State unemployment failures reach crisis point: ‘People are talking about suicide’

Problems in state unemployment systems have made it nearly impossible for many of the millions of people across the country who have been laid off from “non-essential” jobs to access their benefits, and some are reaching a crisis point, new reports are saying. 

Just this week, California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and New York have all reported major problems in accessing benefits, and many of these problems have been going on since stay-at-home orders began over a month ago and shut down many businesses in these states.

Technical glitches and overwhelmed systems account for many of the problems the unemployed have experienced, even as states like California and Pennsylvania have added thousands of workers to try to help record numbers of residents nagivate them.

Self-employed and gig workers in Pennsylvania had to wait a month for a new portal to be unveiled to help them get benefits under new requirements related to coroanvirus shutdowns, and many are still waiting to get into the system as people were told they were ineligible or that they qualified for traditional benefits because of previous employment, according to Pittsburgh’s Action News.

“People have no food”

In New Jersey, Michelle Izzi has created a Facebook page called #NJUnemploymentPandemic to bring attention to the dire situation there.

“People can’t go six and seven weeks without money. You just simply can’t,” Izzi said to CBS New York.

“People have no food. People are talking about suicide,” she went on. “We’re literally begging you, sir, please come out of your ivory tower, come down here in the trenches with your people and actually see what’s going on, answer us.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy had little reassurance to offer residents. “This will make… this will not make anyone feel any better, but we are leagues ahead of virtually every other state,” Murphy said. “But there’s still a backlog. I know folks are still frustrated. You won’t lose one penny, I promise you, including of your federal plus.”

That doesn’t really help people whose cupboards and refrigerators are emptying out, however. Food banks have had lines miles long as people seek a way to make it through until all the problems can be resolved.

While financial experts recommend having an emergency savings for times when income dries up, most Americans do not even have a thousand dollars in their savings to keep them going in an emergency.

No help from government

In reality, there is no way the government is going to be able to make up for the problems shutdowns have caused. After more than six trillion dollars in stimulus and relief bills, there are 26 million people unemployed, not counting the ones who haven’t been able to get through to their state unemployment offices after weeks of trying.

In the end, trusting government is always a risky proposition. It is only going to be the strength of the American people and our willingness to help each other through this horrible pandemic and response that will rebuild what has been broken these last two months.

I believe Americans have what it takes to rebuild, but we need to get past media-driven panic and the expectation that government can make us whole again, financially or otherwise. History should have shown us that it just doesn’t work that way.

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