With end of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), many Brooklyn residents who have lost employment due to COVID-19 face increased risks of eviction and hunger.
The $600 per week PEUC is set to expire tomorrow. However, the last payment for New York was sent out on July 26.
The unemployment supplement, which is part of the federal CARES Act, has been an important lifeline for many Brooklyn residents, as across the country Americans face unprecedented levels of eviction and unemployment.
In June, the unemployment rate for New York City was 20.4%, according to the New York State Department of Labor.
Julia Sinelnikova, a 30 year old Bushwick based visual artist who was receiving the PEUC, said she did not understand why the benefits weren’t being renewed.
“I’m really confused by the idea that our government is letting it stop during a time when the virus is at its worst. When, statistically, we’ve [seen a] thousand people a day die,” Sinelnikova said.
“They’ve already been on vacation for most of the summer while the situation has been getting worse and worse.”
In addition to the loss of the enhanced unemployment benefits, a federal moratorium on evictions is set to end on August 20. However, Governor Cuomo said in an interview with NY1 that “no one has to worry about evictions or foreclosure during the coronavirus crisis”, but declined to say he would renew any moratorium.
Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America and Brooklyn resident, said Republicans not voting to renew the PEUC was “an example of their cruelty and being out of touch.”
“The House version of the bill, the HEROES Act, had a very significant increase in SNAP food stamps benefits, and they refused to even entertain that,” Berg said.
“They derive this as sort of some blue State bailout, when out of the ten states in the country that most depend on Snap, eight voted for Donald Trump, and so they’re really cutting off their nose to spite their face.”
Republicans and Democrats have proposed competing bills in congress, the HEALS Act and the HEROES Act, respectively. The HEROES Act would maintain the weekly $600 for unemployment while the HEALS Act would bring the extra unemployment benefits down to $200 initially, and then as high as $500 matching 70% of lost wages. Republicans are concerned the $600 extra unemployment benefits may disincentivize people from returning to work.
Berg said America was facing a crisis that could lead to a depression, but the underlying issues had existed long before the coronavirus and now the system just couldn’t deal with it.
“Even before this, there were 60,000 New Yorkers homeless, most of whom were living in shelters, half of whom were children,” Berg said.
“We had a million New York City residents who couldn’t afford enough food. So that was the situation when the times were supposedly great.”
He said when things inevitably get worse with the end or reduction of PEUC, it will be clear who to blame.
“They’ve hit the iceberg on the Titanic and instead of bailing, they’re looking for other icebergs.”
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