“…like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound”
Workers in West Virginia who have found themselves amongst the record numbers of Americans filing for unemployment amid the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks say they feel abandoned by a government hell-bent on bailing out massive corporations instead of supporting working people.
“The stimulus bill is absolute garbage,” Will Hyman, a laid off commercial arts worker in Clarksburg, said. “It’s the biggest transfer of wealth to banks and corporations in human history. The government stole trillions on the backs of generations to come and in turn put a carrot out for the people.”
Hyman said the bill would cause him to feel abandoned by the federal government, but “that would make it seem like the government actually cared in the first place.”
The bi-partisan stimulus bill in question passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress last week. The bill stipulates that each unemployed adult in the country making less than $75,000-a-year will receive a one-time $1,200 check and a $500 check for children under the age of 18. It also includes a $4.5 trillion corporate bailout found that will be under the control of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin with almost no constraints.
As explained by senior HuffPost reporter Zach Carter, “(The bill) is not an economic rescue package, but a sentence of unprecedented economic inequality and corporate control over our politics that will resonate for a generation.”
The bill also allows bailed out corporations to fire up to 10% of their workers for the next six months with no restrictions and to pay dividends to their shareholders. Meanwhile, average working people across the country, once again, have been abandoned and left to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps — but for many, that burden has become seemingly impossible.
Matthew Patrick, a server and bartender at a restaurant in Huntington, said he was working the night W.V. Gov. Jim Justice announced the closure of most businesses across the state. He said that night, his boss told staff members a meeting would be held the following morning at 9 a.m.
“I arrived, and she basically told us almost the whole staff besides a few managers and kitchen staff would be let go and advised us to file unemployment,” Patrick said.
He said although he was upset about losing the job where he had worked for nearly two years, he immediately went to the unemployment office because he knew it would soon be very crowded.
“Before I left, there were already two waitresses lined up behind me,” he said.
Patrick said he thinks the federal government has done “a very poor job” at preparing for and responding to the unprecedented levels of unemployment across the country cause by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The stimulus bill will be minimally effective, in my mind,” Patrick said. “While $1,200 is certainly helpful, I don’t believe it is enough.”
Patrick said that because workers and employers will be dealing with the pandemic for several months, recurring monthly payments would be most helpful for those who are unemployed. He said he also thinks a national rent freeze during the pandemic is “essential” for working-class citizens.
A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said she lives in Pennsylvania but was recently laid off from her job as a server at a restaurant in West Virginia where she worked for eight years. She said she recently filed for unemployment, but the benefits are “less than half (her) normal income.”
The source said she should qualify for SNAP benefits when she receives her last pay stub.
She said she thinks a universal basic income is necessary to support working-class citizens at least until the coronavirus pandemic is under control and people can resume working.
She said a one-time $1,200 payment is “absolutely not” enough support for working people because that number was calculated based on poverty-level wages.
“And one-percenter Mnuchin had the nerve to say that anyone can live on that — let’s see him try,” she said. “We need what Bernie (Sanders) suggested — $2,000 per month. Many people will lose their jobs for good (…) We actually should probably have a UBI from here on out.”
The source said a friend of hers worked in health care for a small company and will likely not have a job to return to after the crisis is over.
“My friend earned $60,000-a-year — if this happens, he will be lucky to find a job that pays half that much,” she said. “Rent in Morgantown (W.V.) is easily $600 per month — that is most likely a low number — add in car payments, utilities and groceries, and that puts you very quickly into the negative.”
The source said she also thinks implementing guaranteed paid sick leave and universal healthcare through Medicare for All will be necessary both throughout the coronavirus pandemic and moving forward.
“This should be the system we have in place all the time but at the very least until displaced workers are employed again with health care,” she said.
Chris Hall, a resident of Wheeling, W.V., was recently laid off from his job working for the W.V. Lottery. He said that although he would like to work and his boss has done everything in her power to help him, he, too, was forced to file for unemployment.
“I can’t stress how well my boss handled it — she sent us direct links to the unemployment and is helping the best she can,” Hall said. “Being a dad of 2 young daughters, I thought the usual: What can I do to keep the money flowing? Everything around me isn’t hiring, so I’ll have to rely on unemployment, which I do not like because more people could use the help. But I’ve got to survive too.”
Hall said that although he is a Republican, he does not approve of Gov. Justice’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he also thinks people are giving President Trump too much credit for the stimulus bill and the $1,200 payment which is merely a good idea “for the moment.”
“(The bill) is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound,” he said. “Sure, it’ll help some, but if you’re laid off for three or four months, what’s $1,200 going to do? It’s a one-time check, not a monthly check. So, in the end, I think it’s a bad idea.”
Douglas Harding can be contacted at email@example.com.