Kentucky Workers Town Hall

Congress Must Act Immediately to Extend and Expand UI $600 Supplemental Income


Kentucky — Since the end of March, an extra $600 a week in emergency unemployment insurance has pumped at least $1.7 billion into Kentucky family budgets. The insurance boost from the CARES Act has kept workers afloat and prevented Kentucky businesses from shuttering their doors.


But that’s about to end. The nearly 200,000 Kentuckians currently receiving jobless benefits will see their income cut by an average of two-thirds when the CARES Act expires on July 25th.


During an Unemployment Insurance Town Hall on July 15th, unemployed workers and elected officials described how much Kentucky families rely on emergency federal unemployment benefits — and called on Congress to act immediately to extend and expand them.


“It would be a disaster for our communities if those funds dried up,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins. “It is critical that Congress not slash these supports at such a desperate time for Kentucky families and workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.”


The global COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented economic downturn. For many Kentucky workers, $600 a week is all that has stood between them and disaster.


“Not to have that after July 25th will be devastating,” said Latrice Wilson, a Kentucky worker who lost her job due to COVID-19. “Where will we go? Will we be evicted? What about healthcare? I didn’t ask to be furloughed, and even if I tried to find a job, how long am I going to have it?”


The data shows that Wilson is not unique. Among the half of Kentucky households who have lost employment income due to the pandemic, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found that 28 percent have used the $600 a week benefit to feed their families, keep their lights on, and pay the rent.


“This benefit has been a godsend to Kentucky families out of work,” said Dustin Pugel, Senior Policy Analyst at Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. “It’s an extremely important tool in our unemployment toolbox.”


In fact, the entire state of Kentucky relies on this critical relief to keep our economy afloat. Because each $600 a week supplement circulates in local economies, the $1.7 billion investment in Kentucky has so far generated at least $3.4 billion in return, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy found.


Allowing these benefits to expire could cost Kentucky as many as 50,000 jobs by this time next year and lower personal income by $5.8 billion — or 4 percent of our GDP. After all, as Latrice Wilson observed, “How will we contribute to the economy if we don’t have anything to contribute?”


As the pandemic grinds on, workers eager to return to work are finding few businesses open to hire them, and working environments that are simply not safe.


“Being a single mom taking care of my special-needs son, not putting his health at risk, not orphaning him, not subjecting my 87-year-old dad with leukemia to COVID is imperative,” said Mary Proffitt, a Kentucky worker who lost her job due to COVID-19. “If the $600 a week were to be canceled, I don’t see that it’s safe to go back to work, putting my family and my own health at risk. We’re stuck. Where do people like me go? What do we do?”


If no measures are taken to protect workers like Proffitt, Kentucky will feel the effects of this unprecedented economic downturn long after the pandemic itself has ended.


“People aren't corporations that just dissolve,” explained Robyn Smith, employment attorney. “We have to do something right now to help these workers, because when our workforce atrophies, it can take generations to come back.”


In fact, failure to extend unemployment insurance benefits would specifically widen our state’s racial wealth gap. Thanks to longstanding structural inequities in our labor market, Black Kentuckians have been more likely to be laid off during this pandemic — and have fewer savings to rely on than white workers when they do experience joblessness.


“We make up the backbone not just of the service industry but of the labor force in this country,” said Dan Wu, Lexington restaurant owner. “Speaking as a first generation immigrant business owner, this hits especially hard for black and indigenous people of color. If you don’t support us now, we’re not going to be around to come back to work when the economy reopens.”


The need for expanded unemployment insurance is clear: Kentucky can’t afford to cut the very same benefits that have kept its residents and its economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers like Wu need the kind of relief promised by the Heroes Act — which Americans overwhelmingly support, polling has shown — and they need it immediately.


“Student loan forgiveness, rental assistance, mortgage relief, paid leave so nobody will be forced to work if they are at risk of spreading the virus, $850 million to fund child and family care for essential workers — these measures are why it’s so important for us to get Senator McConnell to hear and pass this bill,” said Bill Londrigan, President of Kentucky State AFL-CIO.


Robyn Smith echoed the need for immediate action. “We can’t use Kentucky workers as a hostage in an election year,” said Smith. “An unequivocal commitment to Kentucky workers and the future of the Kentucky economy is the only thing that’s going to get us through this.”


During the July 15th Unemployment Insurance Town Hall, advocates, workers, and elected officials spoke with one voice to describe the value of expanded emergency federal unemployment benefits — and to call on Congress to act.


As infection rates continue to rise, we need a federal commitment to continued financial support for Kentuckians. The $600 weekly supplement to unemployment insurance has been critical to Kentuckians’ survival. It must be extended and expanded right along with Kentuckians’ growing need.


Kentucky can’t wait.


The July 15th Unemployment Insurance Town Hall event was sponsored by the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, the Kentucky State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. More information about the fight for Unemployment Insurance at @KYEqualJustice on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and www.kyequaljustice.org.


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