry and we’re going to see people be evicted.
Kate Bronfenbrenner
director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations

“I miss working,” she said. “I’m reaching out to everyone, saying ‘I need a job.’ I just keep getting the same story: ‘No one is hiring right now.’

“There’s a lot of people out there who want to work,” she said. “They just can’t find a job with a decent wage. It takes time, and I don’t have that time now.”

In a country with no paid leave from work, universal health care or child care, and a minimum wage that hasn’t increased in over a decade, unemployment benefits have only become more important for struggling Americans, experts say.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people a great deal,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, about the early end of unemployment benefits in 20 states.

“We’re going to see children go hungry and we’re going to see people be evicted.”

Before the pandemic, Chad Webb worked in plumbing and construction, but now the single father can’t take these jobs because he has to be home with his son, Maxx, 4, who’s autistic.

During the public health crisis, he hasn’t been able to find a daycare in Carlisle, Iowa, that he can afford and that will accept his son, who has difficulty keeping his mask on and social distancing.

Chad Webb, his daughter, Payton, 12, and son, Maxx, 4.
Source: Chad Webb

Webb has plans to get training that would allow him to qualify for a work-from-home job, but that would take time.

His unemployment benefits will be cut off in less than a month, after Gov. Reynolds’ announcement.

Without the relief, he won’t be able to keep up with his $1,000 rent, and worries that he and his two children, Payton, 12, and Maxx, will be evicted.

“I don’t know where we’ll go,” Webb, 43, said, adding that most shelters only take women and children. “You can’t just leave people to fend for themselves with 30 days’ notice.”

Sarah Rush, her daughters, Kylee, 15, and Adalyn, 6, and her husband Tim, 48.
Courtesy: Sarah Rush

Sarah Rush was also relying on months of more unemployment benefits, until Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced the end of the federal aid effective July 3.

During the pandemic, she was laid off from her job as an occupational therapist assistant in a nursing home in Tennessee and she hasn’t been able to find a comparable job since. Her husband’s back was injured in a military accident in the Iraq war and it’s difficult for him to work.

As a therapist, Rush earned more than $30 an hour, and she was able to take care of her family. But now the only open positions she sees listed are in fast food restaurants or factories.

“I always made good money, so it’s going to be hard making nothing,” Rush, 36, said.

Before the public health crisis, she commuted from her house in Kentucky to her job in Tennessee, where she’s licensed as a therapist.

She hoped that over the next few months she could try to get licensed in her state, and that by the time she did, hopefully more jobs would open up in the area as the pandemic fades.

“I had this plan in my head,” she said. “And now I feel very stressed out, like sick.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

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