Laid-Off Workers Lobby For Unemployment Benefits To Continue

Arthur Delaney
·2-min read

Stephanie Freed and Grant McDonald aren’t lobbyists, but they’re orchestrating a sophisticated campaign pressuring senators to save the federal unemployment benefits that are expiring next month.

When those benefits lapse on Dec. 26, neither will have any income.

The two New Yorkers lost their jobs in the theater industry in March. With the coronavirus pandemic raging worse than ever and Broadway shut down for many more months, they don’t know how soon they’ll be able to work again.

“I can’t afford my apartment anymore and I will likely be moving to my parents’ house, in my 30s, which is a weird mental space to be in,” Freed said.

“I’d lose my apartment come January and will not be able to continue to afford health care,” McDonald said. “It is a big ego and financial hit that because of government inaction we now have to uproot our entire lives.”

They both consider themselves far more fortunate than many others who have lost their jobs, but they’re not taking the situation lying down.

Freed and McDonald created a website, extendPUA.org, in July to call for a continuation of the federal unemployment supplement that added $600 to weekly payments under the CARES Act. They also traveled to Washington to speak at a press conference with Democrats outside the Capitol.

Congress didn’t listen, and the $600 dried up. More than 6 million workers are still getting state-funded unemployment benefits, which average around $300 per week. Approximately 13 millions others are still getting payments from a federal program for gig workers and another for the long-term jobless, which will last until Dec. 26.

Freed and McDonald want to see Congress not only revive the extra $600 per week, but also to save the remaining federal programs set to expire next month. And they’re organizing hundreds of other unemployed workers to demand action.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he "believes a bipartisan compromise should include extended unemployment benefits at a level that provides much-needed relief without inadvertently providing some with more federal benefits than they earned at their previous employer." (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he "believes a bipartisan compromise should include extended unemployment benefits at a level that provides much-needed relief without inadvertently providing some with more federal benefits than they earned at their previous employer." (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Their grassroots lobbying effort has involved more than 30 Zoom and phone meetings with Senate...

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