Personal Finance

Loss of $600-a-week unemployment boost leaves many Americans in a precarious state

Key Points
  • The $600 federal unemployment boost expired last month, and Congress has yet to reach a compromise on what to replace those payments with. 
  • In the meantime, many jobless Americans struggle to pay their bills and stay in their homes. 
"I'm on Indeed every single day, looking for jobs," Lafauci, 36, said. "There's nothing."
Source: Sarah Lafauci

It's now been over a week since tens of millions of Americans have stopped receiving the $600 federal unemployment boost. 

Negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over what to replace those payments with have turned into an increasingly protracted and bitter process. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNBC on Thursday that he expects both sides to reach a deal "at some point in the near future." 

Those words bring little reassurance to Sarah Lafauci, who was laid off from her position as a human resources contractor for Delta Air Lines in March and hasn't been able to land another job since. 

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"I'm on Indeed every single day, looking for jobs," Lafauci, 36, said. "There's nothing." 

Even with the federal unemployment boost, Lafauci's income was down from when she was employed. She drained the little savings she had to keep up with her bills, but now will have to make some tough decisions. 

"With that $600 gone, I'm literally screwed," she said. Her weekly state benefit in Minnesota is around $490. 

"I'm going to have to see if my car note people can defer some payments," she said. "I may have to give up my apartment. It's hell." 

Steven Smith's state benefit in Missouri is around $300.
Source: Steven Smith

People can't survive on their state unemployment benefits alone, experts say. The typical state check stood at around $333 a week in April, but can dip as low as $100 in Oklahoma. 

The minimum benefits in each state leave people in even more dire situations. For example, jobless people in Hawaii can get as little as $5 a week, or just $15 in Connecticut. 

Steven Smith was laid off from his job as a motor-coach driver in March. Even with his pension and Social Security, the 69-year-old needed to work to keep up with his bills and debt obligations. 

"We're still paying on the house; we have car payments," he said. "The $600 federal stipend gave me the average of what I was making driving."

Food need and other forms of hardship are likely to last for a while, as unemployment is expected to remain high for a number of years.
Brynne Keith-Jennings
senior research analyst at the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities

After Smith lost his job, he put his mortgage and car loans into forbearance, but those reprieves have now come to an end. 

"When all that kicked back in, there went the $600," Smith said. His weekly state benefit in Missouri is around $300.

Every week, he checks in with his former co-workers for updates on when he might be able to return to work. 

 "We're all crying to be back behind the wheel," Smith said. "But the jobs aren't there." 

It's disappointing to see elected officials unable to reach a deal on another stimulus package, Smith said. 

"We need the $600 to put food on the table and pay bills," Smith, 69, said.
Source: Steven Smith

"It doesn't seem like they care," he said. "They're getting paid, and I don't think they have the heart of America in mind.

"We need the $600 to put food on the table and pay bills." 

Amid one of the worst downturns in U.S. history, the number of Americans who are struggling to pay for food has soared. Nearly 26 million adults said people in their households are not eating enough because of a lack of funds, according to Census data analyzed in July by the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. And that was before the $600 boost expired. 

"Food need and other forms of hardship are likely to last for a while, as unemployment is expected to remain high for a number of years," said Brynne Keith-Jennings, senior research analyst on the food assistance team at the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. 

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Even after Congress passes another stimulus package, it may take weeks for state unemployment agencies to get the expanded federal benefit up and running again, said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. In the meantime, many people may turn to high-interest payday loans or go into other forms of debt.

Others may lose their homes because of the lapse in benefits. Around the same time that the $600 boost expired, so did the federal moratorium on evictions. The Urban Institute estimated that provision covered nearly 30% of the country's rental units. And most of the statewide eviction moratoriums are winding down, with proceedings resuming in more than 30 states. By one estimate, as many as 40 million Americans could be evicted during the public health crisis.

Without an extension of a federal unemployment benefit, Courtney Davis's only income will be her weekly check from Georgia of $158. That payment isn't enough to even cover the rent on her one-bedroom apartment.

"My biggest concern is becoming homeless," said Davis, 23, who is seven months pregnant. "I'm so ready to go back to work, but the pandemic isn't slowing down." 

Are you at risk of eviction during the pandemic? If you're willing to share your story, please email me at annie.nova@nbcuni.com 

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