Spurred by protests from congressional Democrats, the Biden administration extended a moratorium on evictions for renters whose livelihoods have been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.
The 60-day continuation of the eviction ban is partly a recognition that the pandemic isn’t over, with virus variants still surging among the unvaccinated. But extra unemployment benefits ― one of the federal government’s foremost responses to the pandemic ― will still expire on schedule after Labor Day.
More than 7 million jobless workers will lose benefits after Sept. 6, according to an analysis published Thursday by The Century Foundation, a liberal think tank.
“With the U.S. economy still short 6.5 million jobs as of the end of June 2021, the end of the pandemic unemployment benefits will be an abrupt jolt to millions of Americans who won’t find a job in time for this arbitrary end to assistance,” writes TCF’s Andrew Stettner.
Unlike with the eviction moratorium, there has been virtually no interest from congressional Democrats to continue the federal jobless benefits, which include an extra $300 per week plus benefits for gig workers and the long-term jobless. The House of Representatives is on recess until September, and the Senate will soon adjourn.
The White House has not urged lawmakers to take action, as it did with the eviction moratorium before taking its own administrative action. President Joe Biden previously said “it makes sense” that the extra $300 expires when it does.
Many people whose federal benefits expire may still be eligible for state-funded benefits, noted Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). And the eviction ban protects people from homelessness, pretty much the direst economic situation imaginable.
“I think we’re trying to find a transition from a pandemic economy to a more fully employed economy,” Durbin told HuffPost on Thursday. “And there are several things we can deal with, but when it comes to eviction, when you’re out on the street with all your belongings, that’s a desperate situation that we just want to try to avoid.”
More than 4 million of the people facing the September unemployment cutoff will not revert to state benefits, according to Stettner, since they are receiving the special benefits Congress created last year for the many workers who are not eligible for traditional jobless aid, such as gig workers and the self-employed.
When the gig worker program lapses, the unemployment system will revert to its normal self — a rickety patchwork of state agencies that protect a shrinking percentage of the workforce and were hopelessly vulnerable to massive fraud when tasked by Congress with delivering emergency benefits.
Democrats have said they want to overhaul the system with stronger federal oversight, but haven’t signaled that doing so will be a priority in upcoming legislation. Instead, lawmakers considered stricter fraud controls in an upcoming infrastructure bill, though they ultimately abandoned the idea.
Nationally, the September cutoff won’t be nearly as drastic as it could have been ― because 26 states led by Republican governors already canceled the benefits. They did so as a sop to employers who have struggled to hire workers at prevailing wages as the economy reopened this summer. Republicans and business owners said cutting the benefits would spur more people to take jobs.
It’s not clear if cutting benefits has helped hiring. The early cutoffs in red states shrank the benefit rolls but “doesn’t seem to have translated into most of these individuals having jobs in the first 2-3 weeks following expiration,” according to an early analysis of federal survey data by Arindrajit Dube, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “However, there is evidence that the reduced UI benefits increased self-reported hardship in paying for regular expenses.”