Workers call for Congress to renew $600 weekly unemployment benefit

Chicago News

CHICAGO — Event workers rallying in downtown Chicago Tuesday called for Congress to extend $600 in weekly unemployment benefits which are scheduled to run out at the end of the month.

Mark Feazel works at a production company and says the industry has “basically been shut down” since mid-March. During that time, he said the additional $600 a week has been vital to help workers make ends meet.

“Our industry cannot go back to work until events return, we cannot go back to work so my people need that to basically survive, pay their mortgages, to feed their kids, make car payments, whatever it is,” Feazel said.

People who were working at places like McCormick Place, theaters, hotels, and other event spaces prior to the pandemic are calling on lawmakers to extend the benefit as trade shows, concerts, plays and conventions continue to be canceled. 

Many of them are union workers, and even with the regular unemployment plus $600 a week, they’re still making about half of what they would be if they were working right now.  That additional money is scheduled to run out after a final check this weekend.

“We just want to see it continue, the extra $600. Means a lot for these guys. We were going to have a fantastic year this year and now it’s been put on pause but nobody’s fault but a pandemic,” said Tony Degrado, USW Local 17 decorators.

About 25 million Americans continue to be unemployed because of the coronavirus shutdown,  a vast majority of whom have never been unemployed before. Thousands of Chicagoans currently rely on federal aid to make ends meet.

Right now in Washington, D.C. there are two dueling plans to help. 

A $3 trillion measure called the “HEROES Act” passed by Democrats in the House includes hazard pay for health care workers, another round of stimulus checks and more funding for the CDC. It would also extend the $600 a week benefit.

“It runs out at the end of this month, and if we don’t renew it and renew it in a robust way, millions more will sink back into poverty and lose their homes, get kicked out of their apartments and not be able to feed their families,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

The Trump administration’s $1 trillion package includes various credits and incentives like a payroll tax cut. Republicans also want to continue to offer federal unemployment support, but don’t yet have plans to extend the additional $600 a week benefit. 

“I think it’s an incentive for companies to hire their workers back and to keep their workers. Payroll tax cut to me is very important,” President Trump said.

Neither measure will pass the Senate without some support from both sides.

Additionally, some of the protesters argue a payroll tax cut only helps those who are able to work their jobs, and right now they can’t. As such, they say continuing the $600 a week benefit is vital.

“If that goes away, you’re going to be looking at housing next and a banking crisis, so this is really an important step they should take and think about the people, the families and everyone who makes this city run,” said Dan Kantor, Complete Crewing.

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