My open letter to Washington — Dear Washington D.C.:
We have a problem, and it’s only going to get worse!
First off, I live in NYC — The former epicenter of the COVID19 Pandemic. I telephone-screened for my next IT job on March 4, 2020, and looked forward to returning to work.
Two weeks later, the City — And the country shut down!
Right now, there has been 18 straight weeks of unemployment claims — More than one-million claims per each week, not to mention the original surge that left up to 45 million American unemployed when the country shut its doors!
During that time, filing for Unemployment became a full-time job. Phone lines were jammed, and website gridlock couldn’t handle the capacity of the number of people applying “all at once” left many wondering what to do.
That first stimulus of $1,200 did little for those who went broke paying the balance of March rent, and couldn’t afford to pay April rent because they couldn’t get through to Unemployment to apply. Eventually in May, the system began catching up with the back-log of unemployment claims, but did not provide “back pay” for those who were unemployed since March.
Couple that with single parents without Child-Care who are also unemployed! Even if they had a job, they couldn’t work because Daycare centers and Schools are CLOSED!
Employers were Not sympathetic to their plight. Instead of trying to accommodate those with children, they are being terminated instead — Adding to the already-burdened system of Unemployment. One woman was terminated because her child was crying in the background!?
We didn’t ask for this!
Being thrust into a situation of unemployment AND stay-at-home orders is a double-whammy for those with young children. Finding quality, “affordable” child-care was bad even before the Pandemic. Now, those with children are suffering without a safety net in place to accommodate families with children.
Meanwhile, Washington is worried about paying people to “stay at home” claiming it is a disincentive to returning to work! Maybe you wouldn’t have to worry about that, had you shut the country down end of February.
If there were a blanket-approach to EVERYONE wearing a mask, and the CARES Act funding actually going to the small businesses that really needed it instead of the big corporations that could’ve easily weathered this economic storm, would have made all the difference on how the public handled being economically thrust into poverty.
It’s understandable that those with thriving small businesses suddenly seeing their income drop to zero — Led to desperation!
While some businesses were able to adapt to the changes, others faltered, either having to apply for Bankruptcy or have simply gone “out-of-business” with no income to replace the business income they’ve lost.
Imagine having a Catering Hall — Fully booked for the next six months, suddenly cancelling all of those bookings because you can’t serve food “indoors” and, don’t have any outdoor space? They should have been the first in line to receive Pandemic Relief, but that didn’t happen.
That level of desperation and economic shut-out from Government Funding led many businesses taking matters into their own hands, defying shut-down orders just to make a living!
This is America. If we’re supposed to be the greatest country in the world, we are sorely failing our Citizens!
Despite the fact that Congress set out to help Americans during the COVID19 Pandemic, your problem is the “One-Size-Fits-ALL” approach!
Adding $600/Week to the existing Unemployment benefit is an extra $2,400/month. For states like New York, it barely covers our rent, which averages anywhere from $1,800 to $3,000/month. And if you own a house, your mortgage payment is going to be more than $2,500/month in any major metropolis.
Even our $15/hour minimum wage doesn’t adequately cover our rent. If anything, it created more of a problem since small businesses cut back hours to compensate for the rise in minimum wage, causing many people to take on a second job here.
Meanwhile, the “Federal” minimum wage is still stuck at $7.25/Hour. There are currently 21 states, mainly in the south, who earn a wage that is low but comparable to their cost of living. Their monthly rent averages $450 to $800/month — A stark contract to those living in NY, NJ, CT, MA — Just about any northern state with a higher minimum wage!
For those living in southern states with a $7.25/Hr. minimum wage, working on a 40-hour week, comes out to $290/week before taxes. In New York, our $15/hour minimum wage on a 40-hours a week, equals $600/week before taxes. That’s a big difference — More than double those states with a lower minimum wage!
When applying for Unemployment benefits, your benefit determination rate is based upon your current wages AND how long you’ve held your job. If you weren’t employed for more than six-months, this will have an impact on your Weekly Benefit Rate. Let’s assume that each person had only one job and worked 40-hours/week before the pandemic. Their maximum benefit rate is still 50% of what their earnings were. Hence, in New York, the minimum-wage unemployed worker would get on average $300/week, while those in the south would get on average, $145/week.
Some other states have opted to raise their minimum wage to $10 or $12/hour but there’s still a struggle to make ends meet. Their weekly salaries fall between $400-and-$480/week. Cut that in ½ and their weekly benefit rate falls somewhere between $200-and-$240/week.
Now, adding $600/week so people can pay their rent also doesn’t take into consideration that they have utilities (Gas/Electric/Water/Internet) cell bill, quarterly property taxes, a car payment, car insurance (my full NY coverage is still $290/month and expected to go down by 15% or $44. smh).
Now that I’ve done some math for you, understand this: At least 45% of the people in those northern states earned “more” than $15/hour to survive in NY, NJ, CT and MA. The average weekly wage is about $800-to-$1200/week, and in a two-family home where both parents need to earn a living to make the rent, having lost that income on an average $2600/month rent, forces unnecessary struggle.
For us, that $600/week is ½ of what our average weekly salary was, let alone New York’s weekly maximum Unemployment Benefit rate was $425/week — Just went up to $504/week — Still isn’t enough to survive in NYC.
For many, our incentive to work is diligence, as well as survival. We must work if we are to survive in any of these states, while those living in the south; that extra $600/week was like hitting the “Lotto.” One week can easily cover their rent, and if their weekly pay is just $290/week “before” taxes — Why work if you’re getting “Double” your salary to stay at home?
This is where an adjustment needs to be made based upon the cost of living in each state. If the average weekly wage is $300/week, then the Pandemic pay should Not exceed $300/Week to help combat Unemployment. Whereas, New Yorkers are still struggling even with the extra $600/Week Emergency Benefit rate, it barely covers their rent when they still have other bills to pay in addition to the rent, and their once monthly “net income” earnings were once between $4,800 and $7,200/month, are now struggling to survive on far less.
Know this: We are directly unemployed because of the “botched response” to COVID19.
If there is NO additional Emergency Funding approved in the coming weeks, the results will be catastrophic! Unemployment job centers have yet to re-open, and many families will be devastated, especially in New York regardless of whether they receive any additional emergency Unemployment benefits, or until they return to work.
Otherwise, there will be rampant landlord evictions, the court system will be overwhelmed with economic hardships, and eventually families will become homelessness in a city that already grapples with 85,000+ homeless peoples/families, and will ultimately be forced onto the alternate Government dependency of Public Assistance and Food Stamps; which are still based upon 1980s cost of living in abject poverty and is the socio-economic equivalent of putting a ban-aid on a brick!
The collapse of “Consumer Economics” is essential to keeping America afloat.
I implore you to strike a balance between those who aren’t receiving enough aid while Unemployed, versus those who are living the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” — Receiving more money than what they once earned on their jobs for why they won’t return to work until those benefits are cut-off.
Besides, what good is a Stock Market if consumers have no money to spend?
Cachae A. Thomas — is an “Independent Author” living in Brooklyn, NY