DENVER (KDVR) — Jeff Greenberg has worked as a stage hand for the Denver Theatrical Stage Employees union since he was 17 years old. Now 61, the union member of 44 years hasn’t worked since mid-March when the coronavirus suddenly closed the curtains on all theater productions.
“2020 was going to be the best year that I was going to have for my career. There was one show after another, ‘Hamilton’ was going to be in from August to October, and that was all wiped away,” said Greenberg.
He is one of 280,000 people in Colorado in jeopardy of losing their unemployment benefits, according to the state Labor Department, unless Democrats and Republicans in Congress reach a last-minute deal.
Unemployment benefits expire Dec. 26 for those who lost their jobs back in March when the pandemic begin.
“My savings is almost gone, I don’t know quite where to go,” said Greenberg.
Unemployment benefits had been keeping him afloat but barely; he’s been receiving $504 a week after taxes.
“That’s basically about half of what I would (earn) when I was working. When they gave us the $600 (pandemic bonus that expired in July), it was almost like getting a paycheck and I was able to make my bills,” said Greenberg.
State unemployment benefits typically last 26 weeks and even the additional 13 weeks funded under the CARES Act will expire Dec. 26 unless Senate and House leaders craft a new disaster relief package to help millions of out-of-work Americans.
“It’s so frustrating because it seems to me that they don’t care that people are going to be out on the streets losing their homes, losing their businesses,” said Greenberg.
The Thornton resident isn’t just worried about himself, but his disabled sister. Now, she has to move and the cheapest rent his 59-year-old sibling can find is $900 a month, more than the $800 she receives from Social Security each month.
“She’s been talking about suicide. She truly has. She says the only thing that is keeping her alive is her cat,” said Greenberg.
Congress has been reviewing two proposed bills, including one that would offer those on unemployment an extra $300 per week for 16 weeks. If the legislation is passed, the roughly $908 billion package would begin where the CARES Act ended.
Greenberg said he can only watch from the sidelines to see if Congress will finally act to extend benefits before a Christmas deadline it has known about for months.
“For no fault of my own I might end up having to lose my house,” he said.
Even if the benefits are extended through April, Greenberg said the union has told him theater work may not start up again until August.
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