Like millions of other workers, Bridgit Fatora was facing a financial abyss. Before the pandemic hit, she was a freelance photographer and part-time nanny in Seattle. The coronavirus made both of her jobs untenable. Her photography bookings disappeared when Washington State banned mass gatherings, and the couple who employed her to watch their kid laid her off, too.
Normally, she made $375 a week for nannying and an additional $150 or so working as a photographer and babysitter. On standard unemployment insurance (UI), her income would have dropped to roughly $200 a week, not enough for anyone to live on for any kind of extended period and below the federal poverty line. But Congress’s emergency legislation added bonus payments of $600 a week for UI recipients, and expanded the program’s eligibility to include gig workers. Fatora did not just stay out of poverty. Her income went up to $735 a week.
“It’s the first time I’ve been financially stable since graduating college,” she told me. “I’ve been able to pay down my credit-card debt and have some sort of savings account, which I am going to have to use when the $600 a week goes away.”
The UI bonus in the CARES Act expires at the end of July, and Congress is in the midst of a roiling debate over whether to extend it, winnow it down, or end it entirely. Democrats largely favor keeping the bonus payments in place, given the scope of the recession. Republicans have argued that, by allowing workers to stay home rather than look for jobs, the bonus is harming the recovery. White House officials are pushing for it to end, too.