By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
On June 26, nearly 1 million unemployed Texans lost their $300 a week subsidy in federal unemployment benefits under the American Rescue Plan due to Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to withdraw the state from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.
Abbott is one of 25 governors who decided to decline the funding designed to assist people with unemployment benefits who lost their jobs due to the state shutdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal plan was extended until Sept. 6.
The governor stated his reason for the decision to end the program early was because there were more than a million jobs available for the unemployed – since they fully opened the state and ended the statewide mask mandate March 2.
However, groups such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation disagree, saying there is not a labor shortage in Texas, there’s a job shortage.
The Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the PSL held a press conference on June 25 outside the U.S. Department of Labor, A. Maceo Smith Federal Building in downtown Dallas to discuss the harm in Abbott’s decision to withdraw the state from the American Rescue Plan and their plans to fight back.
“The ridiculous argument behind taking away this needed assistance is that there is a labor shortage and that people need to be incentivized to return to work,” the group stated in a press release. “However, a huge number of people don’t have access to child care and cannot return (overwhelmingly hurting women in particular). Many others cannot risk being exposed to COVID-19. There is not a labor shortage, there is a major job shortage. And more than anything the issue has to do with the abysmally low wages in these states.”
Dariel Hernandez, who has been a member of the group for three years, explained the negative impact that Abbott’s decision would have on families.
“The federal benefits that we’ve been getting – the $300 subsidies that families need to get food on the table and to cover child care – were cut too short as we were promised to have that federally through Sept. 6, which makes a lot of sense considering school just went out and the majority of people on unemployment in Texas, nearly a million people are majority people of color, majority women,” Hernandez said. “The very first thing I thought of is who’s going to take care of these kids? As you know, single mothers, parents in general are forced back into jobs that aren’t necessarily their old jobs.
“I personally am a gig worker. I work in motion pictures as a video grip. And a part of this package that’s being severed is also the extended unemployment benefits for gig workers and entertainment and arts and culture. So we’re losing our unemployment all out. And many people are losing $300 a week. So we went out there to say that people need this money. People need to eat. People need to pay rent. People need to take care of their kids. It wouldn’t really cost us a dime or anything because this is like a federal subsidy. It is just a matter of turning the faucet back on. So we went out there to make our voices heard and we’ve been petitioning as well to show that people really want and really need these benefits.”
Of the 25 states decided to cut the weekly subsidy, Texas was among the 21 states that cut all benefits of the plan based on false information, according to Hernandez.
“The narrative that business leaders, right wing governors and Republicans are saying is that there is a labor shortage,” they said. “But if you really look at the numbers, like the May jobs report, you can look at the Federal Reserve’s statements from New York as well as Texas. A lot of them are stating that we’re still down to 7 million jobs or we’re not back to our usual standard of jobs available here in the U.S., and there’s still a lot of people taking jobs anyway, there’s still people going back to work. I think the easiest way to disprove the myth that there is a labor shortage is that there’s more people looking for work than there are jobs available. And the highest growing sectors are restaurants, bars – and just the food industry in general. So most of the jobs coming back, and the people going back to work, are still in the lowest paying jobs.”
Hernandez said they felt that most unemployed people were just waiting for their old jobs to come back, rather than take a lower paying job.
“That’s what I’m waiting for, is for the entertainment industry to recover enough so that all the employees can come back,” they stated.
Hernandez, who has been unemployment due to the pandemic, is currently looking for work in hopes of getting their old job back.
“But I don’t think it’s quite available yet, so now I’m looking for some work to sustain me while I continue this campaign,” they said. “And I’m not the only person. It turns out a third of people who have gotten on unemployment nationally have considered changing careers. Actually, two-thirds of people have considered changing careers, while one-third have actually seeked out retraining and new sorts of education. So it isn’t that people are lazy like a lot of business leaders want to say. Especially in the restaurant industry, a lot of restaurant owners want to say it’s a lazy worker problem, that it’s unemployment keeping people from coming to work, but it’s really the opposite. It’s low wages. People are willing to do the work to learn to rescale to retool themselves, but the problem is the pay. I think this is a result of the refusal to give people a $15 minimum wage, which is still not enough. We need a living wage.”
A few weeks ago, the local PSL chapter has begun a petition to continue the unemployment benefits until they expire. Hernandez said the group has collected around 300 signatures so far because they are a small group. However, the group plans to continue its effort to get the petition signed. So far, they said, people have signed the petition and have been overwhelmingly in favor of its goal.
“We went to a Juneteenth event and just about every single person signed and that just kind of shows that it is disproportionately affecting the Black community and all people of color,” they recalled.
Hernandez stated that the group was happy to see other petitions online that were also pushing to continue the subsidy as well. They mentioned there’s also a lawsuit that was filed against Abbott to continue the aid that was recently filed.
They said it was important to do whatever can be done to get their voices heard.
“We can levy a case against them, or we can sue them but we also want to broaden this and bring people together so we can also take action in the streets,” they said. “If we’re not going to be getting this life sustaining and family sustaining benefits, then we need to have our voices heard and if we need to march, then we’ll have to march.”
Hernadez believes the decision to end the program early was a calculated effort.
“I think it’s no coincidence that 25 states are choosing to cut this while another half are not,” they said. “I think it’s a bit of posturing to make it seem as if the South is particularly backwards. But having lived here my whole life in Texas and been traveled through the South, I know there’s a lot of working-class people that disagree with their governors and we’re a very unrepresentative place. I mean, just look at gerrymandering, look at our electoral process. So many people don’t want these people in office making these decisions for us. And we should have a say in being able to recall these people. But unfortunately, the system won’t let us do that. So we gotta put the pressure on the system and tell these people that this isn’t okay. And it’s good to hear that Texas isn’t the only state suing their governor. So is Indiana. And so there’s talks in Florida as well.”
Hernandez urged people to get involved in the campaign. They said if people would like more information about the organization or how to get involved, to visit the group’s Facebook page at https://www.facecbook.com/PSLDFW.
The organization has chapters in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and other smaller cities in Texas as well.
“If our organization isn’t in your town, if you can start one,” Hernandez explained. “You can get organized with whoever is in town. And really, it comes down to joining some sort of political activist organization, so we can be ready for the next time our rights are attacked like this. That’s the momentum we’re trying to build.”