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Some Laid-Off Workers Are Being Turned Away as Unemployment Claims Surge

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  • In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment claims have surged by 33% in just one week, with 281,000 people applying for benefits last week alone.
  • Economists estimate that the number will increase to one million by the end of the month.
  • The massive surge in applications has resulted in unemployment websites crashing and hours-long wait times over the phone.
  • Because of restrictive criteria in several states, many of those impacted are now learning that they aren’t eligible to receive benefits.

Coronavirus Leads to Mass Layoffs

The United States Labor Department reported Thursday that 281,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a massive surge of 33% from the previous week.

Economists expect the situation to get much worse, predicting more than a million people are on track to lose their jobs by the end of the month.

But given current events, that number is not necessarily surprising. Stocks have been plummeting and a lot of the economy is grinding to a standstill. On top of that, more and more businesses have closed their doors since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. Some companies, like Marriott, are furloughing tens of thousands of employees. 

All of that has put a massive strain on unemployment offices, with many people being put on hold for hours at a time. On Monday alone, so many people were trying to file for unemployment benefits in states like New York, Oregon, and New Jersey that their websites crashed.

While those technical issues are partly because of how fast unemployment is rising, they’re also a result of many state offices not expecting such a rapid surge in unemployment claims. Reportedly, many have low levels of staffing.

In fact, the surge in unemployment has been so fast that it’s on pace to do in a number of weeks what it took the 2008 Recession months to do.

Some People Are Told They Don’t Qualify for Unemployment

Along with hours-long wait times and trying to navigate broken websites, many people have recounted horror stories after learning they don’t qualify for benefits in their state.

In an interview with The Washington Post, 30-year-old Army vet Sean McGuire said he lost his job as a dishwasher in Portland because of the coronavirus. 

“I was on hold with the Oregon Department of Labor for over an hour,” he told The Post. “They were inundated. When I finally spoke to a person, they told me I don’t qualify.”

The reason McGuire was unable to draw benefits is because he had moved to Oregon from New York at the beginning of the year. Notably, that meant he hadn’t worked in Oregon long enough to qualify. 

After that, he tried applying online in New York. He then said the website crashed, so he called the unemployment office. After another long wait, he was again told he didn’t qualify, this time because he had quit his job in New York. 

As unfortunate and as scary as a situation like that is for a person, it’s becoming an increasingly common story. Gig workers, tipped workers, and full-time students also tend to not qualify for benefits in many states.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 16 states have such restrictive criteria that less than 20% of laid-off workers even qualify for unemployment benefits.

Say, however, that you do qualify for unemployment in your state. One, you could be in a state where you have to sit on a week-long waiting list before you can see any payment. Or two, you might find that the average weekly payment of $385 just isn’t enough. 

“Workers expect unemployment insurance to be there for them in a downturn,” labor economist Martha Gimbel told The Post. “A bunch of workers are about to find out that it’s not. This is a real-life nightmare. Every hole we allowed to grow in our social safety net is hitting us all at once.”

What Are Governments Doing to Fix the Problem?

So far, several states—including Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New York—have all temporarily scrapped their “waiting week” provisions. 

The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would provide sick pay and free testing. Notably, that bill also includes $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs. The bill, which previously received House approval, was signed into law by President Donald Trump yesterday.

That bill is expected to provide some relief, but it’s not a cure-all. Even before the coronavirus pandemic started, 23 states were already running low on their unemployment trust funds. 

That’s part of the reason why Trump Administration and a lot of other lawmakers are pushing for Congress to pass a bill that would send immediate checks to people. The Trump plan would provide $1 trillion in support, with $500 billion of that being split being two direct payments.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Fox Business) (NPR)

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Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video

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  • Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
  • Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
  • Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
  • If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

Viral Video

A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.

Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood. 

The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.

“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”

The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.

The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk. 

It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”

“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”

Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home

After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”

In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.

As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”

Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”

Pentland Charged

Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.

“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”

On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (Huffpost)

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Texas Students Created Snapchat Group To ‘Slave Trade’ Black Classmates

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  • Freshmen at a Texas high school set up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 
  • A screenshot showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”
  • That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer while a second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”
  • The school faced backlash for initially describing it as “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment,” without acknowledging the racism. The district later issued a stronger condemnation and said the students were disciplined but did not list specific consequences.

