What will loss of extra unemployment benefits mean for Vermonters?

Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 6:13 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 7:14 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Thousands of Vermonters are about to see their unemployment checks shrink significantly as extended federal benefits run out. Our Calvin Cutler explores the impact the loss of that $600 benefit will have on some Vermonters.

Through the federal CARES Act, all unemployed Vermonters have been receiving $600 on top of their weekly unemployment checks that average around $350.

"When you choose a line of work like this it's tricky and it comes with risk anyway, but now we're in this uncharted territory," said Brian Sills, an actor and photographer based in Vergennes.

Though he's had a part-time job through the pandemic, Sills is concerned about thousands of others in arts and entertainment who haven't had work since March. Many have been receiving an extra $600 to pay for food, rent, bills and child care. But that program ends Saturday.

"It's a matter of life and death for a lot of people," Sills said. "It's not like people are going out and buying Ferraris with the extra $600; it's keeping them from going under financially."

Through the pandemic, Vermonters have received $572 million from the feds in benefits. State leaders say this cash has a ripple effect through local businesses.

"It adds liquidity into the entire system and economy and that's extremely important. This crisis is still ongoing and the damage is still unfolding," Vt. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said.

If Congress extends the $600 benefit, some employers worry it will prevent workers from returning to their jobs.

"We had no servers the first few days except for the volunteers who were here," said Paul Handy III, who owns Barnyard Wood Crafted Pizza in South Burlington.

Before the shutdown, Handy had about 50 employees. He's now at about 30 and is still looking for more.

“People that are already collecting the unemployment haven’t really found it feasible to come back, so we’ve had a lot of people who’ve never worked in restaurants trying a new opportunity,” Handy said.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where people will be caught short; that will be detrimental to the economy. And on the other hand, we do hear from these employers who say it has been a disincentive,” Goldstein said.

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