Austin service industry workers demand Congress extend $600/week unemployment benefits

A group of service industry workers rallied outside U.S. Senator John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) office asking for an extension of the $600 a week enhanced unemployment benefits. 

Those benefits are set to expire Saturday for Texans currently receiving it. 

As COVID-19 started spreading in Austin and the economy was shut down, Chris Himelblau was one of many industry workers out of a job. 

“A lot of uncertainty at first. I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to move out and drive across the country to live with my parents,” Himelblau said. 

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When Congress passed the CARES Act stimulus package in March, lawmakers authorized $600 a week of enhanced unemployment benefits. It was a lifeline for Chris and millions of other workers who lost their income overnight. 

“Really the $600 saved me. I really wasn’t sure what to do. I’ve been completely reliant on it,” said Himelblau.

That enhanced unemployment benefit is set to expire Saturday, meaning the uncertainty many service industry workers were facing before, they’re now facing again. “I maybe have two months that I could take care of myself, but two months is not a lot. I really don’t know what to do,” Himelblau said. 


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Jessica Pavlides, who has been able to return to work, said, without the benefits, many workers feel pressured to pick up shifts risking their lives for a better paycheck. 

“I think it mostly puts the people that work in those industries more at risk than the customers. I mean everybody’s at risk, but these industry workers are seeing more people a day than the individual customer is seeing in a day,” said Pavlides. 

On Friday, service industry workers took their message to Cornyn’s Austin office. 


Sen. Cornyn sent this statement regarding their demands: “I support extending unemployment assistance for Texans impacted by the pandemic as a part of the next relief bill.”

“I mean, we’re talking about people’s lives. This isn’t something like, ‘Oh, we’ll talk about it later.’ It’s urgent. This is something that’s really urgent,” Himelblau said. 

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said debate on the next stimulus package will begin next week, but may take a few weeks. 

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