Unemployment and the Coronavirus Crisis
April 3, 2020
When my partner developed a small cough and mild chest pain in late February, we didn’t think they had coronavirus. My partner works as teacher’s aide in a public elementary school and gets sick all the time. We thought they caught a cold from a student or were dealing with stress-related illness.
We were wrong. Over the next few weeks, their mild chest pain turned major, their temperature spiked, and they developed such difficult breathing it became difficult to walk. During one particularly frightening Friday, they could not keep down food for over 24 hours, developed a 100+ degree fever, and could barely speak due to severe chest pain. As I Googled, “When should you go to the emergency room coronavirus,” I found myself anxiously wondering whether their insurance covered emergency room visits.
Thankfully, their symptoms improved since that awful Friday, but our anxiety hasn’t gone away. My partner loves working in elementary education, but feels terrified about finding another job. Most elementary schools hire aides on yearly contracts and we don’t know whether their school—or most schools—will be hiring aides during a global pandemic, which might force schools to remain indefinitely closed. Even if schools re-open in the fall, my partner knows they’ll struggle finding a summer job after their contract ends in June. Like many education workers, my partner might face at least three months of unemployment during an economic meltdown.
Nobody should experience any of this. That’s why NETWORK advocated for three COVID-19 relief packages, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security (CARES) Act, which became law on March 27th. This bill offers some relief to workers, like my partner, facing coronavirus-induced unemployment. Besides expanding unemployment insurance to gig, temporary, and self-employed workers, the CARES Act offers eligible workers an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits for up to four months. As my partner’s story demonstrates, these reforms are profoundly important, especially since economic experts and the federal government predict that the unemployment rate could reach an unprecedented 32%.
However, my partner’s story also demonstrates that Congress must do more. The CARES Act doesn’t guarantee free coronavirus testing and treatment to people, like my partner and their colleagues, who could lose health insurance upon becoming unemployed. Additionally, the CARES Act does little for incarcerated and undocumented people, who remain ineligible for unemployment benefits and at-risk of receiving inadequate medical care. Because NETWORK knows closing these gaps will save lives, we’re advocating for a 4th coronavirus relief package, which guarantees testing and treatment for incarcerated, undocumented, and uninsured people. You can read about our work here.
The coronavirus pandemic has already harmed millions of people. By passing a 4th relief package, Congress can prevent more people from needlessly suffering. As an organization guided by Catholic Social Justice, NETWORK calls on Congress to provide care and economic relief for all U.S. residents, regardless of employment status, insurance, citizenship, or incarceration.