US workers left in limbo as States decide to prematurely cut unemployment aid

12 States have imposed an early end to the USD 300 additional federal unemployment benefit for pandemic-affected workers, with another 14 States planning to do so in the coming weeks. Over 15 million who depend on this aid and stimulus plans are set to be affected

June 22, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
US aid cut
Protest in Atlanta, Georgia, organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation against the governor’s decision to cut unemployment. (Photo: PSL/Twitter)

A number of State governments in the United States are in a hurry to end the additional federal unemployment benefits for pandemic-affected workers. On Saturday, June 19, nine State governments joined many more to cut down the federal enhanced unemployment benefit, over a month and a half before the assistance was set to expire on September 4.

The supplementary Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation in question was part of the USD 1.4 trillion stimulus package passed by the US Congress in December last year which offered an additional USD 300 per week on top of the existing unemployment aid. This and many other such measures partially extended several provisions of the CARES Act which was passed in March 2020.

The nine States which cut the additional federal benefit for pandemic-affected workers are Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. All the States are led by center-right Republican Party governors. Iowa, Mississippi and Missouri were the first to make the move on June 12 and 10 more Republican-led States are set to join by July 3.

Four more States, including Louisiana which has a Democratic Party governor, will be axing the assistance in less than a month before the program is set to expire.

In an estimate given by the think tank Century Foundation, nearly 440,000 unemployed workers in the nine States that stopped the aid on Saturday have lost access to all federal assistance. Andrew Stettner, Century Foundation’s senior research fellow, pointed out that there are nearly 15 million unemployed workers on various pandemic-assistance programs who are set to be affected by ending the program.

The Republicans have argued that the assistance is not needed in light of a supposedly recovering economy. The move has received a great deal of support from different corporate lobby groups. Several corporations, as well as conservative advocacy groups and right-wing commentators, have argued that cutting aid is necessary to address the labor shortage crisis in low-paying jobs, instead of offering better living wages for minimum-wage workers. Unions have pointed out that labor shortages and unsafe working conditions are the reasons for the shortage of workers.

Labor movements and left-wing groups have strongly criticized the move and raised concerns that it will adversely impact hundreds of millions of working class people. On Friday, the Party of Socialism and Liberation held a protest in Atlanta, Georgia, against the governor’s decision to cancel the unemployment aid by June 27.

The protest was held outside the headquarters of Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which had led the effort to cut unemployment assistance, supposedly in order to deal with the labor shortage. The Atlanta chapter of PSL noted on their social media that over 250,000 people depend on unemployment aid in Georgia alone.

“Unemployed individuals who reside in Georgia now have to find work in low wage paying jobs to try and make ends meet… This is a ploy to bail out the big rich corporations while the working class suffer,” PSL said.