Republican states that are withdrawing early from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program are stirring up trouble for gig workers.
Selina Smedly, who owns a clean business in Dallas, says she will be cut off from the jobless aid without being prepared. She believes that she will have a hard time finding a job because of her age and being self-employed for so long.
“There’s no unemployment,” Smedly said. “It’s really frustrating that the feds gave us this to help us, and our governor just throws it to the wind.”
“You can’t prepare for it when it’s a month away.”
Smedly is one of almost one million people who will be affected next month when 20 Republican-led states cut off the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program months early.
“When [Gov. Greg] Abbott said there are millions of jobs, maybe so —but for people like me, no one is going to hire a 50-year-old woman who is has been out of the loop for so long,” Smedly said.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program provided an additional $300 to unemployed nontraditional workers who didn’t qualify for regular unemployment aid. Without PUA, self-employed workers in those states will be stripped of all jobless aid.
Rafael Espinal, Executive Director of the Freelancers Union, believes that permanent unemployment programs for self-employed workers are needed.
“It’s very dangerous for these states to feel comfortable with peeling back the program,” Espinal said. “There are domestic workers who are having trouble getting back to work because people aren’t currently hiring in those fields.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott says that he ended the program early because “there are nearly 60 percent more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020.”
States are giving 30-day warnings that the benefits are expiring. CBS MoneyWatch spoke to unemployed individuals around the nation and many of them expressed that they may need more than a month to find employment.
“They are cutting them off from all of those benefits,” Andy Stettner, an unemployment expert at the Century Foundation, said. “We know not everyone will find jobs in the 30-day window that they are providing.”
Senator Bernie Sanders and the National Employment Law Project wrote a letter to Secretary Marty Walsh asking for the U.S. Department of Labor to intervene because of the risk of poverty and hardship that self-employed workers are bound to experience once the benefits are completed.
“Millions of families will face homelessness, hunger, and further debt because of these actions, particularly for workers of color who, due to systemic racism, face longer durations of unemployment; and women who, due to caregiving responsibilities, were forced to leave the workforce and still can’t return,” Jenna Gerry, senior staff attorney at NELP, said.
Amazon has more than 900 job openings in Austin, Texas — from bookstore clerk positions to engineering jobs with a base salary of $100,000. One of the biggest employers in Texas, Lockheed Martin, is hiring for more than 300 positions.
ExtendPUA.org, an advocacy group for self-employed workers, says that the states that are cutting off the benefits early are engaging in “cruelty, plain and simple.”
“Politicians say this change comes because business owners are claiming they cannot find workers to fill positions,” the group said. “[Many of these] businesses are offering low wages, part-time or unreasonable hours, high-risk work, no benefits and schedules that don’t allow flexibility with child care or other obligations.”
Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Alaska are keeping the PUA program for freelancers and gig workers.
“They haven’t been high-paid workers to begin with,” Zach Schiller, policy director for Policy Matters Ohio, said. “They haven’t had the same resources to fall back on, so many are scrambling with dealing with life’s necessities.”
“Typically, we would do a lot to get $1 billion in federal money,” he said. “Every $1 in unemployment benefits generates $1.61 in economic activity. If we say Ohio is turning down $1 billion, it’s turning down $1.6 billion.”
“Ohio is not in some sweet spot where everybody has a job or could have a job if they looked for it. We are not in that position, so to turn down $1 billion won’t help our recovery,” Schiller said.