On the day after Christmas.
Late Friday, Congress was still wrangling over a new pandemic relief bill, but the stakes in Georgia are clear: A large swath of jobless people and their families being pushed toward a financial cliff while the state’s economic recovery is slowed by their distress.
And because any new fiscal stimulus likely will be much smaller than the massive CARES Act of March, congressional action may only soften the blow.
“The current provisions being talked about in the package would probably only provide about a fifth as much boost to job growth as needed, for Georgia call it 30,000 jobs created or saved,” said economist Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute. “They’re leaving a lot on the table.”
About 330,000 Georgians are receiving aid from about-to-expire federal pandemic programs, estimated Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. A little more than half are eligible for an extended benefit program that the state pays for.
“And that is, if the state efficiently moves everyone on to those benefits,” he said.
About 85,000 Georgians have already exhausted their pandemic benefits.
On Thursday, the Department of Labor reported Georgia’s unemployment rate rose to 5.7% in November from 4.5% in October, another sign the state’s economy is struggling to rebound from pandemic-related shutdowns as coronavirus cases surge again.
For Bramer Stevens, 55, benefits ended just before Thanksgiving. An Atlanta fashion designer, Stevens saw a rising career shut down with the halt in dress-up events like cocktail parties, proms and weddings.
“When the pandemic happened, every last contract was canceled,” he said. “It has been extremely discouraging. It’s almost Christmas. What do I tell my daughter? Daddy doesn’t have it?”
Because he’s self-employed, he couldn’t get state benefits, but he was eligible for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. So he stays home with their daughter while his wife teaches pre-school, which doesn’t pay well, he said. “That’s a little cushion, but it’s better than no cushion at all.”
To pay expenses, they’ve depleted their savings. Their landlord knows their situation, but has not been flexible, Stevens said. “I’ll be all right this month. But what about January? What about February?”
Anabelle Moreira, 35, of Duluth lost her project manager’s job in May. Her husband was furloughed for a month, then brought back with a large cut in pay.
Her $350-a-week pandemic benefits ran out last month, she said. “I did get an extension but on the 26th, that will be gone.”
So far, they’ve managed to pay rent, groceries and other expenses. But some things had to go. Like their son’s pre-school.
“We had to take him out,” she said. “We have tapped into our savings. We are eliminating everything that is not essential.”
She is fearful about the future, but also frustrated.
“I feel so aggravated when people say, ‘They don’t want to…