Coronavirus layoffs put pressure on student workers
For broadcast journalism senior Brea Bush, the University’s transition to remote operations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic marked the beginning of her unemployment.
After being laid off from her position as a campus convenience store supervisor on March 16, Bush filed for and received unemployment. She is one of millions of Americans who have filed for unemployment in recent weeks during the coronavirus outbreak, which the Federal Reserve of St. Louis posits could reach 47 million people by the end of the second quarter.
“Even though unemployment does help a little, it doesn’t secure as much as having a full-time job does,” Bush said.
Bush said her monthly living expenses are approximately $2,000. The maximum unemployment benefit available in Texas is $521 per week. This amount will be supplemented by an additional $600 per week as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which will provide stipends on top of any state-provided unemployment through July 31.
While the amount she will receive under this enhanced unemployment plan will amount to just under $4,500 per month, it provides only a temporary solution to the absence of her income while still balancing her course load.
Impact of social distancing
The move to remote work that left Bush jobless comes after the implementation of stricter social distancing measures by local and University authorities.
The “Stay Home, Work Safe” order issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, that began March 24 at 11:59 p.m., mandates all individuals anywhere in Harris County are required to stay at home, except for individuals employed at businesses or engaged in activities that have been deemed essential.
“With the stay-at-home (order), I feel like I am 50-50 about it,” Bush said. “Half of me is like, I’m gonna go crazy if I stay in this house another day. At the same time, I don’t want to get sick.”
In light of the issuance of the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order, the University announced the continuation and expansion of its remote operations.
“All UH locations will expand their social distancing efforts by reformatting programs and support services. It will involve less direct contact and more remote support,” President Renu Khator said in an email to the University community on March 24.
The increased restrictions on social distancing led the University to allow employees to begin working from home. If workers can perform the functions of their positions off-campus, they must request approval of their supervisor and may need to complete a COVID-19 telecommuting form.
This form does not contain provisions for University workers who do not have access to internet, networking and printing capabilities off campus.
Student workers, non-work-study and work-study alike, are responsible for contacting their supervisors to determine if working from a remote location is an option. Student workers who have a work-study position must also obtain approval from the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid before working remotely.
Stimulus Bill Support
The $2 trillion federal stimulus package will help some students who have been laid off as they adjust to the rattled economy.
In addition to continuing federal work-study pay, federal student loans are also paused until September 30.
Single individuals that earn a gross adjusted income of $75,000 or less a year and cannot be claimed as a dependent are eligible to receive a $1,200 check as a result of the stimulus bill.
Bush qualifies for the stimulus check and said the money would allow her to pay rent up to July. However, being able to afford her other needs like utilities and groceries are still up in the air.