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Anneliese Monkman of Bangor is an unemployed hospitality worker.
More than 25,000 unemployed Mainers fear losing our last shred of income the day after Christmas. I’m one of them.
Before the pandemic, my fiance, Justin, and I held steady jobs. I was the sales manager at the Four Points by Sheraton at the airport. Justin worked as a cook in a local restaurant. Our plans for the future were also tied to Maine’s tourism industry. Every weekend from May to October, and many weeknights, I built my wedding planning business. Our dream was to open a bed and breakfast where Justin would run the kitchen and I’d apply my event planning skills to hosting weddings and other gatherings.
When the pandemic hit, I was immediately furloughed. The furlough turned into a permanent layoff in April, around the same time that Justin was laid off from his restaurant job. Fortunately for us, in March Congress passed the CARES Act, which authorized $600 weekly federal pandemic unemployment compensation to supplement deeply inadequate state unemployment insurance benefits. The $600 helped us stay afloat during the spring and summer, along with millions of other people who lost jobs due to COVID. Economists estimate that supplemental unemployment benefits kept more than 13 million Americans out of poverty this spring and summer.
The House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act in May, which would have extended critical CARES Act provisions including pandemic unemployment compensation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t act, letting the additional unemployment compensation expire at the end of July.
Since then, we have been struggling to survive. I’ve applied for hundreds of jobs, but employers are demanding a lot more experience for a lot less money than before pandemic. Justin was rejected from a job at Target. The jobs we’re good at, and passionate about, won’t come back until the virus is under control.
We mainly rely on the $355 per week I receive in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Justin receives $120 per week in Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, but most of his check goes to buying groceries and other necessities for his mother, who lives nearby. We’ve been lucky to get some rental assistance, and our landlord has been wonderful, but we won’t be able to stay in our home much longer without relief.
All the money that we’d saved to buy a home and build our dream business has been drained. Justin recently spent 11 days in intensive care with a brain injury, so we’re bracing for additional costs.
We’re not alone. As we approach this holiday season, 26 million people in the richest nation on earth don’t have enough to eat, including more than 80,000 adults in Maine. I’ve been building my career in event planning because I love helping people celebrate life’s milestones and build community. It breaks my heart that with the virus surging and poverty climbing, many of us have little to celebrate this holiday season.
And it’s about to get much worse. On Dec. 26, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will expire. More than 16 million unemployed people — 39,000 of them in Maine — will have no income at all. State and local programs that help down-on-their-luck Mainers are already stretched to the breaking point, and won’t be able to provide relief without an infusion of funding.
It’s already getting cold in Maine, and many people will be forced out of their homes or unable to heat them. Homelessness can be a death sentence during Maine winters, and I’m terrified for all the people who won’t have a place to go.
We can’t wait any longer for relief. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafting a compromise stimulus package that would extend benefits for a few months. It’s not as much as we deserve, but it’s something, and Democratic leaders have agreed to use it as the basis for a relief bill. Unfortunately, McConnell has already shot it down.
Out-of-work Mainers like me are counting on Collins to push her Republican colleagues to do the right thing and deliver relief now.