Racist Snapchat Group

Aledo high school students at Daniel Ninth Grade Campus in Northern Texas are making headlines for setting up a Snapchat group to pretend to sell their Black classmates. 

A screenshot reviewed by several local news outlets showed the group name being changed from “Slave Trade” with emojis of a Black man, a gun, and a white police officer to “[racial slur] Farm” and then “[racial slur] Auction.”

That image also shows a person saying they would spend $100 on a peer. A second student said they would spend $1 on another, adding “would be better if his hair wasn’t so bad.”

Screenshot of group chat message via KXAS

At least one student who was mentioned as being “sold” in the chats was later sent screenshots of the conversations.

According to a report from the Star-Telegram reported last week, when the issue was brought to Principal Carolyn Ansley, she sent parents an email that didn’t mention the Snapchat group but only cited “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment.”

That caused frustrations because parents felt the issue of racism wasn’t being addressed or acknowledged.

Mark Grubbs, a father of three former students, told KXAS he was sickened by the students’ actions. Grubbs, who is Black, also said he had taken his children out of the district over other racist incidents in the past.

“My son being called out of his name and what not and it got to the point he didn’t mind fighting and that didn’t sit right with me and my wife. My son was never a fighter,” he said.

District Responds

After the incident garnered media attention, the Aledo Independent School District issued a statement.

The district said it learned of the incident more than two weeks ago and started an investigation that involved law enforcement.

“There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” it added. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.”

District officials spoke with the students responsible as well as their parents, saying they “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims.”

The district also said it assigned disciplinary consequences, though it did not explicitly state what those consequences were or state how many students were involved.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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What You Need To Know About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause

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  • The CDC and the FDA have issued a joint recommendation to pause distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine amid reports that six women experienced “extremely rare” blood clots after receiving the single-dose shot.
  • The vast majority of the 6.8 million Americans who were given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported minor to no side effects, and no direct link has been established between the vaccine and blood clots at this time. 
  • The two agencies are expected to release updated guidance in the coming days.
  • Several states and cities are now automatically giving the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. 

CDC and FDA Recommend J&J Vaccine Halt

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Food and Drug Administration, released a statement Tuesday recommending a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

So far, 6.8 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, most with zero or only mild side effects.

The updated guidance comes after six women, all between the ages of 18 to 48, experienced what both agencies described as “extremely rare” blood clots six to 13 days after being vaccinated. One of those women has died and another is in critical condition.

Neither the CDC nor the FDA has confirmed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the cause of these blood clots; rather, they said this guidance comes “out of an abundance of caution.”

That’s also in line with Johnson & Johnson itself, which said it’s aware of the reports but added that “no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events.” As a precaution, Johnson & Johnson has also now delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe. 

What Happens From Here?

Principal Deputy Director of the CDC Anne Schuchat said further recommendations will come quickly.

FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock echoed that statement, saying, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”

Wednesday, a CDC committee will convene to discuss the cases and assess their potential significance.

When asked if the government was overreacting to just six cases out of nearly 7 million vaccinations (a criticism made by some online), Schuchat said the CDC pulled its recommendation specifically because the type of blood clots seen in these 6 women requires special treatment, so “it was of the utmost importance to us to get the word out.”

In the meantime, both agencies are urging Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients to contact their doctors if they experience any combination of severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath. 

What If I Had A J&J Appointment?

Both agencies, as well as other health officials, are still urging unvaccinated people to take the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines when available in their area.

The White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator has said that 28 million doses of those vaccines will be made available this week. Notably, that’s more than enough for the country to continue giving 3 million shots a day. 

If you had an appointment scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you’re likely not completely out of luck.

For example, while D.C. vaccination sites are canceling all Johnson & Johnson appointments between Tuesday and this Saturday, the health department there has said it’ll send out invitations on Wednesday to reschedule.

Similar situations were reported in Virginia and Maryland, though some vaccination sites in Maryland are still honoring existing appointments by automatically giving people Pfizer instead. That’s also a process that is now being conducted in places like New York State and Memphis.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NBC News) (The Washington Post)

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