Local families impacted by loss of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

FALMOUTH – As a Falmouth mother helps her daughter through remote learning and does her best to pull together gifts for the holidays, there is a sinking feeling that devastating financial loss could be looming just around the corner.

As of December 26th, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) she and her family have been relying on to keep her family safe and healthy is set to disappear.

 “My daughter has a very weak immune system,” she explains, while asking to be kept anonymous. “She was hospitalized six times last year from pneumonia from just a simple cold she got from other kids at school. Landed her in the hospital with her asthma attacks, also.”

In an effort to protect her child, the local mother says she saw no other choice but to stop working when the pandemic began, opting for remote learning and keeping family visits limited. The drastic lifestyle change, though a challenge, worked: it’s the healthiest her daughter has been in 10 months.

Yet on December 8th, Governor Charlie Baker confirmed the assistance that’s been helping protect her daughter will soon stop coming. “The PUA program ends on the 31st of December. It ends,” the Governor said, expressing frustration himself at the matter.

“I’ve been urging my colleagues in Washington for quite a while now to recognize and understand how important it would be for all of their constituents to come together on a plan that either looks like, or is, an extension of the CARES act that was passed last spring. Because that thing made an enormous difference in helping all of us work our way through the first surge,” says Baker.

“So unless that thing gets extended, there will not be an unemployment assistance program in the United States for a whole bunch of folks who, through no fault of their own, are not able to work.” A call to the Dept. of Unemployment Assistance confirmed this statement, and in talks with a representative they shared their own fears of the program ending. “On the 26th, we’re out of work, too.”

The loss of PUA isn’t just set to impact the immunocompromised: also in the line of fire are Phase 3, Step 2 workers as Gov. Baker issued a rollback to Phase 3: Step 1 set to take effect on December 13th. “In addition to closing the indoor recreational businesses in Phase 3: Step 2, we’re also reducing capacity limits to 40% statewide for pretty much everything else. This includes gyms, libraries, museums, retail offices, places of worship, movie theaters, lodging, and more sectors,” he announced in a press conference. “The rollback to Step 1 will also automatically reduce the maximum size of outdoor gatherings from 100 people to 50 across all communities. Musical performances no longer allowed in restaurants, and food court seating will be closed in malls.”

Baker also addressed his disappointment in the lack of PUA readily available to those soon to be impacted by the new restrictions. “One of the things they did in the first surge was they created an unemployment assistance program for gig workers of which, we all know, is a much bigger part of our economy than it used to be. People who work on their own, people who don’t participate in the traditional employer-employee relationship. People who don’t pay in to the traditional UI system who, through no fault of their own, lost their jobs or their ability to work because of the issues associated with the pandemic and a lot of the changes and orders that were issued by folks like us and many others,” he says. “Those are really important issues when you’re thinking and talking about what you’re going to do with respect to people’s access to work.”

With the program’s end date less than two weeks away, many are losing hope that a new program will come in time to save them. “If they pass PUA, yes, it’s definitely a huge help for us,” says the Falmouth mother. “It’s very tough for me to think I’ll have to get a job and put my child at risk every day sending her to school in person. It’s hard for me not to work on the same level, because I have bills to pay like everyone else. It’s frustrating.”

Although a vaccine has been comfort for some forced to return to work, she says she worries about a lack of research available on long-term side effects and concerns for those like her daughter in a higher risk group. “I am hoping this vaccine they have will work like the flu shot, but it has no (long-term) side effects that anyone is aware of right now and it’s new so a lot of people are scared to take it. I hope they find a cure so not just people at risk but everyone can start living their lives again.”

By Emmalyn Reid, Cape Wide News




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