Unemployment benefits to be dramatically slashed for millions of jobless Americans this week

Unemployment benefits are about to be dramatically slashed for millions of jobless Americans. The federal provision that gives people an extra $600 a week in pandemic unemployment assistance on top of state benefits ends this week, and right now, there‘s no agreement on Capitol Hill about how to proceed.

Maryland congressional leaders Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Jamie Raskin spoke about it at a virtual town hall Wednesday organized by the group Unemployed Action.

There were about 150 people who took part in the town hall looking for answers on what’s next.

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Congress is divided with House Democrats passing a bill to continue the $600 weekly benefit and Senate Republicans proposing a bill that would reduce the benefit to $200 weekly through September and then require states to ensure people are paid no more than 70 percent of their prior wages.

Robin Richburg-Tyler, of Prince George’s County, was part of the town hall. She got a notice to vacate on her door Wednesday that says she owes over $8,000 in back rent. The eviction moratorium in Maryland expired several days ago.

“That $600 helped me feed my kids and helped me pay some bills,” said Richburg-Tyler. “It actually helped pay some of my rent, but wasn’t enough. I still owe the money, I still am facing eviction.”

She said she’s trying to hold it together for her children, but it’s difficult as she thinks about having to live out of her car.

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“I don’t want them to see me fall apart,” she said. “I don’t want them to see me that way because I feel like a failure. Even though I really am not.”

On the other side of this debate over extending the $600 a week benefit are Republicans who say that amount provides some people more money than when they were working and may cause people not to look for work or accept a job that pays less than unemployment.

“We are now just starting to have some negotiations,” said Sen. Cardin. “We’ve got to stay strong and make sure Congress does the right thing.”