'Cruelty, plain and simple': 20 GOP governors are sending a million self-employed workers 'hurtling toward a benefits cliff'

'Cruelty, plain and simple': 20 GOP governors are sending a million self-employed workers 'hurtling toward a benefits cliff'
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2016, Wikimedia Commons

One of the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2021 was the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers economic relief to self-employed Americans who don't qualify for traditional unemployment relief. And in 20 states with Republican governors, CBS News reports, PUA relief is being cut off two months before the federal funding is due to expire.

CBS News reporter Aimee Picchi explains, "Without PUA, self-employed workers in those states will be stripped of all jobless aid. The temporary program was designed by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, to provide support for a growing group of nontraditional workers in America's gig economy, who don't otherwise qualify for regular unemployment aid. To be sure, the governors of those states ending the PUA program also are cutting the extra $300 in weekly benefits directed at millions of other jobless workers who lost their positions with employers. However, many of those workers will continue to qualify for traditional state jobless aid. Not so with self-employed workers."

One of the GOP governors who is ending PUA relief in his state is Texas' Greg Abbott, and Picchi cites 50-year-old Selina Smedley — who lives about 30 miles from Dallas — as an example of someone who is "hurtling toward a benefits cliff." The self-employed Smedley owns a cleaning business, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession that it caused.

Smedley told CBS News, "It's really frustrating that the feds gave us this to help us, and our governor just throws it to the wind. You can't prepare for it when it's a month away…. When Abbott said there are millions of jobs, maybe so — but for people like me, no one is going to hire a 50-year-old woman who has been out of the loop for so long."

Rafael Espinal, executive director of the Freelancers Union, is vehemently critical of GOP governors who are cutting off self-employed workers off from PUA relief. Espinal told CBS News, "It is very dangerous for these states to feel comfortable with peeling back the program…. There are domestic workers who are having trouble getting back to work because people aren't currently hiring in those fields."

Andy Stettner, who specializes in unemployment at the Century Foundation, told CBS News, "They are cutting them off from all of those benefits. We know not everyone will find jobs in the 30-day window that they are providing."

The group ExtendPUA.org has slammed the end of PUA relief in 20 states with GOP governors as "cruelty, plain and simple."

In a May 17 statement, ExtendPUA.org said, "Politicians say this change comes because business owners are claiming they cannot find workers to fill open positions. (Many of these) businesses are offering low wages, part-time or unreasonable hours, high-risk work, no benefits and schedules that don't allow flexibility with child care or other obligations."

One of the gig economy workers who is about to lose her PUA benefits is Texas resident Kristen Adkins, a former Uber driver who became homeless in February when she could no longer afford the apartment she had been renting. Adkins, who has been sleeping in her car and in hotel rooms, told CBS News that she went from earning $900 per week as an Uber driver to receiving "about $906 every two weeks" from unemployment.

"I have lost over half of my pay," Adkins told CBS News, "and (unemployment) is something — but it's not enough to survive."

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