‘Worst nightmare’: Laid-off workers endure loss of $600 aid

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

FILE - In this July 15, 2020, file photo, job seekers exercise social distancing as they wait to be called into the Heartland Workforce Solutions office in Omaha, Neb. The extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits has expired, the federal eviction moratorium has ended and federal money to help businesses retain workers has grown lean. Meanwhile, the pandemic rages on and there is no consensus from Washington on another relief package. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

An unemployed makeup artist with two toddlers and a disabled husband needs help with food and rent. A hotel manager says his unemployment has deepened his anxiety and kept him awake at night. A dental hygienist, pregnant with her second child, is struggling to afford diapers and formula.

Around the country, across industries and occupations, millions of Americans thrown out of work because of the coronavirus are straining to afford the basics now that an extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits has expired.

“My worst nightmare is coming true,” said Liz Ness, a laid-off recruiter at a New Orleans staffing agency who fears she will be evicted next month without the added help from Washington. “Summer 2020 could be next year’s horror movie.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are struggling to work out an agreement that would restore some federal jobless aid. A marathon meeting in the Capitol on Thursday night generated lots of recriminations but little progress on the top issues confronting negotiators. Even if they do reach a deal, the amount is likely to be less than $600. And by the time the money starts flowing, it could be too late for many Americans who are already in dire straits

“Members of Congress may have the luxury to come to an agreement this week and vote next week and then roll it out over several weeks,” said Brian Gallagher, CEO of United Way Worldwide. “Families don’t have that luxury — they are out of money tomorrow.”

In the meantime, up to 30 million Americans, their jobs lost or income slashed by an outbreak that has paralyzed the economy and killed close to 160,000 people in the U.S., are trying to get by solely on state unemployment benefits, which on average are less than $400 a week.

On Thursday, the government said nearly 1.2 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment last week. That is a decline from the previous week. Still, it was the 20th straight week that at least 1 million people sought jobless aid. Before the coronavirus, the number had never surpassed 700,000 in a single week.

The rescue package being worked out in Washington would contain more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, another round of $1,200 direct payments to most people, and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.