This morning I woke up to a wonderful email from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, which manages our state’s unemployment benefits.
“On Dec. 4, the U.S. Department of Labor informed the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission that Oklahoma no longer meets the requirements for the State Extended Benefits program, which extended unemployment benefits for up to 13 weeks,” the email read. “The program will end on Saturday, Dec. 12.”
This message came after we were first told benefits would end Dec. 26 — the day after Christmas.
Now myself, and thousands of other Americans across the U.S., will be left on our own only weeks before the holiday hits.
“Unfortunately, this means that the SEB you were receiving will end on Dec. 12, even if you have not received the up to 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits,” the email read.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state affected by the benefit cutoff, OESC said.
“ It is important to note that Oklahoma is not the only state affected by this change — DOL notified various states the same day. At least 32 other states are expected to be off SEB by the end of the year,” it said.
This year is the first year I’ve ever had to file for unemployment benefits. My former boss sat me down in February and gave me the rundown: I would be laid off that day.
“I can’t pay you anymore,” he said. “Good luck.”
My father had just died from cancer weeks before the announcement. I lived at home with him, my mother, my disabled sister, and her two minor children. We take care of each other.
But when he died, we not only lost the patriarch of our family — the glue holding our lives together. With his death, we lost his income, too.
It’s a sad world to live in where you cannot focus on grieving. Bills pile up, whether you’re in mourning or not. Medical bills keep appearing in our mailbox. Like everyone else, there’s an electric bill, a water bill, the mortgage and car payments; food for us and the pets; and every other little thing from toilet paper to dish soap.
Being alive isn’t cheap. But I still had a job. Mom had a job. Things would be tight, but we could do it. We had it budgeted out.
“We’ve got this, Mom,” I told her. “We’ve got this.”
But soon after, I lost my job.
Then coronavirus hit, and with it came additional layoffs at several companies. Mom lost her job, too.
The American people need help and they need help now.
Talks Monday showed the possibility of a $908 billion package with backing from the president. The Associated Press reported the bill could include $300 per week in bonus federal unemployment payments.
At this point, the Democrats should compromise for the sake of everyone. The $300 in federal weekly unemployment would save our butts at my house — if it includes those of us who already exhausted our normal benefits and were on the 13 weeks of extended federal payments.
The government must pass any relief it can and put renewed focus on aid after President-elect Biden is sworn in next year.
People are suffering. Americans are facing evictions, homelessness, and hunger, all while trying to survive a pandemic killing hundreds on the daily.
Without unemployment insurance, many more will also face another struggle — the lack of health care coverage.
At the moment, Mom only receives health insurance through her unemployment. With diabetes and high blood pressure, she cannot survive without insurance. Our local hospital — which owns many of the doctor clinics in our small, rural part of Oklahoma — saw the local struggle and now offers $50 doctor visits. But what happens if you cannot afford that $50?
Mom applied for the Affordable Care Act. She thought she could get it for sure as the application had an option for those receiving unemployment benefits only. She qualified — and the cheapest plan wanted $1,000 a month. She makes $200 a week in unemployment. Wow, that sure is affordable.
Some people may ask, “Then why don’t you both get a job?”
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree and years of experience in my field, I still haven’t found work. I’ve applied to numerous positions — both in-person and remote work — part-time and full-time — yet haven’t received any word back for months.
When you live in a rural area, jobs aren’t plentiful. You usually take what you can get, and so far I haven’t got anything.
“Then why don’t you move?” may be the next question.
Moving is costly. I’ve lived in the same house for 20 years. I know what my bills are, I know what to expect and what I can and cannot afford. While in the future I do want to move, without the savings to back me up, it’s not in the cards this year.
What is in the cards is Congress getting their act together and passing this bill. We need relief now — not in 2021, not in 2022, not in the distant future.
People are suffering. Small businesses are shuttering their doors. Jobs are disappearing. Evictions could leave hundreds of thousands out in the cold this winter.
Putting money in the people’s hands this December will stave off months of suffering as we wait for a different, larger relief package in the spring. We cannot wait any longer.
Politicians represent us. They work for us. This isn’t the time to play with people’s lives. This is the time to comprise and work together.
Now do it.
Cassius Corbin is a poet, fiction writer, photographer, and blogger from rural Oklahoma. Follow him on Twitter @cassiuscorbin, Instagram @sixfeetrooted, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Buy his photography on Redbubble.