Louisiana rallies held in effort to keep $600 unemployment benefit
By Janet McConnaughey / Associated Press
Posted: Jul 30, 2020
NEW ORLEANS — More than two dozen unemployed workers chanted and held signs outside the New Orleans-area offices of two U.S. senators on Thursday to demand continued $600 federal coronavirus unemployment benefits.
Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy are among Republicans supporting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to cut the benefit to $200 a week, which would be in addition to state unemployment pay.
“That would sever a critical lifeline at a time when coronavirus cases are spiking, businesses continue to face mass closures, and whole industries have been decimated,” protest organizers from numerous labor unions and activist groups said in a news release.
One of those joining the protests was Shaun Mills, 41, a line cook for a sports bar at Harrah’s New Orleans casino, which was shut down because of the pandemic. The casino reopened in June at 25% capacity, but Mills said he was told it would have to be operating at more than 50% to bring him back to work.
“I’ve been working since I was 16, paying taxes into the system,” Mills said during the first protest, outside Kennedy’s office in New Orleans. “I need that money just to make it.”
Shan Grimm, a musician who goes by Musicmovesme, said the bar where she was general manager laid off the entire staff. Another musician had to sell the house she rents, she said.
She said the new owner has been very nice, but “I am in limbo.”
Stacey Guidry, a hotel concierge before the pandemic, said she’s a Republican and generally a fiscal conservative, but she believes the payments are essential.
She said $600 a week does boost her unemployment pay to more than she was earning — something opponents of extending the payment have pointed to as a disincentive for employees to return to work — but only because the minimum wage has been stuck at $7.50 since 2009. “That’s unconscionable,” she said.
She said she loves working with visitors to the city.
“We want to come back. But to what?” she said.
Protesters said Louisiana’s economy would be especially hard-hit because it relies on tourism, and would lose $1.4 billion.
Louisiana’s June unemployment rate was 9.7%, compared with 4.6% last year.
The group went from New Orleans to Cassidy’s office in suburban Metairie. A full day of rallies was scheduled, with others in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Mandeville, Houma, Monroe and finally Shreveport, where an evening demonstration was planned.
Participating groups and unions include the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice; Step Up Louisiana; Unite Here! Local 23; LiUNA! Local 99; the Louisiana Budget Project; Black Voters Matter; the Workplace Justice Project; the Southeast Louisiana Building and Construction Trades Council; the International Association of Ironworkers; CPD Action; All Streets, All People; We, The People of Northwest Louisiana; the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; and the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.
The state’s seven-day average for new confirmed cases had fallen into the 300-to-400 range in May but has ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 since June 23, according to data posted online by state health officials.
As of Thursday, the state had confirmed the coronavirus in 112,773 people — up 1,708 from Wednesday — 3,811 of whom have died. Hospitals were treating 1,524 COVID-19 patients, 205 of them on ventilators.
As rising numbers of hospitalized patients strained hospitals, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statewide mask order and closed bars statewide earlier this month. More recently, he extended that order at least until Aug. 7.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.