Low-Income People Face Hazards to Access Crisis Relief

Many Americans are being sustained a CARES Act benefit for the vulnerable: the enhanced unemployment, which was expanded to cover traditionally ineligible laid-off and even part-time workers and supplemented with an extra $600 a week. There’s been a lot of grumbling about this from conservatives that it rewards not working.

The biggest struggle is navigating underfunded state unemployment insurance systems that are working through a historic backlog. 

One big problem is ramping up Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the alternative system that allows gig workers and tipped workers and others to access unemployment. Because it’s a new system that states have had to phase in from scratch, it has created inevitable problems.

In Iowa, an automated letter generator has been sending denials to PUA-eligible unemployed workers for weeks, without a follow-up communication, and hoping workers just know to ignore it. The state workforce agency has blamed that on its antiquated system.

“The whole idea of ‘I would love to help you but the computer doesn’t allow me to do it’ is unacceptable,” said Alex Kornya, litigation director with Iowa Legal Aid.

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