LOS ANGELES — Pandemic-related, expanded federal unemployment benefits expired Saturday.
Normally, Labor Day is a time to enjoy a long weekend before heading into the fall work season, but for millions of Californians who are facing an end to four unemployment benefits programs, it's a worrisome time as that lifeline of government assistance has helped keep many afloat during the pandemic.
What You Need To Know
- Four federal unemployment programs expired Saturday
- More than 2 million Californians will see their unemployment benefits ending or being reduced
- Roughly 500,000 Californians will stop getting the extra weekly $300 federal supplement with their payments, but may continue to receive regular state unemployment insurance
- The Labor of Love event, organized by Labor Community Services and a coalition of local union groups, distributed food and supplies to 800 families
At Banning Park in Wilmington, volunteers such as Judee Lopez recently came to help at "Labor of Love," a drive-thru food and supply distribution event organized by Labor Community Services.
Lopez, who is an assistant electrician for the traveling musical production Mean Girls, lost her unemployment benefits in January. As she travels for work, her income is reported and benefits come through New York state, but she is based in Los Angeles and is now helping out others in need as she waits for her job to commence.
“Anywhere that I can help,” she said. “Sometimes I am volunteering two, three, four times a week until I was waiting for my job to start up again.”
Lopez, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, added that she is lucky her union insurance and being able to stay with family have helped her weather the pandemic.
“I was able to use some of that savings that I have, because of my union job, to help me in this stretch when I wasn't getting benefits,” she said.
But for Californians who are no longer able to count on the four pandemic-related unemployment programs that expired, the future is uncertain, and that's why Labor Community Services organizer Sara Roschdi said reaching out to those in need is so important.
“We work on rent and utility assistance,” she said. “So we have members calling us, still figuring out how to get the rent paid, how to get their utilities, how to get access to food. We've tried to connect them to as many resources as we can.”
Roschdi noted that union jobs were hit hard by the pandemic, and even though employment numbers are returning, they haven't returned to pre-pandemic levels yet and many are still relying on the government assistance.
“Because with those unemployment benefits, we just haven't seen the level of good union jobs coming back in the way that we need to be able to feel like that safety net could be lifted,” she said.
Some 800 families received food and supplies assistance at the “Labor of Love” event, which has replaced the annual Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Labor Coalition Parade. This year, the event also included a vaccination clinic.
Lopez explained the event also helps bring awareness that many are still in need, and that for those who are self-employed, or gig economy workers who don't have a union behind them, things will be even harder without the expanded assistance.
“There's so many people in need,” she said, sporting her “Union Pride” T-shirt. “You still are fearful for the things that may happen.”
Although Lopez is slated to return to work in mid-October, for now, she will go where the help is needed.