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Sunday, September 5, 2021

On Labor Day, 46,000 Rhode Islanders are losing their unemployment benefits

All but a dozen Charlestown residents on unemployment will suffer benefit cuts

By Will Collette

Part of what kept the US economy from crashing during the height of the pandemic was the extra federal unemployment assistance given to the many who lost their jobs.

While job numbers and overall economic trends have been positive since January, progress has slowed and we are far from over the pandemic and the economic hardship it caused. The Delta variant may even push us back.

Screen grab from WPRI graphic
At peak, Charlestown saw its highest level of unemployment since the state first started keeping statistics. Our unemployment rate is still high at 6.7%, which is higher than the national (5.4%), state (5.8%) and South County averages.

According to the most recent state numbers, Charlestown had 271 residents collecting unemployment insurance in July. But that problem is about to be “solved” because, according to data compiled by WPRI, 259 are going to lose their benefits.

Magically, only a dozen Charlestown residents will still be unemployed when the sun comes up on Tuesday. 

But of course, that’s an illusion, maybe even a statistical glitch. All those people – and more who have already fallen off the statistics tables when their benefits expired – are still going to be out of work. The big difference is they will also be out of money.

Around 46,000 Rhode Islanders are in the same boat due to the expiration of the special unemployment benefit programs for the self-employed and gig workers.

Dan McGowan of the Boston Globe puts the RI losses at 28,767 gig workers and independent contractors who are on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and 16,855 people on Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. They all will be completely cut off.

On top of that, the federal $300 pandemic bonus most unemployed have been receiving is also expiring.

WPRI’s data notes that most of those losing their benefits now are women, young and low income.

Local programs like RI-CAN, the WARM Center, the Jonnycake Centers, churches and others will no doubt do their best, but this was a foreseeable – and preventable – tragedy.

The theory behind allowing these benefits to expire now was that with the arrival of safe and effective vaccines, most people would get the shots, the pandemic would be beaten and things would get back to normal.

Except that has not happened.

The theory fails because it didn’t account for millions of COVIDiots who won’t get the shots even though the new COVID Delta variant is killing more than a 1,100 per day. Hiring has fallen off. Consumer confidence has dropped.

On top of all that, Rhode Island’s transmission rate for COVID is terrible, classified as “high transmission” making Rhode Island one of the only Red Zones in the Northeast. We can thank our wussy accidental Governor Dan McKee for that.

At the end of June, our transmission rate was 12 per 100,000 of population - that was the justification for re-opening. As of Friday, our rate has risen to 204.8 per 100,000. That’s a 1,700% increase and it has been going up daily.

When the Delta surge began right after July 4, McKee should have restored the statewide mask mandate as well as imposed a vaccine mandate on public workers, state contractors and anyone else under state authority. He should have reinstated the ban on travelers from states with higher infection rates than ours, especially Florida.

We can’t get back to anything like “normal” until we get the pandemic under control. McKee is doing no favors for his precious small businesses by failing to take overdue action to stem the pandemic.

And let’s not forget what Charlestown can do to help Charlestown. Just to remind you, Charlestown has received almost $11 million in pandemic relief. $8.3 million went to local businesses and $2.3 is going directly to the town.

Some of those businesses used the $8.3 million to stay open and keep at least some of their workers in jobs, though I would love to see an actual breakdown. 

As for the $2.3 million earmarked for the town, why doesn’t Charlestown have a plan to create jobs and economic opportunity, rather than just buy more land and remove it from the tax rolls as open space?

CCA's anointed: Bonnie Van Slyke, Cody Clarkin and Susan Cooper.
They take their orders from the CCA clubhouse
We’ve all seen how jobs and the economy are not priorities for our ruling Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA). 

One of the most recent ways they show it is the CCA’s insistence on putting their Nobel laureate Mike Chambers on the Economic Improvement Commission rather than any of the other competitors who actually know something about economic improvement.

The Charlestown Town Council currently has a CCA majority consisting of Arnolda Über alles diehard Bonnie Van Slyke, former Eagle Scout Cody Clarkin and newcomer Susan Cooper. While they cast the actual votes on the Council, their choices are directed by the mysterious CCA Steering Committee that meets in secret to make all the decisions for the town.

That $2.3 million in pandemic relief could do a lot of good for the town, but that’s just not a CCA priority. If we don’t use it to buy more open space, then the CCA will want to spend it fighting the unsubstantiated threat they’ve conjured upfrom AMTRAK. Or maybe a raise for Joe Larisa, the attorney Charlestown retains for the sole purpose of messing with the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

That $2.3 million could be used, for example, to start a Charlestown Conservation Corps to create jobs for those who need them. Or a Charlestown Service Corps to augment SRIV (Southern Rhode Island Volunteers) to help the elderly, the handicapped and families in need.