Another $1,200? States seek their own stimulus aid

Plus, unemployment underpaid to millions, and live trees are bee knees

Dec 04, 2020 | Current events
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While Congress debates, these states won’t wait

With more federal stimulus unlikely before 2021, several states are rushing to pass their own virus aid measures that will keep residents afloat in the coming months. Colorado’s state legislature held a special session this week to discuss a $328 million relief package, while Wisconsin announced it will offer up to 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits. New Mexico is even issuing a second $1,200 stimulus check to over 140,000 unemployed residents. These state governments all have Democratic majorities, but the desire for interim aid isn’t one-sided. Republican minority reps in New Jersey and Washington state are behind the push for special sessions to help fund small businesses in their respective states.

There has been a miscount…

In the Department of Labor (DoL), that is. A watchdog agency — the General Accountability Office (GAO) — alleges that, due to backlogs and double-filings, the DoL has both undercounted and overcounted unemployment recipients. But the more pressing accusation from the GAO is that the department has been underpaying unemployment benefits to gig economy workers. By mistakenly giving them the minimum weekly amount, rather than calculating based on their prior job, the DoL may have systematically shortchanged over 9.1 million participants in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Live Christmas trees see spirited sales during pandemic

It’s been a tough decade for “real” trees, who’ve seen artificial pines sap up an estimated 75-80% of the billion-dollar Christmas conifer market. But 2020 has spun a turnaround worth rooting for, as pick-your-own tree farms report weeks of unusually high early sales for fresh-cut trees. The theory behind the rebound? House-bound arboreal aficionados may see a living evergreen as a way to capture a little more holiday spirit during what has been a needling year.

Your grocery store’s shopping for more freezers

But not to accommodate new lab-grown chicken nuggets. Supermarkets across the country are racing to buy medical-grade freezers that will store future Covid-19 vaccine doses. Unlike the freezers already seen in most grocery pharmacies, these intense iceboxes can accommodate the Pfizer vaccine variant’s uniquely low -94 degrees Fahrenheit temperature requirement. Working with the government, some stores are able to source these freezers at prices as low as $500/freezer. And with their central, accessible locations, grocers expect to become the primary providers of vaccinations to their communities. Some are even training employees to administer it. “Paper, plastic, or Pfizer?”

For retailers, 2020 profits soar past salaries

A recent Brookings Institute survey revealed that while major retailers have been raking in profits, the essential workers that keep them running have seen relatively little wage growth. Between March and November of this year, 13 big retailers achieved an average profit increase of 39% compared to 2019 while their employees saw their salaries go up by roughly $1.11/hour, or just 10%. And while these windfalls keep rolling in, it’s been an average of 130 days since employees have seen hazard pay for the ongoing pandemic. But some companies in the report are doing a better job of closing the gap — Best Buy, Target, and Home Depot increased their employees’ hourly wages by an average of $2.53, or 22%.