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Federal Help Has Run Out For Millions Amid The Pandemic. Here's One Of Their Stories

DON GONYEA, HOST:

Help has run out for the millions of Americans who have been relying on federal unemployment assistance during this pandemic. Without President Trump's signature on a recently passed $900 billion relief package, there's no help in sight for people who were relying on this benefit program.

The bill, as we'll discuss in a moment, was passed on Friday, but President Trump has yet to sign it. He's called it, quote, "a disgrace," criticizing the package's $600 direct relief payments, saying they should be up to $2,000. So as negotiations stalled, two kinds of temporary expanded unemployment benefits expired yesterday. We spoke to someone who has been relying on that money.

SHARISSA WARD: It's been really stressful and really taking a toll on me. There's good days, and then there's bad days.

GONYEA: That's Sharissa Ward (ph). She was furloughed from her job as a server at Disney World in Orlando in April, along with thousands of other park employees. She'd been a server there for 15 years.

WARD: Feeling that security blanket is ripped from you, that you have that job that you knew that you could rely on, and it's not there anymore - it takes a lot out of you. And then you have - I have three kids that I have to try to not make it seem stressful for while I'm at the same time juggling that.

GONYEA: By fall, Ward had exhausted unemployment benefits available from the state of Florida and filed for federal pandemic emergency unemployment compensation, one of two programs that expired last night. She was using the $275 weekly payments to cover necessities for her and her family.

WARD: Car payment, insurance, utilities - just basic needs, you know - basic bills. And then you have to tap into savings to compensate for whatever that doesn't cover.

GONYEA: Ward has been trying to make ends meet any way she can, including selling baked goods and crafts to friends and neighbors. Without federal employment payments, she and her kids are now entirely dependent on her partner, who started a small business right before the pandemic.

WARD: He has a job that he works from home that's kind of been helping, you know, cover some of the things that, you know, I used to cover. But again, it's a very unstable market to know how long that is going to last.

GONYEA: And while Ward waits for a new relief package to be signed, she says she's trying to focus on being grateful this holiday season.

WARD: You know, I'm blessed for what I have and what I can do. But there's people living in their cars. There's people that have had to move out of their houses, and they've given up everything because they can't afford to live. And it's heartbreaking to know that this is what happens when you don't, you know, have that money coming in.

GONYEA: That's Sharissa Ward in Orlando, Fla. She was one of the millions of Americans receiving pandemic unemployment benefits. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.