Mass. unemployed workers to soon receive additional benefits from federal government

Mass. unemployed workers to soon receive additional benefits from federal government

BOSTON — Tens of thousands of Massachusetts families will soon receive additional unemployment benefits from the federal government.

The state Department of Unemployment Assistance has begun distributing the $300 weekly payments to be made retroactively from the beginning of August, Gov. Charlie Baker said in a news conference Wednesday.

The funds were freed up by President Donald Trump’s executive order signed last month. But Baker said the plan is not a “permanent or sustainable solution,” and pushed Congress to pass a stimulus bill that will help unemployed workers.

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Meanwhile, Republican senators in Washington say they will soon vote on a “targeted” coronavirus stimulus bill to hand out $300 weekly checks through Dec. 27, but not more $1,200 checks.

While Democrats say the plan doesn’t do enough for struggling Americans, many unemployed workers, like Maria Gallagher of Worcester, appreciate any assistance they can get.

“I’m very happy that it’s something,” Gallagher said. “I hope that it comes to fruition.”

Gallagher and her husband John have been unemployed for six months. The couple work for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, an entertainment union. Maria is in wardrobe, John is a stagehand. The two have been in the industry for about 40 years each.

“It all changed for me on March 9, and my husband the following week. The shows just shut down,” Gallagher said. “There’s 11 million of us out there in the entertainment industry where our worlds just shut down, they’re gone.”

The Gallaghers have been relying on stimulus money to stay afloat. Weekly $600 unemployment supplements that expired in July and one-time $1,200 checks have helped them stay on top of bills, take care of their family and pay two of their children’s college tuition.

Maria is even buying discounted items at the grocery store and stowing them away for when unemployment runs out.

“I do things like stock up on extra groceries, try to plan ahead, grow a garden,” Gallagher said. “I’ve been selling my art from home.”

Many people disparage those on unemployment, Gallagher said. But finding a different job isn’t so easy. Her decades of experience in the entertainment industry doesn’t translate to most other trades.

“It’s not that easy to get a job these days. They’re not hiring,” Gallagher said. “Certain professional skills don’t translate. I’ve never worked on a computer with a keyboard in an office setting.”

While Gallagher fears the hands-on job she loves may never come back, she hopes one day the show will be back on.

“A lot of people are so back to their regular lives and all they complain about is wearing a mask for ten minutes in a store,” Gallagher said. "And I’d gladly wear a mask for 12 hours to go back to work.

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