Countless D.C. residents are searching for answers as they grapple with a new reality due to the coronavirus pandemic. With a stay-at-home order forcing many businesses to close or temporarily lay off its workers, residents are filing for unemployment benefits at unprecedented rates.
According to NBC News, roughly 46,000 Washingtonians have filed for unemployment since March 14. That’s about 11 percent of the District’s workforce.
Monnikka Madison, the interim deputy director for the Bureau of Economic Stability and Benefits within the Department of Employment Services (DOES), said she’s witnessed a rapid change in the economic landscape.
“Due to the COVID-19 health pandemic, we’ve heard the grievances from claimants and employers. We’ve seen a profound impact on low wage workers and more than 30,000 small businesses in and around the District of Columbia area that we serve,” she said.
Madison was one of several local and federal experts who joined with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for a telephone town hall on Tuesday, April 14. District residents called in to voice their most pressing concerns and look for answers like when they can expect to receive their stimulus checks and whether they are even eligible.
Paul Axelson of the IRS said the vast majority of people do not need to take any action to receive a stimulus payment.
“Many Americans started receiving payments, showing up in their bank accounts on April 10. Today and through the rest of this week many more Americans will see their payment,” he said.
Axelson said if you filed your 2018 or 2019 taxes and made less than $75,000 you are eligible to receive a stimulus check. If you made more than the threshold amount up to $99,000 you will receive a reduced payment.
There were other questions from residents as well including: will essential workers receive hazard pay; what about student loan debt; how are residents in nursing homes faring; and how can someone get tested for coronavirus? However, the most prevalent question was concerning unemployment.
A Cleveland Park business owner wanted to know if he was eligible for unemployment since his business has been forced to close since it’s not essential. Then there was an independent contractor who asked if he would be able to collect unemployment.
“Through the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security] Act, three different programs are going to be released in the upcoming weeks,” Madison said. “One of them is called the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program. It has expanded the eligibility criteria for individuals who are self-employed, file a 1099 and who are traditionally ineligible for unemployment benefits.”
Madison says the CARES Act also provides Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation which provides $600 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits.
One woman called in and voiced her frustration, saying she’d just secured a job in February after being unemployed for six months but now she’s laid off again. She said she doesn’t know what to do because she’s exhausted her unemployment benefits.
Madison said the CARES Act has a provision for that situation as well — Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation which provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits.
“For those individuals who still need to file unemployment compensation, we strongly encourage you to apply at dcnetworks.org.”
Congresswoman Norton says the problems the country now faces as a result of the coronavirus points to the result of failing to be proactive.
“The administration got the country into this at least a month late, so we’re playing catch-up. The virus, however, teaches us not to play catch-up, but to get ahead,” she said.