122 Days After House Passed COVID Relief, Mainers Share Personal Stories of Financial & Emotional Hardship
Constituents Share Pandemic Experiences With Congresswoman Pingree Who Voted to Renew Pandemic Unemployment Assistance & 2nd Round of Stimulus Payments Nearly 4 Months Ago
Washington, September 14, 2020
Today, nearly four months after the U.S. House passed a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package the McConnell Senate continues to block, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) shared some of the devastating stories of job loss, near eviction, and family struggle she has heard from Mainers who urgently need the federal government to act.
“The personal toll COVID-19 has taken on the lives of Mainers can’t be tabulated in a spreadsheet. When we hear about the tragic loss of more than 194,000 American lives and the millions who are grappling with job loss, eviction, and food insecurity, these numbers do not tell the full story of this crisis. I am grateful to the hundreds of Mainers who reached out to our office to describe their struggles and make clear the desperate need for urgent economic relief from the federal government,” said Pingree. “The House passed a comprehensive relief package 122 days ago, but the Senate has refused to take it up. Instead they’ve proposed a cynical bill that is grossly incapable of addressing the real economic pain of Mainers. While the House bill gave people direct relief, the Senate has cruelly refused to consider another round of stimulus checks and failed to extend unemployment benefits before the clock ran out a month ago. It’s way past time that the Senate pass the Heroes Act for the well-being of millions of Americans who are suffering.”
Pingree’s survey asked constituents to share their personal experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. Mainers responded with striking stories of unemployment, financial hardship, hunger, and loss of loved ones. Several stories from Pingree’s survey are provided below:
- “My husband and I have been weathering the pandemic better than most. We were both able to maintain our jobs and, as of yet, have not lost a loved one. However, as a teacher, I am going back to school, and because of my husband's high health risks, we are having to live separately indefinitely. Next week we start a schedule of my husband at home or in the camper and the me at a motel and at home when he isn't. Starting mid October when the camper isn't a feasible alternative, I will rent an apt. until there is a vaccine. This isn't the way life should be when you are in your 60s or at any age.” Donna from Yarmouth
- “I am a massage therapist and certified reflexologist. I am 65 but not planning on full retirement for a few more years...I have a home office and was lucky enough to find and receive a small business loan. This has saved my business! I was able to buy the air purifiers I needed, the masks I needed, cleaning supplies, and other equipment to make my space as safe as possible. I closed my practice a day ahead of Mills shutting the state down. I reopened August 3rd to two clients a day, five days a week. Two clients now takes me 5 hours to get everything done, including preparing and cleaning up. What worries me the most is all these non-mask wearers spreading the virus. If it spreads in my county (we have under 8 live cases now), I won't be able to work safely. I need to keep my vulnerable clients safe. I need my 71 year partner to stay safe in our home. The wedding is still spreading like crazy mostly due to lack of mask wearing and lack of social distancing. We are lucky that we have had enough money to survive. I was able to get unemployment and that was a life-saver!” Wendy from Bath
- “My father is 87 and lives independently in a senior housing apartment in Portland. At the very beginning of the quarantine period, I discovered he had shingles. I have been able to visit him for compassionate care, and after numerous in-person and telemedicine visits, and just the passage of time, he is doing better. Basically, he has lived alone, in pain, for nearly 5 months. His physical and mental health have deteriorated considerably. My mother is 88, has Parkinson's and has been in a long term care facility for 27 months. My parents have not seen each other - really seen each other - since March 12. The staff have been diligent and caring and have organized zoom calls, window visits, and outdoor visits. My father calls my mother at the same time every day. These are better than nothing, but my mother's hearing and vision are severely compromised, and real communication is extremely difficult. This has contributed significantly to the decline in my father's mental health. His one remaining responsibility in life, which he takes very seriously, is to take care of his wife, and he feels unable to do so. As an adult child, this is one of the most heartbreaking situations I can imagine for my parents, who have been married for 64 years. They are unable to comfort and care for each other at a time when that is pretty much all they want out of life.” Alison from Portland
- “My work hours have been cut back to aprox 20-25 per week. I work for…a big retail corp.. They are taking advantage of a tax credit that is offered to big businesses to keep people on rather than lay them off. Great idea for them. I get just enough hours so I cannot qualify for unemployment or the extra $600. I cannot survive on 24 hours a week. I get my schedule on Friday or Saturday for the next week and it often changes so I cannot even try to take a 2nd job. They are paying my health insurance so I can’t leave. Financially I am a mess. If they would have laid us off it would have been better because of the $600. The store was closed for months and we were not really working productively. Now that the store is open we are understaffed. We have to take work home because we do not have enough time in our 24 hours to get everything done. We are working for free and they get their tax break. Another person just quit so hopefully I will get more work hours in the future so I will be back to full time. I AM SCARE TO DEATH OF GETTING COVID I work with tons of customers each day. Many were from out of state and were violating our quarantine rules. If our Covid rates go back up I am going to have to quit my job. It is not worth dying. I am older and have health issues. There are not many good job openings right ow. Tons of stuff that pay poorly and are dangerous.” Susan from South Portland
- “My wife is 79 and I am 80. We have closed our museum and not opened once this summer. No tourist dollars are coming in. We did not want to expose us to the tourist's possible spread of virus infections. We hope for a vaccine by next year that will make it possible for us to open.” John & Jacqueline from Waldoboro
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act on May 15, 2020, when 84,000 Americans had died from COVID-19 and 36 million Americans had filed for unemployment. The bill was a comprehensive response from the federal government that would have extended and bolstered federal assistance programs during the pandemic, including more than $5 billion in funding for the State of Maine and its localities, $75 billion for national and state testing and contact tracing initiatives, extended pandemic unemployment benefits through January 2021, help for small businesses, an increase in SNAP benefits, and a second round of stimulus checks.
Full text of Pingree’s survey can be found here.
The legislation from Senate Republicans’ would have cruelly slashed federal unemployment benefits from $600 a week to $300 a week, left out targeted relief in the form of a $1,200 stimulus check to most Americans, rejected robust state and local government funding, ignored the need for nutrition assistance programs, and provided nothing for rental assistance. Their bill also underfunded COVID-19 testing and tracing and lacked funding for states to conduct elections via the USPS—a necessity for keeping voters safe in November. The bill failed 52-47 on Thursday, September 10, 2020.