A Labor Day benefits cliff

A Labor Day benefits cliff

Of all the policies implemented in response to Covid, among the most important for keeping our economy afloat has been federally boosted unemployment insurance benefits. But all of that extra assistance will come to an end by Labor Day. As detailed in a new report by Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation, this will affect 7.5 million workers, disproportionately Black workers and women, and comes as the economy is only beginning to recover amid the surging delta variant: 

While the United States has spent record sums on unemployment benefits, the job is not done. Millions of workers remain out of work, and despite progress, the labor market is nowhere near its pre-COVID19 levels. Cutting off benefits by Labor Day will leave 7.5 million workers without critical assistance they need to keep themselves financially stable until they can find a new job. Imposing such deep hardship on families and the economy, is an unforced economic policy error that can and should be avoided.

States that ended federal unemployment assistance early, including Louisiana, have not seen the employment gains that conservatives predicted. This finding has been replicated by everyone from academic economists to corporate researchers:

There’s no evidence that the early cutoff of unemployment benefits has led to an increase in hiring in those states. Economist Arin Dube analyzed the most recent Census Bureau data and found that 2.2 percent of adults in these states stopped receiving benefits, but the percentage of workers in these states that were employed actually declined by 1.4 percent… Even Goldman Sachs economists found no clear evidence that the cutting off of federal benefits led to significantly more hiring.

Abandoned pipelines threaten Louisiana’s coast
Sediment is an essential resource as Louisiana tries to rebuild and protect its vanishing coastline. But, as Sara Sneath reports for the Washington Post, abandoned pipelines – left behind by the very industry that put Louisiana’s coast at severe risk by digging canals – are blocking access to this valuable commodity:

Geologists estimate that up to 11,000 million cubic meters of sediment are needed to restore the state’s coastline, but about 58 percent of the offshore sediment in the gulf that could be used to rebuild Louisiana’s coast is blocked by pipelines, said Syed Khalil, a geologist with the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Federal law requires corporations to decommission and remove any infrastructure used to extract oil and gas from federally-leased sea-floor. But the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently found that this is almost never enforced. Ninety-seven percent of offshore pipelines are allowed to sit abandoned without any penalties. In fact, because of the cost of removing this infrastructure, oil and gas companies are incentivized to enter bankruptcy to avoid their obligations: 

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) was established after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in 2010 to … [collect] lease payments from oil and gas companies and [enforce] environmental and safety regulations for those same companies. But oil and gas companies have continued to benefit from lax enforcement for decommissioning pipelines, said Megan Milliken Biven… The BSEE allows major oil companies to sell their leases to smaller operators, such as Fieldwood, that lack the resources to clean up when wells are drained. “There’s no revenue from cleaning up after yourself,” she said. “Every incentive is to avoid it.”

Latest Covid surge could be Louisiana’s worst
Without dramatic changes in Louisianans’ behavior, the state’s new Covid surge could continue to grow. Based on how the delta variant has performed in other countries and states, this wave of the virus could also linger for longer than past surges. Emily Woodruff and Jeff Adelson of NOLA.com report that Louisiana’s next peak may not come until mid-September: 

“It’s very likely that cases will continue to increase over the next several weeks,” said Rebecca Borchering, a researcher with the modeling team at Pennsylvania State University. “It’s unlikely to make a sharp downturn without any large change in behavior, either through vaccination or masking or social distancing or some other intervention.” … The delta wave has grown at a rate of 7.4% daily. That’s compared to 3.6% daily during the second wave and 2.7% during the third. 

State says rental assistance is available and on the way
The federal government has sent billions of dollars to states and municipalities to help people affected by Covid-19 catch up on overdue rent. But that money has been slow in getting to those who need it – a problem that’s become more urgent as state and federal eviction moratoriums expired. With the federal moratorium extended until October, reports JC Canicosa with the Illuminator, Louisiana is starting to ramp up rental assistance:

In June, about 319,000 Louisiana renters weren’t caught up with rent payments and about 266,000 renters said they had “no confidence” in their ability to make next month’s rent. … By July 21, just $10.1 million of the total $553 million had actually been disbursed to only 976 struggling renters and landlords. … Two weeks later, the state has more than doubled the amount of rental assistance money disbursed, (Assistant Commissioner of Administration Desiree Honore) Thomas said. As of Thursday, she said, about $21 million in rental assistance had been disbursed to about 3,400 Louisiana renters, she said.

State officials blame the federal government for the holdup: 

Thomas said the lack of payouts had more to do with how many more hoops applicants have to jump through in this rental assistance program. For example, this year’s rental assistance program requires both the tenant and the landlord to turn in parts of the rental assistance application — including the landlord agreeing to forgive all accrued penalties and not to evict the tenant for at least 60 days — before the application can even go through the review process, Thomas said. “That was pretty different, because normally when you apply for something… you don’t have to go find another party to say, ‘Is this okay or not?’ and so forth,” she said.

Number of the Day
943,000 – Number of jobs added to the U.S. economy in July. Since April 2020, when job losses reached their peak during the Covid pandemic, the United States has added 16.7 million jobs – which is still 5.7 million short of pre-pandemic levels. (Source: New York Times)