DOWNTOWN — Enhanced unemployment has kept Adam Todd’s income steady since he lost his job in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But those benefits expire at the end of this week for Todd, 40 and a father of two young kids, as well as for thousands of others. They have been relying on the extra $600 per week to make ends meet since unemployment does not equal the salaries they’ve lost due to coronavirus.
Todd, a former house carpenter at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and his wife, who is furloughed, will have to choose between working or paying the cost of child care.
In Chicago, the end of these benefits will leave many residents with difficult financial situations as the pandemic continues.
“When the enhanced employment runs out, then I have to find work, and for now she could stay home with our kids,” said Todd, of Portage Park. “When she goes back to work in a couple of months, then we have to decide … if my income is worth the price of child care, basically.”
The weekly $600 unemployment benefit was enacted through the federal CARES Act as part of an emergency coronavirus relief package. The benefits are technically set to expire July 31, but Illinois residents will stop receiving those checks by Saturday.
Courtney Sprewer, 28, said she is looking for a roommate to help her pay for living costs after she lost her marketing and advertising job in April. After she was let go from the agency, she applied for unemployment and, after months of processing, received her first payment in mid-June.
Sprewer said the additional $600 allowed her to maintain roughly the same amount of pay she was receiving and stay in her apartment in Uptown.
“Now that it is being cut and I still haven’t been able to find a job since April, I’m getting a roommate and moving out of my one-bedroom [apartment] and considering taking a pretty major pay cut,” she said. “The roles that I have been looking at have been probably between like a [$15,000-$20,000] pay reduction at my level.”
People who lost their jobs and cannot work from home will be most severely impacted by the loss of benefits, said Teri Ross, executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online. Ross said layoffs have disproportionately affected Black and Brown communities throughout the country.
“With that substantial of a reduction in what is possibly the only source of income for people currently, they’re going to have to make decisions about what to pay and what not to pay, especially if their bills are more than their finances can allow,” Ross said. “And so that means that we’ll start seeing more car repossessions potentially, more evictions certainly.”
The state’s temporary ban on evictions lasts through at least the end of July, coinciding with the end of federal benefits, though Pritzker has previously extended the moratorium.
Federal officials in Congress and the White House have signaled a possible extension of the unemployment benefits, though no official negotiations have begun. Some Republican lawmakers have argued against the extension because they said it would discourage people from returning to work; even Republicans who do support continuing the benefits say the payout should be decreased.
Recent research from the Chicago Federal Reserve showed people who are currently receiving benefits are more likely to search for work than those who have no income coming into their pockets. After the benefit is exhausted, people are also more likely to accept lower-paying jobs.
A loss of enhanced unemployment benefits might lead to a reduction of $19 billion per week in people’s pockets across the country, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
Sprewer said using SNAP/WIC card has helped her pay for groceries, but she is also cutting back on all spending. She said the pandemic has helped her cut down on shopping, social and transportation costs, but she is continuing to save instead of spend any money she gets.
“I would maybe consider putting that money back into the economy if it didn’t think I would have to be saving in case of emergency,” Spewer said.
Ross advised people facing a loss in income to negotiate for flexibility while paying for rent, student loans and car loans.
“To the extent to which you can, you can go and leverage the fact that you have been employed, you’re actively seeking, you’ve been a good tenant, you’ve paid your bills,” Ross said. “You can certainly try to negotiate.”
Ross said Illinois is already seeing an uptick in people lacking food and basic household items. She encouraged people to reach out to community organizations offering assistance during the pandemic and take advantage of available public benefits.
Todd said an extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits would bring his family “stability” as they pay for their mortgage, child care and other costs. Todd said even if he can find a job, it is unlikely it will pay as much as his previous position.
“Unfortunately, nobody needs anyone to work backstage in the theater right now,” Todd said. “Those skills aren’t great for other industries, and so I could find another job, probably, but it would be an entry-level job and there’s no way that an entry-level job is going to pay me what I need to make to pay mortgage and child care and all the other regular monthly bills.
“Next month, it might be tough to pay it, and then if nothing’s done in September, I don’t know how we pay it. That’s just where we’re at right now.”
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