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These people want to get back to work but can’t — and fear losing $300-a-week benefits will spell financial disaster

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Once she became fully vaccinated in April, Lindsey Bates wanted to get back to work. A restaurant server with more than 20 years of experience, she figured she wouldn’t have trouble finding a position since hospitality workers are in high demand and she had never been unemployed before.

That hasn’t been the case. Though the Orlando, Florida, resident has been applying to at least five jobs every day on Indeed and Facebook Marketplace, she has yet to even be called in for an interview.

Now, she’s facing a crunch. Florida is one of at least 24 Republican-led states that recently announced they were terminating pandemic unemployment benefits early, which means Bates will lose the $300 weekly federal boost to the $275 she receives weekly in jobless benefits at the end of June.

Though the combined payment is less than two-thirds what she was making at her last job, as a server at IHOP, it was keeping her and her 5-year-old son afloat. She’s doesn’t know how she’ll afford their $1,200 a month rent without the $300 federal enhancement, which Congress approved in late December as part of a stimulus deal.

“I guess I’ll have to apply to 10 jobs. I’ll have to double it up,” said Bates, 40, who is starting to look for positions outside of hospitality. “I have to get a job.”

Bates is among the roughly 4.1 million people who will see their federal jobless payments end in coming weeks, according to an estimate by The Century Foundation. At least 19 states are also terminating two other pandemic unemployment benefits programs that provide compensation for the self-employed, freelancers, independent contractors, certain people affected by the coronavirus and those who’ve run out of their regular state benefits.

Are you at risk of losing your benefits early? Tell us about it here.

The Democrat-led Congress extended all three programs until early September as part of its $1.9 trillion relief package in March. But Republican governors say the enhanced benefits are deterring people from returning to the labor force, causing worker shortages as the economy revives.

They point to a multitude of available job postings in their states to back up those claims. But the experience of people like Bates is a sign that getting people back to work isn’t so straightforward — and that the moves to cut off benefits will leave some people in dire straits.

Child care is a factor

The expanded benefits may prompt some people to stay home, but the impact is minimal at most, several economic studies have found. Hurdles to returning to work include a lack of child care, lingering fear of contracting the virus and a mismatch between the skills employers want and the jobless have, economists say.

Asilee Barnes, a Twinsburg, Ohio resident who will lose her $300 boost at the end of June, wants to work but doesn’t have anyone to watch her 3-year-old son.

Barnes had to leave her position as a technician at a microelectronics manufacturer early in the pandemic after her babysitter died from the coronavirus. Her situation is all the more complicated now that the school year has ended, requiring her to also find care for her 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter in order to take a job.

“If Covid hadn’t happened, I’d still be at work,” said Barnes, 33, who doesn’t have family or friends to turn to for help and is trying to get subsidized child care so she can go on interviews and start working. “Sure there are jobs, but what does that mean to me if I can’t get there because of child care?”

Without the $300 federal enhancement, Barnes will only receive $189 a week, which will make it hard for her to afford gas for her car, much less cover necessities for herself and her children.

Job listings but no interviews

Billy Litsey has driven tractor-trailers for nearly three decades — a skill that’s been in demand as the economy reopens. The Winter Springs, Florida, resident had been delivering coffee, donuts and other items to more than a dozen Dunkin Donuts stores until several of them shut down in October. And even though he’s been responding to emails and texts asking him to apply for open positions, he says he either doesn’t hear back or doesn’t wind up landing any work.

Litsey, who hasn’t driven trucks long-distance since the 1990s, called about a job with Coca-Cola three months ago but was informed that there were 1,000 applicants for two positions. He has applied to Target, gas stations and elsewhere but was told he’s overqualified. And temporary trucking jobs offer only $14 an hour, which would be a big pay cut for him.

The 46-year-old fears that he is being overlooked because of his age or because he hasn’t driven since last fall. He then had to borrow money from his mother to support his disabled wife and two of his children, one of whom is also disabled, until he began to receive the $300 federal boost to his roughly $233 weekly state payments earlier this year.

With the end of the federal supplement looming, he is considering returning to Louisville, Kentucky, where he used to live and is more confident he could get a better-paying trucking job. But he’s reluctant to leave his family because of their health, and he can’t afford to move them until he works for a few months.

“Even with my having 30 years of experience driving a semi, jobs here are few and far between,” said Litsey, of the situation in Florida. “So guys like me who do want to work can’t.”

Old jobs still haven’t come back

For other out-of-work Americans, the reopening of the economy means their old jobs may soon return. But their pandemic benefits may run out first.

Jeff Good has worked in various managerial and production roles in the touring concert industry for decades. He doesn’t want to change careers just as more venues start to get booked, in hopes that he’ll land work in coming months.

A freelancer who never qualified for jobless benefits in the past, Good receives $108 a week from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which Congress created in March 2020 as part of its historic expansion of the unemployment system. And he gets the $300 weekly boost.

But the Nashville resident will no longer receive any payments after July 3, when the state terminates all federal pandemic benefits. After that, he says he’ll have to rely on savings until he can secure a gig.

“Having our governor cancel the distribution of federal extended unemployment benefits a full two months ahead of the original September deadline essentially financially cuts myself and many others in our business off at the knees, during the summer of all times, when goods and services tend to peak in price,” said Good, 48.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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