Bytemarks/Creative Commons A number of federal financial relief programs are set to expire at the end of this month.
Bytemarks/Creative Commons

Ducey and Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature have not announced plans for statewide pandemic relief.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging across the US. Arizona recorded its highest number of cases in one day—5,724—just last week. 

But, even with the spread expected to get worse over the next few weeks, some federal financial relief is set to expire at the end of this month. 

Eviction Protection

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order in September allowing people to stay in their homes if their ability to pay rent was affected by the virus. 

This meant that people who got sick, had to care for sick loved ones, or lost income due to the pandemic could avoid being evicted. 

However, that protection is set to expire Dec. 31. According to the Aspen Institute’s latest report, up to 771,000 Arizonans are at risk of being kicked out of their homes in January. 

Health experts and politicians have called on Congress to extend this protection while many people still aren’t back on their feet and much of the country faces a second wave of the virus

Some have also called for more aid for landlords and a cancellation of rental debt, as many people now owe months of rent and late fees along with other bills. 

Local figures are also asking Gov. Doug Ducey to take action. Originally, the state had its own eviction protection in place. The CDC order took its place when the state order expired on Oct. 31. 

Pandemic Unemployment

Another relief measure expiring this month is the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. 

PUA allows those who wouldn’t normally qualify for unemployment—like gig workers and people who are self-employed— to receive weekly payments. It was put in place by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March.  

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PUEC), another CARES Act measure, will also expire at the end of the year. This program provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment. Normally, people are cut off from benefits after 26 weeks. 

When these programs expire, about 12 million people will lose out on benefits. People of color and low-income Americans are expected to be hit the hardest, since they were the most likely groups to be laid off in the first place. 

Even with PUA and PUEC, unemployment has been a struggle in Arizona. The state’s maximum payment of $240 per week is the second-lowest in the country. 

From March through July, the federal government contributed a $600 weekly boost to people receiving unemployment. After that expired, President Donald Trump’s administration pushed through a new $300 weekly boost that lasted for up to six weeks. 

But since that money ran out in September, Arizonans have been struggling to make ends meet on only $960 a month, which is lower than some people’s rent alone. 

Student Loans

Update: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced Friday that she extended the nation’s student loan freeze and 0% interest through Jan. 31, 2021.

Original:

In March, the US froze federally held student loan payments and kept them from accumulating interest. While that protection was originally set to expire in September, the president extended it through this month. 

Without another extension, borrowers will have to start making payments again, and interest will once more be tacked on. 

More than 44.6 million Americans have student loan debt, according to Forbes. The average debt is nearly $33,000. 

Paid Leave

Congress helped out small businesses earlier this year by providing funds for paid leave

Workers at businesses with fewer than 500 employees could receive up to two weeks of paid leave if they got sick or needed to care for a loved one. 

Employees could also get 10 weeks of paid leave if their children’s school closed and they had to stay home to care for them. 

All those benefits are set to expire Dec. 31 even as people continue to get sick and many schools remain closed. 

Next Steps for Congress

Ducey and Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature have not announced plans to extend any of the COVID protections through the state. 

It’s possible Congress will pass another federal relief package before these measures expire. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed a $908 billion plan Tuesday that would continue PUA and PEUC and add $300 weekly payments for 18 weeks. 

While the proposal does not address evictions, student loans, or paid leave, it would provide state and local aid. 

However, it’s unclear if the proposal will be able to make it through Congress. 

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes it, instead proposing a $500 billion package that would extend unemployment programs but not approve any boosts. It also does not include state and local aid. 

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has endorsed the bipartisan proposal but has said he may do even more once he takes office in January. He campaigned on immediately canceling $10,000 in student loans for each borrower. Other Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren are calling on him to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower.