SOUTHERN INDIANA — A group of Hoosiers gathered virtually this week to push for extended unemployment benefits and share their own experiences with unemployment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hoosier Action, a grassroots group led by Indiana residents, presented a virtual panel discussion Thursday over Facebook Live with Hoosiers around the state to discuss issues and concerns regarding the future of weekly unemployment benefits. Participants in the panel, which included several Southern Indiana residents, urged Indiana Senators Todd Young and Mike Braun to take action to extend the $600 weekly boost in unemployment.
The speakers discussed concerns regarding the federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance Assistance (PUA), which provided $600 extra in weekly unemployment payments for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. PUA expired July 31, and lawmakers continue to debate a federal package that could include unemployment insurance.
Democratic lawmakers have pushed for extending the $600 boost through the end of the year, but Republicans initially called for reducing the extra unemployment payments to $200.
According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Indiana’s state unemployment rate decreased from 12.3% in May to 11.2% in June.
New Albany resident Joe Bradley was among the participants in the panel. In April, he was furloughed from his job as a chaplain at a local hospital, and he couldn’t continue his part-time job at a local nursing home once visitor restrictions began.
Bradley said his unemployment checks came on a timely basis, and they helped the family pay bills. He also took a part-time job as a chaplain at Kraft Funeral Service. He was originally supposed to return to his fulltime job at the hospital in July, but his return date was extended to August.
“The mortgage continues, all the payment continues,” he said. “We have two adult special needs kids with us, and they have needs, and life goes on. We have issues with the car and we have to get it fixed. We have recently taken on a little debt, which we hate to do, but also, I’m very fortunate that I took a part-time job right before this happened to supplement [the unemployment checks].”
However, Bradley is concerned about the future of the unemployment benefits, saying a $200 boost would not be nearly enough to cover all of his bills and his mortgage payment for his household of four people.
“I want everyone, especially the lawmakers, the powers that be, to know that this is not an excuse to not work,” Bradley said. “I am working. I want to go back to work and I’m looking forward to fulltime. This is not being lazy and staying at home. I want to work, but the unemployment has really helped, and it’s been really hard this week when that check didn’t come, and I don’t know what we’re going to do if it doesn’t come back.”
The panel discussion included comments from Michele Evermore, an attorney and senior policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project. She said “economic pain spreads like a virus,” and the $600 has kept people afloat and allowed them to continue participating in the economy.
“So what happens with unemployment insurance is that every dollar that’s spent generates a dollar and 61 cents in local economic activity, so having a sufficient benefit has kept people from becoming homeless, it’s kept people from making decision on whether to buy medicine or pay rent,” she said.
The discussion also addressed Hoosiers’ concerns about delays and other issues in receiving unemployment checks. According to Evermore, delays are caused by a “confluence of issues,” including an unprecedented number of claims and antiquated computer systems.
Kate Hess Pace, executive director of Hoosier Action, said the experiences of individuals facing unemployment “does have an impact up and down our communities.”
“Since COVID-19, we know that between 12,000 and 20,000 Hoosiers have applied for unemployment insurance every week, and the funds when they receive them have been lifesaving funds for families making sure that they can continue to feed their family and keep the lights on,” Pace said.