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How People Are Scraping By After Expiration Of Federal Unemployment Aid


During most of this pandemic, a lot of unemployed Americans got some extra unemployment benefits from the federal government - a flat $600 every week.


That funding expired at the end of July. Congress hasn't renewed it. So millions of people are scraping by with a lot less. In some places, the state unemployment benefit is just $250 a week.

PFEIFFER: Emily Guill worked at a hotel in Oregon before the pandemic. When we talked to her in July, she worried she might lose her housing. This week, we called to check in.

EMILY GUILL: Well, actually, there have been some big changes. After the extra $600 ran out and my savings was gone and I was staring down the barrel of rent due, I decided to break my lease and move out of state, back in with my parents.

PFEIFFER: Guill worried about racking up debt.

GUILL: I had a great career. I had friends. I had a life there. And now I just gave away everything I owned so that I could move back in with my parents. I'm still looking for a job and getting nothing in response. I'm not really sure what the future holds.

CORNISH: In Arizona, Alicia Gonzalez told us in July that she was struggling even with that $600. Her boyfriend had to ration his medicine.

ALICIA GONZALEZ: I thought things couldn't get worse. It's just - it's gotten bad within that little bit of time.

PFEIFFER: In August, there was a moment when things were looking up. Alicia got a job at Walmart managing how many customers come in and enforcing mask rules.

GONZALEZ: That whole day, like, I was thinking, like, OK, I got this job. Everything's going to be peachy. Everything's going to be - you know, we're going to be OK. But then I thought, like, you know, some people are crazy. That's really, like, up close and personal. Like, people can be, like, you know, like - no, I didn't feel safe enough.

CORNISH: Alicia decided she couldn't put her family at risk like that and turned the job down. She's going to keep looking.

PFEIFFER: In August, President Trump signed an order to divert money from FEMA to boost unemployment benefits. That's $300 a week instead of $600.

CORNISH: It's temporary, just through September, and it's taking a while to get the money in people's hands.

PFEIFFER: Kim Robinson worked for a staffing agency before she got laid off. She lives in Louisiana, where she searched relentlessly for a new job. She says $300 barely makes a dent.

KIM ROBINSON: It's hot, you know, so of course the energy bill is going up. Just your light bill alone could be $200 or $300.

CORNISH: Robinson is still hopeful Congress will act.

ROBINSON: Hopefully they'll hear our cries. With everything going on in America, it's - they could at least help the American people because we are the economy, you know?

PFEIFFER: Talks on the next coronavirus relief bill remain at a standstill.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.