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Ending CARES Unemployment Benefits Puts Pressure on Phoenix Restaurant Employees

Crescent Ballroom and Cocina 10 have had to furlough more than 125 employees.EXPAND
Crescent Ballroom and Cocina 10 have had to furlough more than 125 employees.
Lynn Trimble

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, granted an extra $600 per week to unemployment benefits around the country. While that money has helped ease pandemic-related financial woes, that extra money is set to run out this week.

Restaurants and bars, which have been particularly hard-hit by government-mandated closures, have had to furlough or lay off staff. Many of those employees are now relying on the extra unemployment income to make ends meet.

Crescent Ballroom’s Director of Operations, Angela Donato, says in an email statement the music venue, bar, and restaurant had to furlough more than 125 employees. The extra $600 per week has helped her employees stay financially stable, as well as safer from the spread of COVID-19.

“I think people should be less concerned about anyone getting ‘too much’ money; no one asked for any of this,” she says.

With a looming expiration date of July 31 for extra unemployment money — meaning an actual cutoff date of July 25 for Arizona — Donato is concerned for her employees’ well-being, noting that Arizona has the second lowest unemployment benefits in the country at a maximum of $240 per week.

“These are real people with mortgages and children, and many of them are caregivers. If the federal government stops funding unemployment, we don’t know how our team could live on $960 a month,” she says.

David Hogg, a line cook and server at Ramen Dozo in Tempe, has been furloughed since the restaurant temporarily closed. While the business has now reopened, it is takeout only.

“They don’t need a large amount of staff," Hogg says. "There are only two people there: the owner and then another guy working right now."

Hogg says he found the unemployment application process confusing. Luckily, his boss’ accountant knew how to apply and explained the process to Hogg’s boss, who relayed the information back to him. Then, after the application, it took three weeks for him to begin receiving unemployment benefits.

The extra benefits have helped Hogg pay his regular bills, keeping him afloat until he's able to find new employment or return to his old job. However, he says he will have to talk to his boss at Ramen Dozo soon with the extra benefits ending.

“I’m actually applying for new jobs already, but there aren’t too many jobs available right now, so it’s actually kind of hard to find places to work,” he says.

Now, Hogg is looking to get out of the restaurant industry to work in a medical lab. With COVID-19 testing in high demand, he heard they are hiring at some sites. He says that if he were offered his old position back, he’d take it on a temporary basis until he finds new work. But again, job searching has not been easy.

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He says that while applying for jobs, positions either fill quickly or he just doesn’t hear back. He's also heard that a lot of employers are hiring internally for management positions, including positions that Hogg applied for thanks to his past managerial experience.

This leaves Hogg uncertain on how he will make enough income, with the end of the extra benefits this week, and he hopes he will land a new job soon.

And overall, he thinks a major issue with the pandemic is that the government didn't take the coronavirus serious enough from the start.

“If America took it a little bit more seriously up until now,” he says. "I’d probably be working already and have a job."

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