Wednesday was the first of the month. Rent was due.
Unemployment claims for Massachusetts were 329,000 over the last two weeks. That’s … 4.8% of the entire population of Massachusetts, and 9% of the workforce, newly out of a job, right now. It’s like … there’s practically no economy at all.
So I’m glad that the Massachusetts House has quickly put together and passed a package for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. Congrats and thanks to Reps. Mike Connolly and Kevin Honan. May this pass quickly into law.
Sadly this won’t be anywhere near enough. Some mortgage lenders are offering 90 day forbearance — but then you have to come up with all the money. What good is that going to do you? Who, having been laid off from their jobs, is going to have three times the usual mortgage payment at the end of 90 days? (This advice from NPR’s go-to personal finance expert Michelle Singletary was … informative, but not at all hopeful. Smash the piggy bank and good luck, she seemed to say.) We need a mortgage freeze, a rent freeze, and an eviction freeze. Banks need to take a haircut, big time. A lease, a mortgage are agreed upon with an assumption of a certain degree of stability and predictability in life. But now, a huge number of people can hardly be expected to make the usual payments under these circumstances.
There is some help for the newly unemployed in the new CARES bill passed by Congress. But apparently that money is only quickly available if you’ve already got a direct deposit set up with the federal government. Add that to the effects of the ongoing Republican project to de-fund government functions, and you’ve got crisis upon crisis:
Officials at the Internal Revenue Service have warned that $1,200 relief checks may not reach many Americans until August or September if they haven’t already given their direct-deposit information to the government. Taxpayers in need of answers from the IRS amid a rapidly changing job market are encountering dysfunctional government websites and unresponsive call centers that have become understaffed as federal workers stay home.
August? September? Are you kidding me?
And the self-employed, the gig workers whose jobs simply evaporated over the last two or three weeks … there’s no help for them soon.
In many states, including Massachusetts, the state unemployment system isn’t set up for those who didn’t previously qualify for unemployment insurance and the Department of Unemployment Assistance is waiting on federal guidelines on how to process their claims.
The unemployment website notes that unemployment benefits for the self-employed are “currently UNAVAILABLE” — in all capital letters.
On Monday, Governor Charlie Baker urged self-employed workers not to seek aid through the state portal, saying they wouldn’t be able to get through the system and could create a traffic jam for others who do qualify.
So … too bad? The rent is due but you’ll just have to wait? That’s it, for the Uber drivers, for those conveniently classified as “contract workers”; for all my freelance musician friends who have been decimated? This is both farcical and callous.
We’re doing not nearly enough, not fast enough.
If you know something new, do hold forth in the comments.