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‘We didn’t choose this.’ Unemployed man shares frustrations on COVID relief fight

Millions of unemployed Americans watched the weekend fight over COVID relief play out with a sense of exasperation over feeling like pawns in a game of political football, said Michael West, 60, an Uber driver who has been out of work since the spring. He talks to Amna Nawaz about the realities of pandemic job loss and what he thinks Americans like him need from Congress in the coming months.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    And just this evening, the House voted to increase stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000. Forty-four Republicans joined the Democratic majority in voting for that increase.

    For more on this vote and President Trump's decision to sign the bill and what comes next, Anna Palmer joins us now. She's senior Washington correspondent for Politico.

    Anna, welcome back to the "NewsHour." And thanks for being here.

    Let's start with President Trump's decision to sign that relief bill. What do we know about what took him so long, and why he finally changed his mind?

  • Anna Palmer:

    I mean, this was really a crisis of the president's own making.

    The bill was on its way to being signed. It had been negotiated by the White House and both houses of Congress. At the last minute, he decided to throw this wrench in it. And, for days, everybody was in limbo, certainly, the people that were expecting and needing those checks, but also the fact that it was tied to government funding, which would have really shut down the government.

    And there was not a real endgame there. We know that several members of Congress, Senate Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, went to him, spoke with him, made the case that he needed to support this COVID relief bill, that Georgia, which is obviously in play with the two run-offs, would be locked by Republicans if he shut down the government and they did not get the relief that was needed for Americans before the end of the year.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, as William Brangham just reported in a statement last night, after signing the bill, President Trump said he wants less wasteful spending from Congress. He's demanding these rescissions, sending to Congress a red-line bill, basically itemizing all the funds that he wants removed.

    Is the president going to get any of that? What is the practical impact of those requests?

  • Anna Palmer:

    This gives the president a way to say that he had a win in terms of what he wants to actually have happen with funding. This is not a reality.

    The — both houses have moved on from this spending bill. The House appropriators, which are really the power of the purse, has said they will not be considering any of the rescissions that the president will, would or could give to them before he leaves office.

    But this is really more of a talking point for the president. It has no basis in reality.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, we see now the House supports that suggestion to raise the stimulus payments to $2,000. Democrats have always been asking for more money.

    But this puts Republicans in a pinch, particularly in the Senate. So what's going to happen there? Are they going to back that increase in stimulus payments?

  • Anna Palmer:

    Yes, House Democrats just eked out a two-thirds majority, which they needed in order for this bill to move forward into the Senate.

    The real question is going to be what, if any pressure does President Trump put on his allies in the Senate to actually take this up? There was already some strong rejections of it in previous smaller amounts. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a key ally of the president's, opposed a $1,200 check bill before this.

    So it's hard to see where he would be mounting up the support, and, in particular, because he isn't making those calls. To our knowledge, he has not been on the phone trying to press the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to actually take this vote up.

    So, unless he does that, it appears that this will just move past the — pass in the House, but it will die in the Senate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent with Politico, always good to talk to you.

    Millions of Americans whose unemployment benefits expired this weekend were watching and waiting to see if President Trump would sign the relief bill.

    One of them is 60-year-old Michael West.

    And he joins us now from his home in Huntington Beach, California.

    Michael West, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thanks for making the time.

    We should fill folks in and tell them you were working as an Uber driver before the pandemic hit. Then the pandemic hit. Business dropped. Your doctor told you it is probably not a good idea to go out and work because of your underlying health conditions.

    So, give us a sense how hard it has been to make ends meet since then and how you have done it.

  • Michael West:

    Well, it has been extremely difficult.

    I didn't really know what I was going to do. And then the CARES Act passed. And that was a godsend to get that — the PUA program, which, as a gig worker, allowed me to collect unemployment. And then the additional $600 a week on top of that allowed me to basically replace what I was making prior to having just stopped working.

    And so that got me through the spring and summer. And then, at the end of July, when that program ended, the additional $600, it was really difficult. It was very difficult. I live in Southern California. It's one of the most expensive places in the world to live. And trying to make ends meet on $300 a week was excruciatingly difficult.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you this.

    As you have watched the political back-and-forth over this latest relief bill, and then you saw the president say part of the reason he delayed signing it was because he wanted to get more money to people like you, what did you think? What was your reaction to that?

  • Michael West:

    Well, quite frankly, it was infuriating.

    When he finally did sign the COVID relief bill, after the delay, it basically cost the people that are on PUA week of income, which effectively takes away our $600 stimulus check, because that's roughly about how much we lose — or at least I do.

    So, I feel like this has been a political football. I feel like we have been pawns in it. And I'm angry. I'm angry that, in the richest country in the world, our Congress has done so little to help those that are suffering.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mr. West, you shared with us earlier, of course, that you have lost family in recent years. Your 20-year business went under. You have had some tough years. And then you have endured 2020 and all it brought with it.

    What do you think you need now to get back onto your feet?

  • Michael West:

    It's difficult for me.

    I have worked hard my whole life. I have never really asked for anything from the government. I have never had to rely on government assistance. But I didn't choose to lose my job. I didn't choose to have all of this happen.

    This happened through no fault of my own, and the same thing with millions of other Americans that were caught in the same situation. We didn't choose this. So, what I'd like to see happen is, I would like to see them increase the amount that they give us in the way of that stimulus payment for the $2,000 that's been discussed.

    And I would like to see the $300 additional unemployment backdated back to be paid retroactively back to the beginning of August, when the previous program ended. That would help. That would help.

    Otherwise, it's just a matter of trying to dodge the inevitable economic fallout that's coming, the fear of eviction, not being able to pay rent, car payments, all the other expenditures, to have to decide whether you're going to spend your money on food or whether you're going to spend it on rent. It's just a very unfair proposition for us to be facing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mr. West, I know millions of Americans can relate to what you are saying. So, I'm very grateful to you for joining us to share your story.

    That is Michael West of Huntington Beach, California.

    Thank you.

  • Michael West:

    Thank you. I appreciate it.

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