I find statements by U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy on cutting the $600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation appalling. That extra money from the federal government has kept me housed, illness-free, and fed during this pandemic. It allowed me to travel to Winona, Miss. to care for my elderly mom after her fall. The refusal to renew the federal compensation, leaving it at the state limit of $247 per week, would be unconscionable and would push thousands of people in Louisiana into hunger and homelessness.

Sen. Cassidy has said, “We cannot incentivize people not to work.” Before the pandemic, I worked in tourism, as a hotel concierge and tour guide. I am NOLA born and bred. My passion is to share my love of NOLA with visitors. I love my colleagues, the company I worked for, and our guests. I would gladly go back to work if it were safe.

But to what work would I be returning? Hotel occupancy rates in the city are between 10-20 percent. Any tips I might get as a concierge or from tours would be way less than in times past. That’s a big deal when your base wage is $7.50 an hour, like mine. If the $600 is cut back, it’s not going to make me any more eager to get back to work. It’s just going to make it hard for me to provide for myself and my momma.

The senator also said that not working is “not good for them [unemployed workers]. It’s not good for their job skills.”  Guess what else isn’t good for people, Senator? Homelessness, COVID-19, poverty, anxiety, and PTSD. We want to work in a healthy, safe, stable environment with a fair living wage, far above $7.50 per hour. Many of us are in the process of figuring out how our skills may be transferable. We’re not sitting on the couch eating bon-bons. I’m in the process of enrolling in courses to become a licensed dietitian. I want safety, health, and financial security for myself and my family. Cutting back the $600 won’t help me or anyone else achieve that.

And Sen. Cassidy stated that keeping the $600 “[isn’t] good for emerging from this with a strong economy.”  When COVID-19 hit, I caught up on rent and paid a bit in advance to make sure I’d have a roof over my head. If the $600 is not renewed, many people won’t be able to pay their rent, pay for groceries, or pay their bills. Property owners won’t be getting their money. Stores will see people buying less. If the $600 in federal funding was cut back to $200 per week, as Senate Republicans have proposed, Louisianan families would lose $158 million in unemployment insurance benefits per week. What do you think that is going to do to our economy, especially in a state that relied so heavily on tourism before the pandemic?

We invited Senator Kennedy to Step Up Louisiana’s Federal Town Hall on July 16.  He failed to RSVP, sending neither his regrets nor an acceptance of our invitation; he didn’t even bother to send a staffer. Had Sen. Kennedy attended our online town hall, he would have heard my testimony.

Sen. Kennedy told Fox News the economic crisis “is hurting the American people.” It sure is. As the senator noted, workers lost their jobs “through no fault of their own and do not have a job to go back to because [the] government shut down their economy.”  COVID-19 and government officials shut down businesses.  Again, Senators, to what jobs would you have us return amidst this pandemic?

Sen. Kennedy said in that interview, “The most pressing problem we have with the current coronavirus bill is unemployment insurance.” We agree with that! Why did our senators delay so long? The Senate has had the HEROES Act since May – must be the egos of those “big shots [and] little shots on both sides of the aisle” to which you referred, Senator.

I have been a Republican ever since I could vote. To me, this is about common sense, not politics. I don’t want to hear you blame the Democrats or vice versa. I want to see you do your job.

Now, the federal $600 has lapsed and unemployed workers like me are facing potential eviction and utility shutoffs. Sen. Kennedy went on to say, “What the leadership needs to do is put an unemployment insurance bill on the floor of the Senate and let senators be senators.” Put some action behind those words. Go to Sen. McConnell and get him to do the right thing – to Save The 600. Help “take care of families as they struggle to keep their lives together,” as Sen. Cassidy said.

Act on the faith you claim to have, Senators Cassidy and Kennedy. Take heed of the following Scripture verse: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  James 4:17

Deliver what the unemployed people of Louisiana need. Right now, that is $600 extra per week. 

Stacey Guidry is an unemployed hospitality worker and member of the advocacy group Step Up Louisiana.

The Opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact the editors by email: editor@thelensnola.org.