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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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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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