Opinion: There’s No Justification for Ending Pandemic Benefits Early

Pandemic
Photo by Angela Breck.

When I heard that Gov. Larry Hogan planned to end pandemic unemployment benefits in July, the first thing I felt was horrible anxiety. The past 18 months have been a terrible struggle for me and my family, and if the governor’s order stands, it’s going to get even worse.

When I was first laid off from my job at Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor in March 2020, I moved into a two-bedroom condo with my two daughters and grandson. We knew we needed to pull together as a family to make it through the pandemic. It was hard living on top of each other and living without things we’d gotten used to that we could no longer afford. But we were managing.

One of the things that got us this far was the pandemic unemployment benefits. In my industry, there weren’t, and still aren’t, jobs to apply to, so job searching was a nonstarter. That’s why waiving the “seeking work” requirement – which requires applicants for unemployment insurance to apply for jobs every week – was so important.

The federal subsidy, which added between $300 and $600 to my weekly unemployment insurance benefits, meant that I only had to go to the food bank once a week and could provide basic necessities to my family. When it lapsed last fall, I was making multiple trips to support myself, my daughters, my grandson and my mother, who also takes care of my two disabled siblings.

When Congress passed another stimulus at the beginning of this year, I thought I could count on unemployment insurance at least through September, when hopefully my job would come back. Then, Gov. Hogan pulled the rug out from under us, announcing that he would re-instate the seeking work requirement and end the federal subsidy.

I am a member of UNITE HERE Local 25, a union which represents over 7,200 hospitality workers in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. There are 85% of us who are still out of work. That’s not because we want to stay at home. If Gaylord called me tomorrow, I would be back in a heartbeat. Some of my friends have been called back and want to work, but they are struggling with child care, which is still extremely difficult to find.

Why does Gov. Hogan think the solution to these ongoing challenges is to punish workers for something that isn’t our fault? Cutting my unemployment doesn’t make my job come back faster or help other workers find child care. It just makes our lives significantly more painful.

Re-instating the work search requirement is equally terrible. I do not want a new job. I had seniority, and union wages and benefits at my old one, and I was able to support my family. I do not want to start over in a job in a new field paying less and with worse benefits. My life, and the bills I have worked out payment plans for, are based on the money I earned at Gaylord. And even if I was to start looking, how would I find money for gas or the bus fare to get to an interview if the governor slashes my only source of income?

There is no justification for ending pandemic benefits prematurely, no reason to make us hurt even more. Gov. Hogan’s decision is cruel and pointless, and no elected official in Maryland should rest until it has been reversed.

–FELICIA GIBBS

The writer is a public space attendant at Gaylord National Harbor and a member of UNITE HERE Local 25. She lives in Forestville with her daughters and grandson.