An analysis of Labor Department data by the Pew Research Center shows that only 2.1 million of 7.37 million applicants (29%) received their benefits.
The Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress have created this disaster by allowing benefits to be distributed by the individual states. The Pew report describes a "hodgepodge of different state rules governing how [Americans] can qualify for benefits, how much they'll get and how long they can collect them".
As Salon's Igor Derysh reports:
The differences in state rules governing the program have resulted in wide disparities in the number of residents who have received benefits. In Massachusetts, for example, 65.9% of unemployed residents received benefits in March compared to only 7.6% of Florida residents, according to the analysis. Overall, most of the states where fewer than 15% of unemployed people received benefits were in the South, while states that distributed benefits to more than 40% of jobless applicants were in the Northeast and Midwest. States hit hardest by the virus, like New York, California, and Washington, distributed benefits to around 30-40% of applicants.In at least 38 states, unemployment benefits are actually higher than many workers' previous salaries, leading Bernie Sanders to opine: "Maybe, just maybe, we should ask ourselves how we got into a situation where millions of Americans are working for starvation wages in the first place."
There are also large disparities in how much benefits applicants can receive. Congress allocated an additional $600 per week to laid-off workers due to concerns that state systems, many of which run on computers built decades ago, could not handle an expanded system that distributed benefits based on previous salaries. But individual states have caps on how much they can distribute to recipients through the standard unemployment system. Massachusetts, for example, set its cap at $823 per week while Mississippi caps benefits at just $235 per week. States in the Southeast tend to have the lowest payouts, with seven states paying $350 or less, while states with the highest payouts tend to be in the Northeast.
In numerous states, out-of-work Americans have not even been able to apply for benefits. In Florida, the computer system has repeatedly crashed, leaving hundreds of thousands of people unable to apply. Officials recently suggested that applicants print paper applications, which would delay processing even further.
Florida sent payments to only 5% of about 648,000 applicants who filed their claims between March 21 and April 11.
Gerlinde Harrison, a cook in Cape Coral, Florida, said her application is still "pending" a month after she filed it. "No one I work with has been able to get unemployment yet. I try to log in every day at 7:30 AM, and it's just error message after error message."
Holly Strout, an event planner in Florida's Volusia County, has made "116 calls a day" for three weeks before being told she was "ineligible" and to "reapply."
You've received no wages, and you have to put food on the table, pay for your car payment, pay for your auto insurance, pay for your health insurance, because if you don't pay, you're screwed. Financially, I'm worried. I don't want to lose my home.Julia Lane, an economist at New York University, said states have been warned for years that their systems are out-of-date:
This should not have been a surprise to anyone. We've been screaming about it for years. The states haven't had the investments in modern IT and workforce training that could have mitigated it, and now we're paying the price for shortsighted budget cuts.As bad as this situation is, the Trump administration and Republican governors are scheming to make it much, much worse.
By pushing businesses to reopen, even as new COVID-19 cases are increasing, workers will be forced to risk their lives in order to have a roof over your head and feed your children. Employees who refuse to return to work will lose their unemployment eligibility.
David Michaels, the former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration:
They will be terrified, and in many cases they will be correct to be terrified. It's not fair for them to be asked to choose between their income and their health.Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation:
These states that are reopening early, they don't have some plan, really, to keep people safe. They're just kind of mostly going on hope that ... everyone's going to be okay.Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project:
People will go out in public, mass infections will occur and more and more people will qualify for more and more unemployment benefits. So trying to open up the economy now will actually slow the opening of the economy.Laura Jean Truman, a waitress in Atlanta, Georgia:
Once restaurants decide to open, and if we decide that we don't feel safe going back into those restaurants, we then are no longer eligible for unemployment because then we have a job opportunity that we're turning down. It's a tremendously scary thing to have to think about.Republicans lawmakers are also pushing hard to make sure corporations are immune from lawsuits if, when they order employees back to work, those employees get sick and/or die.
As of April 15, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's wealth during the pandemic had increased by $25 billion.