A man walks out of the Porch restaurant with his takeout order on Thursday, July 9, 2020 in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Due to a spike in COVID-19 infections, service at restaurants has been limited to takeout for the past week. Beginning Friday, restaurants will re-open for outside dining only.
Kate is covering the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
She covered poverty, social services and affordable housing at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor, and state government.
She was part of the P-G staff that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting on the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. She has won numerous state and local awards for her reporting and was honored with a 2020 Keystone Media Award for her beat reporting on poverty.
She also previously reported for several newspapers in Ohio and covered the steel industry for a trade publication.
(Pittsburgh) — Pittsburgher Criseena Johnson is one of millions of people who will lose her unemployment benefits in a matter of days, without Congressional action.
Johnson, a single mother who worked for more than 15 years in the restaurant industry, has been out of a job since March.
“I’m one of those people that’s teetering the line of picking which one do I want to keep, do I want to feed my family, or do I want to keep my car?”
And that’s before she expects her unemployment to end on Dec. 26.
Two programs – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – will end this month if Congress does not extend them.
State officials say if these programs are allowed to end, about half a million Pennsylvanians will abruptly lose their lifeline.
“I – other than public assistance or maybe being able to go be on SNAP benefits or things like that – I have no idea how I’m going to pay my bills, no idea, no idea, I haven’t the slightest idea,” Johnson said.
For Johnson, the unemployment payments have been her only source of income. She’s also gotten some assistance from the Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid group, which has helped steer donations to those from the hard-hit restaurant industry.
Advocates argue with coronavirus cases surging, restrictions on in-person dining still in place, and other service sector jobs also hard-hit, Congress should extend benefits for several months at a minimum.
“The economy is not going to get better for another quarter at least,” said Barney Oursler, director of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee. “There’s just no expectation that the vaccine is going to be spread widely enough that people get reemployed” prior to that.
It’s not unusual during times of recession for the government to allow laid-off workers to collect unemployment for lengthy periods as the economy slowly recovers, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.
“During the last recession, there were… several separate extensions. And workers were able to get up to 99 weeks of benefits at the peak of the last recession,” Evermore said.
“What is unusual is how few weeks we’re really talking about here,” she said, as Congress has talked about extending the programs for 16, 12, or even only 10 weeks.