Six weeks ago, Congress passed a stimulus package called the HEROES Act, a follow-up to the CARES Act with a number of major relief programs for Americans still suffering under the coronavirus pandemic. Included in the package were an extension of the $600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation supplement, which the Union fought to include freelancers, $100 billion for a rent assistance program, $10 billion for small business aid, and a second stimulus payment of $1,200 for every American citizen.
The bill was handed over to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared it was not necessary and that he would not put it up for discussion. Senate Republicans claimed that the country was on track for a seamless reopening, and the economy would rebound on its own.
Now, as we look to the end of this month, when the PUC program is set to expire, the state of our local economies are still uncertain. States that moved to reopen too quickly are seeing massive spikes in COVID-19 case numbers and are now backtracking, re-closing bars and restaurants and causing untold damage to the small business owners who just pumped cash into their businesses to be able to reopen.
This Friday, Senators will take a two-week holiday, leaving millions of unemployed people and small business owners in suspense about their future. The only thing we know for sure is that McConnell claims the PUC program will not be extended. His argument: That extra compensation is encouraging people to stay home instead of going back to work.
This completely ignores the reality for millions of people who are still unable to work, including freelancers who work in events, restaurant workers, performers, musicians, and hundreds of other industries that will likely remain at a standstill way past the end of the year. It denies the fact that regular unemployment insurance checks are woefully under calculated, with many freelancers receiving just a few hundred dollars a month. And it is a callous denial of those who, quite rightly, choose to protect their health rather than to go back to work in states where case numbers are skyrocketing.
When they return from their vacation, the Senate must make it their top priority to pass a stimulus package that acknowledges reality. The economy is not rebounding. States like Texas, Florida, and Arizona will finally need to enact strict shutdowns to contain the virus. And millions of workers will remain unemployed, unable to pay rent, and in serious danger of homelessness when eviction moratoriums around the country come to an end.
One way to make sure they prioritize a relief bill? Light up the phone lines. Fill your Senator’s voicemail with calls about what you need and what you are seeing in your community. Let them know you are a member of the Freelancers Union, and that freelancers are still in need of relief. Tell them the $600 PUC payments are a lifeline, and ending them now would be dooming millions of people to hunger and homelessness, or worse. Find your senator’s phone number here.