News

With COVID Relief Talks Stalled, States and Businesses Step Up

Across the United States, dozens of businesses—many of them shuttered by lockdown orders—have created funds to support their workers in recent weeks, as negotiations between Senate Republicans and House Democrats have stalled over a new trillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill, The Hill reports.

A controversial $600-a-week unemployment benefit expired at the end of July as negotiators in Congress and at the White House failed to agree on a new benefit. President Trump over the weekend signed an executive order extending a $400-a-week benefit, with the federal government providing $300 if the states agree to cover the rest.

In the meantime, businesses and states are offering unemployed workers benefits of their own.

Self Esteem Brands, a Minneapolis-based fitness company that owns Anytime Fitness, The Bar Method and Waxing the City, unveiled a $1 million relief fund will provide a one-time $500 grant to thousands of franchise employees and corporate stuff. The grants are funded primarily through personal gifts from company co-founders Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen, along with $2,000 in donations from corporate employees and a donation from SEB investor Roark Capital Group.

“This year has been incredibly challenging for our members, employees, franchise owners and their staff and our communities,” SEB CEO Runyon said in a release announcing the $1 million fund. The fund “is a way that we can help them navigate this uncertainty as our franchise owners, clubs and studios work to adapt to a new normal in the fitness and wellness industry.”

The University of Oregon announced a new employee relief fund with $50,000 last week. More than half of the funds have already been distributed. The fund was created by donor gift funds and supported by voluntary charitable donations from employees and donors.

States Tackle Housing Worries

The Hill also reports that more than half of American households have lost income or jobs since the pandemic began, citing the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. “Black and Hispanic families, those without a college degree and younger people are disproportionately likely to say they have lost employment or wages,” the newspaper noted.

About 1-in-10 Americans who either pay rent or a mortgage either missed their payment or had a payment deferred in July, the Census Bureau survey said. “About 15 percent said they had no confidence or only slight confidence in their ability to pay next month’s mortgage or rent, as eviction moratoria are set to expire in many states,” according to The Hill.

With benefits sunsetting and moratoria expiring, states are trying the bridge the gap. California legislators, for example, are debating a package that would entirely replace the expired federal $600 weekly unemployment benefit.

“If that benefit is working in the short term, I don’t know why we’re stopping it, because the last thing we need is thousands of people evicted onto the streets,” Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Phil Ting, a Bay Area Democrat, told a local television station last week.

Pennsylvania last month unveiled a $50 million grant program to employers that would provide hazard pay bonuses to front-line workers who are at greater risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) announced a similar program last week. The $28 million fund would supplement the salaries of healthcare and public safety workers.

Louisiana doled out one-time payments of $250 to frontline workers earning less than $50,000 a year, The Hill reported.

In Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) launched a program offering financial assistance to agricultural workers who must self-quarantine due to the coronavirus. The Oregon Worker Quarantine Fund provides up to two weeks of financial assistance to agricultural workers ages 18 and older, regardless of their immigration status.

There are few signs that the Democrat-controlled House, which has passed a $3 trillion bill, and the Republican-controlled Senate, which has introduced but not passed a $1 trillion package, will agree to terms with the White House anytime soon.

“We understand where we are and where they are,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Thursday. “I think there’s a lot of issues we are close to a compromise position on, but I think there’s a handful of very big issues that we are still very far apart.”