My oldest teen got sick with Covid-19 at the end of June, and I contracted it shortly afterwards.
I’ve been sick for three months now and the fatigue, pain, and range of constantly mutating symptoms have made it nearly impossible to work. And even if I could work full-time, the jobs aren’t available. I am a single parent and my income is composed entirely of freelance work and part time teaching. Over a third of working adults are a part of the gig economy and while Trump likes to claim credit for creating jobs, these jobs are very unstable, usually part-time, often pay less than a living wage, and offer no health insurance, retirement options, sick leave, or vacation.
To make a gig economy work, people like me have to patch together multiple gigs and be constantly keeping our eyes out for new opportunities, knowing that current gigs may not last. It’s exhausting and unsustainable in the long term, but especially so during the Coronavirus pandemic. Gig work is the first to go in any economic crisis and this has a serious impact on people who are already struggling to pay the bills.
In mid-May, the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, a three trillion dollar stimulus package to help support state governments, education, small businesses, and individuals like me, struggling to pay our bills. It is now October and there is no clear date in sight for when the Senate might vote on the now reworked HEROES Act. Indeed, it is unclear whether President Trump will even be willing to sign off on a stimulus package. In contradictory messages on Twitter, Trump stated he would not pass a stimulus package until after the election, followed by a statement that he’d support a relatively small bill.
It is well past time for the Senate to pass a HEROES Act that will substantially help families like mine make ends meet.
The $1,200 stimulus check I received in April wasn’t even enough to pay my rent for one month. And like many of the other 33 million people out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, I have not been able to talk to anyone on the phone at the unemployment offices. Due to the timing of my work drying up and getting sick, I should technically qualify for back payment of the supplemental $600 a week in unemployment insurance, but I can’t get through to anyone who can look into this for me. Fortunately, Montana was one of the handful of states that issued an additional $400 a week in unemployment insurance in September, but the money ran out after I’d received three payments. Now, I receive $169 a week. Needless to say, no one can pay their bills and put food on the table for $169 a week.
Families like mine need relief immediately.
The Senate needs to pass a new stimulus package that restores the additional $600 a week in unemployment insurance until jobs are available again. The new stimulus package must also provide money sent directly to each household and it must provide money to state governments so that they can subsidize child care and provide hazard pay and sick time to child care workers, teachers, healthcare professionals, and other frontline workers.
In Montana, Covid-19 cases are now out of control. Currently, Montana has over 6,300 active cases in a state with a population of one million. Even so, it remains nearly impossible to get a test without active symptoms. A new stimulus package must include funding for states to implement widespread, on-demand testing and a robust contact tracing system. Without these systems in place, and without supporting families like mine, the pandemic will continue to gain momentum. In the long run, providing financial support to families and state governments is what will save the economy. It is not possible to sustain a healthy economy without healthy workers.
Passing a stimulus bill with extensive support will help families pay their bills and will ensure that frontline workers can stay home when they are sick. Both measures are required to help put the breaks on the pandemic so that we can return to normal sooner than later. To avoid a prolonged and devastating long term impact on the economy and public health, the Senate needs to pass a second stimulus bill now.