It’s a scary time. It’s even scarier for members of the workforce — currently employed or not.
The pandemic has robbed scores of people on the East End of their jobs, leaving them scrambling to figure out how to pay for housing, utilities, transportation and even to put food on the table.
There may have been one saving grace, at least to some degree, in the form of federal stimulus money that provided an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits, which was tacked on top of state unemployment insurance, bringing some workers to income levels close to their old salaries, or even slightly higher — a help to them, but also to the economy in general.
But that benefit is set to expire this week, and Congress, caught in a typical party divide, is slow in replacing it. And even if the lawmakers agree on a new stimulus package, the enhanced unemployment benefit likely will be reduced.
It’s maddening that in these difficult times partisan politics can divide lawmakers when it comes to protecting the financial security of Americans, when the unemployment rate is running higher than it did during the 2008 financial crisis. The enhanced unemployment benefits have been credited with boosting consumer spending while businesses were shut down, and that spending must continue now that businesses are reopening. To pull the plug now makes no sense, and it invites catastrophe.
In addition to the enhanced unemployment benefit, Congress will consider still much needed relief to businesses, aid for state and local governments, a second round of direct payments to individuals and housing assistance — all of which, hopefully, trickles down to help the unemployed.
Congress must act quickly to help those caught up in the fiscal crisis. It’s not going away any time soon. Without help from the federal government, many workers will be doomed to financial distress, which will have snowball effect on the economy in general.
It’s a daunting time for those who have jobs as well, whether they’ve been working throughout the pandemic or are recently returned to their jobs during the reopening. The future is murky, and there is no guarantee that businesses will remain open.
Reopening rollbacks are being threatened on a daily basis, as noncompliance with government edicts on mask wearing and social distancing jeopardizes the successes the state has seen in combating the virus and as spikes in coronavirus cases skyrocket in numerous states across the nation.
On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to roll back New York City’s reopening on the same day it entered phase four because of reports of noncompliance at bars and restaurants.
“It’s stupid what you’re doing,” the governor said. “Bars and restaurants are the problem. It doesn’t have to be. You have 700 people drinking in a public place, violating the open container law. There are inevitable consequences to our actions.”
With the East End’s dependence on the same types of establishments for a successful summer season, the same thing could happen here. By most reports, thank goodness, even in hot spots like Montauk, where compliance may have been lax during the early phases of the reopening, most businesses and consumers are cooperating — as they have to, if businesses, and subsequently their employees, hope to get through the summer.
The East End has been plagued in recent years by an exodus of young professionals unable to find work here to sustain them and unable to afford the high cost of living. The current crisis will only exacerbate that problem if jobs are lost completely, if businesses are forced to shut down temporarily again or shut their doors completely, unable to weather the storm.
The mantra of fighting COVID-19 has been that wearing masks saves lives. But the message must now be tweaked: Wearing masks also saves jobs.
A step backward in the reopening plan would be disastrous, not only for businesses, but for the thousands of employees depending on those employers to stay open for their livelihood, and for the scores of people still out of work hoping to get back to old jobs or find new ones.
It’s a scary time for everyone, but the resounding clarion call has always been that we can all get through this together, and that rings true today. Round one has been been won: The numbers of new cases and hospitalizations in New York are the lowest they’ve been in months. But the fight is not over. We must continue to be vigilant as we battle to save businesses and protect the jobs of our friends and neighbors.