June 10, 2020

Wyden, Family Forward Oregon, Portland Mom, MomsRising Highlight Benefits of Supercharged Unemployment Insurance

Washington, D.C. – Ahead of the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the role of unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., hosted a press conference call with Family Forward Oregon executive director Andrea Paluso and workers such as Nicola Van Hoff of Portland to highlight the benefits of supercharged unemployment insurance for families nationwide.

Excerpts from their remarks from before the June 9 hearing follow:

Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

“President Trump and Senate Republicans are declaring ‘mission accomplished’ in response to Friday’s jobs report. To be clear, this is not ‘mission accomplished.’ The unemployment rate is still higher than it’s been since the Great Depression.

“The jobs report last week told us that nearly 21 million Americans are currently unemployed. That number is even higher if you count workers who are temporarily out of work or who have dropped out of the labor force altogether. More than 40 million Americans have filed an unemployment claim in the past two months.

“While we gained two million jobs, many temporary furloughs are turning into permanent layoffs, and state and local governments are shedding jobs at an alarming rate. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Millions of American families will experience unnecessary financial pain if supercharged unemployment benefits are allowed to expire.

“Even if millions of Americans go back to work, if millions of Americans lose their supercharged benefits and are abruptly unable to pay their bills, the economy will not rebound. Things will get worse and I fear that families will find themselves in increasingly dire straits. Congress cannot abandon families in the midst of this ongoing economic crisis.”

Andrea Paluso, Family Forward Oregon, executive director

“COVID-19 has been devastating for Oregon's families: Many adults are either unemployed or underemployed, and also trying to manage full-time care for their kids while schools are closed and child care options are limited. The government can and must do more to mitigate the impacts of the current crisis on those who were already most financially vulnerable—low-income families, and Black, Indigenous, and families of color who struggled to access the quality care and income they needed before the crisis began.

“Programs like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) have been essential to the families juggling historic economic insecurity with a precarious child care system, and the families now accumulating debt as a result of their compromised employment. Choosing to let the PUA sunset at the end of July would be a huge blow to working families' well-being as they continue to deal with business closures, underemployment, lost income, and a lack of available child care. Families need the kind of financial security the PUA provides.”

Nicola Van Hoff, Portland, Ore.

“Pre-COVID my family was already stretched and managing a very tight budget. So now, I worry that if I lose this assistance that I will have to navigate juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet and hope a second wave doesn’t hit, and I also worry how I will solve the dilemma of paying back three months of bills including my rent because I’ve had zero income since this started. I stress and worry about the impact this has on two little kids.

“I finally received my unemployment checks and this extra assistance just two weeks ago, after months of waiting on the system. This money will help me with repayments, settlements, and hopefully land me back on my feet. To be perfectly honest, if this goes away and the economy isn’t stabilized by its deadline, and I can’t find the one or all of the jobs I’ll need to make ends meet, I’ll uproot my kids and move us out of state to live with family to avoid housing and other expenses from continuing to pile up and start over.

“Moving and starting over after 38 years in Portland will be the best option if I lose this financial help and I recognize that what feels like the worst best option for me, is a privilege. Not every mother or family has this kind of back up plan.”

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising, executive director and CEO

“Dr. Nicole Mason of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research is calling what the country is experiencing right now a ‘she-cession’ – that is, a recession borne mostly by women. That description is apt. Women and moms are the strength of our nation. We were half of our paid labor force at the start of 2020 – breadwinners in more than 60 percent of families, and the primary breadwinner in 40 percent.

“The she-cession has been devastating. Women held three in five of the jobs we’ve lost already; and are nearly three in four of the health care workers infected by coronavirus. It’s important to note that the marginal progress on jobs that was reported on Friday – that President Trump so proudly touted – boosted white workers only. That progress left people of color behind. That is absolutely unacceptable and speaks to deep, painful economic inequities that simply cannot continue.

“Even with those jobs gains, unemployment is still higher than it ever was during the Great Recession – and it is lingering near Great Depression-level rates. Since February, our economy has lost 19.5 million jobs.

“America’s moms and families absolutely need extended relief to survive this crisis, to keep families from plunging deeper into poverty, and to rebuild our economy. That begins with extending support through unemployment insurance, which has been a lifeline for millions.

“At MomsRising, we hear every day from members who are panicked about how they are going to pay their bills and continue feeding their families when their unemployment benefits are reduced.

“We appreciate that Congress passed a massive overhaul of our broken unemployment system, but enhanced benefits, including the $600 boost to federal benefits, must continue well past the arbitrary July 31 deadline. The $600 is critical because it allows for full wage replacement, versus the usual 30-50 percent wage replacement. It is also critical to rebuilding our economy, which depends on consumer spending. This crisis won’t be over on July 31st, and our support for struggling families must continue as well.”

Karen Kent, worker from Pennington, N.J.

“My husband and I are the proud parents of two children, ages 15 and 20. I’ve worked as a school cafeteria worker for 9 years. My husband works for a small business that does fire safety and also held a part-time job at a restaurant. Before the pandemic hit, we worked very hard, but lived paycheck to paycheck. It was a challenge to cover necessities like our mortgage, utilities and grocery bills.

“Then, in mid-March, I was laid off when schools closed, just as my husband lost his restaurant job. Thankfully, I was approved for unemployment benefits quickly. These benefits have taken so much stress off our shoulders. With the $600 boost in federal benefits, we have room to breathe, pay our bills and even continue paying down our debt. Even one missed paycheck would have been disastrous for my family. Without these benefits, I don’t know what we would have done.

“I ask Congress to listen to families like mine and extend the pandemic unemployment assistance. Everyone deserves economic security; I shouldn’t have to worry that an arbitrary end date will bring financial ruin to my family. Protecting unemployment insurance, along with guaranteeing workers a living wage and increasing worker protections, is essential to protecting families like mine and ensuring our economy can get back on track.”

Jared Strickland, St. Augustine, Fla.

“My family was on a long-awaited road trip in mid-March when the world began to rapidly change around us. The further into the trip we got, the more businesses and institutions shut down due to the pandemic. When we arrived safely home, I found out I was being furloughed indefinitely from my job at a timeshare vacation company.

“It was difficult not to panic. Once my final paychecks ran out, how would we pay for rent, food, and other necessities? We applied for unemployment insurance as soon as we could. It caused a lot of headaches and took several weeks, but my application was finally approved, and we’ve avoided falling into a financial hole. These benefits have allowed us to keep up with our bills and continue supporting our kids’ education and wellbeing during this difficult time.

“Without the much-needed improvements to unemployment insurance included in the CARES Act, my family would be struggling right now. The $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits have been especially crucial for us. Without this measure, the benefits I would receive would not be nearly enough to provide for our three children--in fact without the $600 per week I would have been receiving just 25 percent of my regular paycheck. I’m not sure what we would have done, especially with our baby to take care of - diapers, wipes, baby food, teething gel and baby Tylenol, etc.

“That’s why it is so important to me that Congress acts quickly to extend these benefits and make improvements to our unemployment insurance system so struggling families don’t fall through the cracks.”