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City Limits: What Happens To Quarantined People After Unemployment Benefits Expire?

indy worker

A worker in downtown Indianapolis takes a smoke break. (Justin Hicks, IPB News)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Indiana has seen unprecedented numbers of unemployment claims.

As the pandemic continues and another stimulus package hasn’t been put in place since the extended CARES Act ended in July, one listener asks our City Limits Series, "What happens to quarantined people after unemployment benefits expire?" 

center of budget and policy priorities
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if some will have exhausted UI benefits by October. (Courtesy of Center On Budget And Policy Priorities)

 

Scott Olson is the Department of Workforce Development media director. He says regardless of someone’s quarantine status – state, and federal Unemployment Insurance benefits will run out. 

And, as Indiana moves into stage 5 of reopening, if someone is called back to work, they no longer can claim the unemployment benefits.

"Whether that correlates to employers calling back more workers, we’ll see," he says. 

He adds though unemployment in Indiana remains high at 6.5 percent in August, the state is nowhere near the peak it saw in April, when it reached nearly 17 percent.

He says efforts like extending the CARES Act over the summer and the Lost Wages Assistance program cushioned the financial effects of the pandemic.

Along with the CARES Act, Indiana’s 5-month long moratorium on evictions ended in August.

Listen: Moratorium On Eviction Ends, Indiana Sees Increase In Hoosiers Applying For Assitance

In July, Governor Eric Holcomb started a rental assistance program for struggling Hoosiers, which is now closed.

Eddy Riou Jr. is the director of operations for the South Central Community Action Program, which helped to distribute funds from the rental assistance program.

He says federal and state assistance has been extremely helpful, but for people who were already vulnerable, complications created by the pandemic are especially hard to overcome.

“Some of us are working from home, some of us are working less hours, others can’t work at all because of the nature of their jobs and because of things like having children at home and having at risk individuals that they’re caring for," he says. "So, we’re seeing folks who we’ve seen in the past, but now they have to deal with this whole other level of stress.” 

He says his organization has extended some of the services it offers, like the energy assistance program, in order to help people whose income has been stymied or stopped.

Normally, that program ends in May. But this year it ran into August because of increased need. The program started up again in this month.

“Usually there’s a break for our case workers," he says. "And now we’re bouncing back in September to re-help those folks.”

The South Central Community Action Program has been servicing people remotely because of the pandemic. Riou says this has created added challenges because not everyone has access to Wi-Fi or a computer. 

“For a lot of folks, it’s not something that’s convenient because they don’t have the know-how or infrastructure to access those things.” 

Riou says his organization also operates the Head Start program in Monroe County. The program shut down initially during the pandemic, but restarted over the summer.

He says this service is especially important to families returning to work, because it provides a childcare option for people who would otherwise have to stay home to care for children. 

He adds that those whose unemployment benefits have run out or are about to could turn to resources like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and SNAP, if they haven’t already.

During the pandemic, both programs temporarily lowered barriers to accessing the services. 

Jessica Fraser is the director of the Indiana Institute for Working Families. She says though both programs are important, they don’t have the same effect that the $600 dollars per-week boost to federal unemployment did for families.

“You know, there are limitations to how you can use SNAP dollars," she says. "There are limitations to how you can use the nutrition support from WIC. Usually rental assistance goes directly to the landlord, which is fine. But it’s not cash–and families need cash to deal with a car emergency or an unexpected school fee for their children.” 

Fraser says a way Indiana could help vulnerable families is by strengthening programs like TANF. 

TANF provides cash support to families with children under 18 years old for up to 5 years.

“Without unemployment insurance, really the only cash support that families in Indiana have is the TANF program,” Fraser says.

tanf
Courtesy of Indiana Family and Social Services Website

But, because the amount families receive has not been updated in over 20 years, Fraser says the support isn’t sufficient.

A family of three’s net income after paying for basic needs must be under $288/a month to receive TANF support.

Fraser says she expects to see the number of struggling families increase through the pandemic if support systems like TANF are not updated.

"If anything, this current crisis has shown people that there are flaws in the safety net that need to be repaired so that when we have a crisis like this in the future moving forward, we are better prepared to manage it.”

Her organization is advocating a Senate Bill that would push for gradual changes to TANF that would allow more families to take part and receive more aid. 

Olson says right now, his department’s biggest priority is getting UI claimants processed. He says they’re waiting to see if another round of stimulus will be put through. That will affect financial outcomes for Hoosiers if the pandemic continues into fall and winter.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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