‘My savings were gone’: millions who lost work during Covid faced benefit system chaos

Unemployed workers are pushing for reforms and changes to America’s unemployment insurance system after millions of workers experienced severe problems in receiving benefits throughout the pandemic.

Workers across America faced long delays in receiving unemployment benefits as state systems were quickly overwhelmed with the mass influx of applications that caused months-long backlogs. 그 동안에, workers who made errors on their applications, had missing records or had their claims flagged had their benefits stopped – and often had difficulty restarting them once problems were resolved.

약 9 million Americans are estimated to have lost work due to the pandemic but received no unemployment benefits.

Sharon Corpening, 60, a freelance writer in Roswell, 그루지야, lost all her work contracts when the pandemic shutdowns occurred throughout the US in March last year.

As a gig worker, Corpening’s initial unemployment application was denied by the Georgia department of labor, until the Cares Act provided pandemic unemployment assistance for gig workers a few weeks later. She spent weeks trying to process her application and encountered issues with the unemployment website, and would sit on the phone for hours daily failing to reach a service representative.

Like thousands of Americans having trouble with their unemployment applications, Corpening joined a Facebook group and got involved in helping others through the unemployment process, advocating for systemic reforms and countering narratives that try to portray unemployed workers as “lazy” and “not wanting to work”.

Corpening took offense at these characterizations and a push from Republican governors to prematurely cancel federal unemployment benefits while unemployment systems remain broken.

“We still have people who applied eight months ago who have not received a dime,” said Corpening. “Georgia is one of the 26 states that cut off federal benefits, and a week out I will tell you all my bank accounts are overdrawn.”

The impacts were detrimental to workers around the US, who fell behind on rent or mortgage or car payments, experienced utility shutoffs and relied on food banks and assistance programs to feed themselves and their families.

In the wake of the mass unemployment caused by the pandemic, several organizations, including the Economic Policy Institute and National Employment Law Project, created a 보고서 with unemployed workers outlining reforms needed to fix the widespread issues to unemployment insurance that were exposed by Covid-19.

“Fifty-one different unemployment programs don’t work and I think the past 16 months have proven that these different systems are 51 different excuses,” said Chevon Hussey, who waited several months to receive unemployment benefits when her mental health and public speaking business shut down due to Covid-19.

While waiting for unemployment, Hussey and her husband, whose work hours were cut due to the pandemic, were forced to place their special needs daughter in a group home until they could become financially stable enough to care for her at home again.

“We couldn’t rely on the state to get it together any more,” said Hussey. “The federal government had acted so fast to make these dollars available. The unemployment applications were there, but nothing was happening, and our state was saying everything’s working.”

Kelly Johnson, a single mother in Dunedin, Florida, lost both her jobs as a restaurant manager and personal trainer when the pandemic hit.

She started organizing protests through social media around Florida over the issues she and other unemployed workers were facing in not being able to receive benefits through Florida’s unemployment system, which the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, admitted in August 2020, was designed to create pointless roadblocks for the unemployed to limit the number of paid-out claims.

Her experience with Florida’s unemployment system, one of the worst in the US, included long delays in receiving benefits, low payouts due to only one of her job incomes being accounted for in determining her benefit, technical difficulties with the website, and the inability to reach any representatives to help[ 그녀.

“Six weeks went by still in that phase and all of a sudden my savings were gone and I spent my stimulus on my mortgage and to keep my house running. I was getting really scared, because I was not getting any money coming in,” said Johnson.

She returned to work in the restaurant industry a few months ago, but is still working severely reduced hours while caring for her children who are out of school for the summer. Because Florida cancelled federal extended unemployment benefits early, her unemployment benefits dropped significantly, while re-employment services and childcare services are inadequate or non-existent.

“My state benefit is $71 a week, and I was working 60 hours a week before the pandemic,” added Johnson. “What we learned going through all of this is we cannot trust the system. We’ve been working our butts off just trying to get our unemployment.”

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