• Wed. Jun 29th, 2022

$600 federal unemployment checks stopped July 31; 30 million affected

By Al Tompkins
Poynter Institute

The $600 per week federal unemployment benefit that has kept millions of out-of-work Americans afloat ended July 31.

We have known for months this day was coming and still, Congress has not — to this moment at least — acted to prevent it.

Congress is negotiating how the country should replace the plan. It will almost certainly be a lower benefit. It may eventually get tied to how much the worker earned before.

Congress may find a way to pass a short-term extension of the benefit, while negotiating the more complex terms of a second stimulus bill. But Democrats don’t want to give in on a compromise, since deadlines give them leverage.

The New York Times put this moment in context. Without the federal benefit, some families that have played out their state jobless benefits may have no income. “More than 40% of American households lack cash to cover an unexpected $400 expense,” The Times wrote. And even with the federal checks:

Already nearly 11% of Americans say they live in households where there is not enough to eat, according to a recent survey by the Census Bureau. More than a quarter have missed a rent or mortgage payment and doubt they will make the next one.

About 40% of adults have delayed getting medical care. Normally, individual states run their own unemployment programs , setting different benefit levels and eligibility rules.

On average, benefits replace about 45% of a worker’s weekly paycheck. Freelance, self-employed and part-time workers, who didn’t qualify for state benefits but received funds through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, tended to get a much smaller fraction of their previous earnings.

That is where the extra $600 a week came in. It was meant to make up for lost income and ensure recipients had enough money to buy food, pay rent, keep the lights on, afford medical prescriptions or make car payments.

Democrats want to keep the $600 per week federal benefit. Republicans say it is too high, pointing out that close to two-thirds of people getting the unemployment benefit make more money by not working, and employers have complained that they are having a hard time getting workers to come back to the job.

In an election year, everything is political. A new CNBC/Change Research poll found, “Most voters in six key 2020 election states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) support an extension of the $600 per week unemployment benefit, along with another direct payment and state and local government relief.”