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The extra $600 weekly unemployment payment expires this week. Self-employed Californians share what this means for them

The additional federal pandemic payment officially comes to an end on July 31. Self-employed Californians share how this will impact their livelihoods.

SACRAMENTO, California — The weekly federal payment of $600 in unemployment benefits that has been a crucial source of income during the coronavirus pandemic will officially expire July 31

Now, it is up to Congress to pass a new bill that will determine the fate of this economic lifeline. ABC10 spoke with two self-employed Californians about what the loss of the $600 unemployment will mean to them and their families:

Richard Sargis, 66, Central Valley

Richard Sargis has been self-employed for nearly half a century, starting right after high school. Alongside his wife, Christina, they have owned two longtime businesses’, a limousine service and a driving school, in Hilmar, Calif. When the pandemic swept the nation, it halted everything they’ve built the last two decades. 

“The biggest hit was the limousine service that we had for 15 years. Everything was canceled - weddings, proms, graduations, wine tastings, sporting events. Everything had been taken off the map for everyone affected,” Sargis said. “We just had to finally come to the reality that this is not coming back and it truly hasn't. So we pretty much made our one single limousine as a retirement plan.” 

The limousine business was their main source of income, and as the driving school struggles to stay afloat under a social distance era, the boost of unemployment benefits has been critical for them. 

“[Since the] driving school is the only thing we have left, we're thankful to get the extra $600 from the federal government to help us make it through the last four months. And I really think as self-employed people that it was important,” Sargis said. 

The pandemic has taught the mid-60s couple the importance of re-inventing themselves. To make up for the loss of the limousine business, they started a small e-commerce business, thanks in large part due to the federal pandemic money. 

“We thought the mask issue was something that was obviously trending and going to continue to be, so we came up with a company called myrealfacemasks.com,” Sargis explained. 

The couple figured that since you can’t see someone’s full face with a face covering, then why not create one that makes you more recognizable. 

“Since everyone in the world seems to need to wear one, why not have a little fun with a terrible situation and [we] hope to continue along that path with the small e-commerce business that's taken off a little bit. It's starting to be recognized, just like the face on the mask," Sargis said.

Before the pandemic, the self-employed business owners lived a modest lifestyle, and now with a forbearance on their home and the loss of the additional federal relief, their struggle is amplified. 

“Without the $600 coming through, it's gonna be difficult to sustain ourselves in every different way from business to personal,” Sargis said.

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Tara Edwards, 44, Northern California

Tara Edwards is a wife, mom and self-employed house cleaner, living in the small Northern California town of Loomis. She lives with her husband, Skip, a self-described handyman, and her four-year-old son. While Congress is determining whether to extend an additional boost of unemployment benefits, this family has yet to receive federal relief and it’s not without trying. 

The same month the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States, Tara and her family had just moved back to California after living in Oregon for a year. Now, they're moving to Idaho because of the hardships they’re facing.

“We were working for ourselves, building a business, and when the pandemic hit, everyone stopped all work,” Edwards said. 

Clients, scared of the virus, decided to clean their homes themselves, she said. And her husband had a similar experience with work, as well. 

“I just watched my calendar and his calendar, just person after person cancel on us,” Edwards said. 

They both tried to secure as much work as they could, but even then, people would cancel at the last minute, costing them a whole day’s worth of pay. 

The loss of work prompted them to sign up for unemployment benefits after learning self-employed workers can receive federal pandemic money. Her husband applied in late March and was later denied. She helped him appeal. He is still waiting to hear back from the Employment Development Department after countless attempts to contact the state agency. 

“We have yet to see anything. We're struggling so hard,” Edwards said.

The lack of steady income led her to follow suit and finally apply for unemployment benefits in July. Her family has been her help line throughout these hard times. 

“I'm fortunate. I've had family support, because if it wasn't for my family, I would be completely homeless right now, to be quite honest," Edwards said.

Hunkered down in an RV in the crevice of Placer County, Edwards and her husband thought they’d work for a few months with the hopes of saving up enough for a place. Now, they’re thinking about whether a future in California is sustainable. 

“We're in our trailer and we're trying to either find a place here or somewhere else that we can find work and afford," Edwards said. "And we feel like we're being pushed out of our area because there's no work, you can't find a place to live. What do you do? You got to go.”

She hopes her family can receive any form of federal relief. 

“At this point, from where I'm standing, they've made promises to [us] that they haven't kept," Edwards said. "So how are we going to talk about the future when [we] haven't even been caught up? I haven't even had a hello or goodbye from [EDD], let alone worry about whether or not I'm going to get [another] 600 or 400 [dollars] extra in the future. I’d just be happy with the 300 dollars that they're telling my husband he might get. That would benefit my family right now.”


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