When Brandon Humberston’s weekly unemployment benefits finally began after months of waiting, the $ 750 (£ 586) check was a “goddess.”
Suddenly, the 19-year-old, who works as a chef for the Mexican restaurant chain Chipotle, can pay rent and buy groceries until the pandemic costs him his job – even saving a little.
Now much of that income must disappear.
The additional payment of $ 600 per week, which the United States approved to replenish unemployment benefits during the pandemic, expires on July 31. In many countries, recipients have already received their final check.
“It’s pretty awful,” said Mr Umberston, whose benefits will be reduced to $ 150. “My generation is hooked.”
The battle over $ 600
When the United States approved more than $ 2.4 tonnes this spring to try to protect its economy from damage caused by the coronavirus, economists warned that more would be needed.
Legislators in Washington still do not have to act.
While the Democrats proposed another 3 trillion. Spending, Republicans rejected this plan and remain divided over how much more aid – if any – is justified.
The fate of the unemployment benefits that Mr Humberston – and approximately 30 million other Americans rely on – creates a sense of urgency in the debate.
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When Congress increased payments by $ 600 a week in March, it nearly tripled the average benefit payment. This move meant that recipients could want approximately the equivalent of the average salary in the country of about $ 975.
Republicans are now pushing for a reduction in the temporary bonus, which expires at the end of the month.
They say this discourages people from returning to work, citing research that shows more than two-thirds of current recipients – most of them in low-paid jobs – now earn more from unemployment than when they worked.
Mr Humberston says these fears are inappropriate. He says he has applied for dozens of jobs in his home state of Oregon without luck and the real problem is that employers are afraid to hire because of the pandemic.
“I mean, find what a job? That’s the thing – no work around, no work anywhere.”
Since February, employers in the United States have cut nearly 15 million positions. This is despite strong hiring in May and June, when the relief block eased and businesses received support from government salaries.
This money dries up, and as the incidence of viruses increases, a second wave of layoffs begins.
Companies that announced layoffs last week included chemical company LinkedIn, Nike and Dow. Much smaller businesses are also shrinking.
In an economy that relies on consumer spending, experts warn that now is not the time to abolish the unemployment bonus. Some economists warn that this move could reduce growth by 2% or more.
“Recovery is at great risk right now,” said economist Karen Dinan, who teaches at Harvard and is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Other countries, including Britain, announced additional stimulus measures this month.
Professor Dinan says that as the presidential election approaches in November, US lawmakers will eventually reach a compromise on unemployment benefits, which now reach almost a fifth of the US workforce.
But she says that alone will not be enough. She says businesses and local authorities facing gaps in budget holes due to declining activity also need support.
“They need to do more,” she said. “It is clear.”
The number of people applying for unemployment rose last week for the first time since March. Food banks have been overcrowded, and as temporary eviction bans end, cities are preparing for a wave of homelessness.
People are in “absolute panic” as the deadline for extending benefits is approaching, according to Courtney Henley, one of the administrators of a Facebook group that helps people navigate the unemployment system.
Ms. Henley, who runs an events business in New York, relies on the payments themselves after the pandemic hit.
After spending much of the spring in quarantine after being infected with the coronavirus, Ms. Henley says she’s starting to think about how to rediscover her digital gathering business. But many of her clients are small businesses that also hurt.
“Almost everything I do, I can’t do now,” she says. “If that goes away, I’ll make sure I can’t pay the bills at all.”
She says Republicans are not “realistic” about the state of the economy.
“Things aren’t open yet. People are still recovering,” she said. “We only hope that our government does not leave American workers on hunger strike.”