- A report from Bloomberg Businessweek found half of those who applied for unemployment didn’t get any.
- One recipient, Ralph Wyncoop, applied in May 2020 and only got them the following December.
- After having a heart attack and losing his home, he moved into his car. He was found dead in March 2021.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Millions of Americans applied for unemployment benefits during the pandemic and either didn’t get them or had to wait for months, according to a new report from Bloomberg Businessweek. Half of applicants either got rejected or didn’t get them, the report said, and the wait was deadly for some.
One person profiled, Ralph Wyncoop, was an Uber driver in Las Vegas who was rejected from regular unemployment. He applied to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, a federal program that expanded unemployment insurance eligibility to gig workers, which opened in May 2020. Wyncoop was eligible for $455 a week, but he didn’t receive the money right away and ended up joining a lawsuit.
Eventually, his PUA application was rejected in July; Leah Jones, one of the lawyers working with him, told Businessweek that he was told he needed to show a utility bill, but his landlord had paid that expense.
Relief didn’t come for Wyncoop until the day before Christmas, when benefits finally arrived. In the interim, he had a heart attack over the summer, and was evicted in October. Technically, a national eviction moratorium is still in place through the end of July 2021, but Businessweek reports that he slept in his car following his eviction. On March 17, according to the report, Wyncoop was found dead in a motel.
Wyncoop was one of millions who found themselves at the mercy of a patchwork unemployment system. The report found that only half of the 64.3 million Americans who applied for benefits from March 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, were either turned down, or never received money.
Many Americans found themselves staring down ailing state unemployment systems as the pandemic ravaged the economy. Insider’s Nick Lichtenberg and Allana Akhtar reported in September 2020 that at least 35 states had struggled to get benefits out to workers, as state-run systems were overwhelmed by an unprecedented number of claims.
Some senators have seized on these state-system failures to call for permanent reforms to the UI system, with Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Michael Bennet of Colorado introducing a plan that would beef up benefits and modernize the system’s infrastructure. Such legislation has not yet passed in Congress.
Even as some jobless workers struggled to access any aid, over half of the states in the US have opted to cut off enhanced federal benefits early. That decision – which governors have said is meant to compel workers back into the workforce amidst labor market tightness – will impact an estimated 4 million Americans. For many of those who are on programs like PUA, which made gig workers like Wyncoop eligible for aid, benefits will end completely.
There may be some relief for those workers getting cut off, though: A judge in Indiana recently granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by cut off workers against the state. That decision may preserve benefits for thousands of jobless Hoosiers.