With President Trump calling for a new economic stimulus package to be put off until after the election, millions of unemployed Americans and hard-hit businesses may have to wait until after Election Day, or possibly next year, to find out if their rapidly dwindling benefits will be extended.
Although the president backtracked via Twitter on Tuesday night, seeming to support another round of stimulus checks and aid for small businesses and airlines, his message wasn’t reassuring.
And the uncertainty around a new economic stimulus bill comes at the worst of times: COVID-19 cases in Boston are increasing, raising fears of another shutdown, and the state’s ban on evictions is set to end late next week.
That’s on top of the fact that layoffs continue to pummel the job market, forgivable loans for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program have run out, and more than 20 million Americans are no longer receiving enhanced unemployment benefits.
It’s a perfect storm hitting everyday workers who are trying to keep their lives afloat.
Truck driver Derrick Beauvais used to deliver paper products to 40 Boston-area restaurants every day, but since the pandemic hit, he’s lucky if he has half that. His paychecks are down by half, as well. An extra $200 a week in unemployment benefits has helped, and he is counting on another stimulus package to get by.
“My wife doesn’t work because I always made enough money where she could stay home and take care of our son,” he said, adding that he recently decided to get an emergency credit card because he doesn’t have any savings.
He said he looks back on the $1,200 stimulus check and $600 enhanced unemployment benefits of earlier in the year, wishing he would have planned ahead, maybe not buying his 8-year-old son extra back-to-school clothes.
“I didn’t exactly save like I probably should have,” he said. “I fell for what Trump was saying . . . ‘When the weather gets nicer the virus is going to go away’. . . and here we are, almost in November.”
May, a housekeeper at the still-closed Sheraton Boston Hotel who asked that her last name not be used, has been using her unemployment checks to pay her mortgage and raise her 7-year-old daughter in Quincy. But with no reopening date in sight, and jobless benefits coming to an end, she doesn’t know what she’s going to do.
“I can’t imagine this,” said May, speaking in Cantonese through a translator. “Now it’s OK but . . . I’m really worried about later.”
Several unemployed workers in the Boston area said they felt like pawns in a political chess game being played by the president as his stance on economic stimulus shifts.
David Bookbinder, 55, a self-employed computer technician in Peabody, said he thinks the president is trying to use unemployment as a “bargaining chip for his election,” but former vice president Joe Biden would pass a new stimulus bill, too.
“It’s not like [Trump’s] going to be the savior if he wins,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of carrot he’s trying to put out there.”
Bookbinder, whose income has dropped sharply during the pandemic, doesn’t think much of Trump’s pledge to send out another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, either.
"He wants to sign a check to everybody again like last time so he can say, ‘Look, I sent you a check for $1,200,’ " Bookbinder said. “That’s enough to placate his followers and make them think he did something special for them.”
Jon Hurst, the president of the state’s retail association, said it is vital that consumers receive more stimulus money and small businesses receive another round of Paycheck Protection Program money. He blames both political parties for inaction, and he said elected officials seem to think the upcoming vote is “more important than the future of Main Street businesses.”
Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said nearly 25 percent of restaurants in the state have closed, and he predicts the number will rise “quickly and steeply” without additional aid.
Vanna Vu, owner of the nail salon Treasured Hands in the Back Bay, said the last round of PPP has helped her business survive the past three months, so she will apply again if she is able to. She expects the loans to cover the next three to four months, in addition to her own “rainy-day savings,” but added that business is still down about 60 percent amid COVID-19 safety restrictions.
For many, congressional action on another stimulus bill could come too late. One in five small businesses that received PPP loans said they expect to lay off employees in the next six months, according to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.
“While these business owners are trying hard to stay afloat, keep their employees, and support their communities, about half of small businesses nationally say they will need further relief in the next six months to survive,” the NFIB’s state director, Christopher Carlozzi, wrote in an e-mail. “That increasing economic uncertainty means they don’t have much time to wait.”
Katie Sweeney, 35, was working as an event manager for Marriott in Omaha, Neb., when she was furloughed March 13. She has since relocated back to Massachusetts and picked up a part-time waitressing job at Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar in South Boston while she tries to find a position in the decimated events industry.
She said calling off the stimulus talks “feels like a total manipulation of the American people. We are all doing our best to stay resilient through this crisis, but this move by President Trump makes me feel that he is forgetting that there are real people with lives and jobs and children affected by this decision.”
Amid all the turmoil, some are still optimistic about a relief package.
Dave Kimball was set to resume his restaurant job as a cook in Haverhill around Memorial Day when he came down with the flu and asked to delay his start date — and never heard from the restaurant again. He’s down to $277 a week in unemployment benefits but is confident that, despite the president’s actions, more relief is on the way.
“There’s no way it’s not going to come, because people are just going to get fed up and then the revolt starts,” said Kimball, 43. “What kind of holiday season is it going to be if you can’t put food on the table for your family or you can’t buy your kids the simplest gift?”
Doug Bacon used PPP money to reopen five of the eight restaurants he owns in Boston — in addition to the Kenmore, which he just closed again due to the lack of students and Red Sox fans in Kenmore Square. But those funds are nearly gone. About 70 of his 196 employees are back on the job, and he doesn’t know what will happen without more stimulus money, especially as the weather gets colder and patios close.
“I’m completely and totally disenchanted with the inconsistency of President Trump, and the poor leadership, and the insensitivity,” he said. “I’m completely — I don’t even know what to say — disgusted. And I’m a Republican.”
Bacon voted for Trump in 2016 but said he’s “sure as hell not” voting for him this time. He’s hopeful that more stimulus will come, but he’s not counting on Trump: “It might have to wait for President Biden.”