Meet the woman bringing dozens of unemployed people before senators to shame them into extending unemployment. 'Americans are not lazy. They're struggling.'

Carlos Ponce protests in Miami Springs asking senators for unemployment benefits beyond July 31, 2020. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
In the past 18 months, Americans without jobs have seen their benefits cut in a steady stream.

Federal benefits will cease to exist on Labor Day, despite repeated calls for extensions.

Insider spoke with Stephanie Freed (executive director at about the past year of unemployment advocacy.

Check out more stories from Insider's business page.

Stephanie Freed is concerned: Federal unemployment benefits will cease in less than a week. This will leave millions of Americans on the brink of a fiscal cliff without a reliable income.

Freed began working as a freelance lighting design in the entertainment and live events industry in early 2020. She saw her jobs being delayed by the pandemic and she didn't see them coming back.

Freed stated that the industry was "just like in a panic" and was what kept people alive.

Pandemic Unemployment Aid (PUA) was a federal program that increased the eligibility for unemployment benefits. It provided $600 per week to jobless workers such as Freed at the start of the pandemic. It allowed gig workers and freelancers to join the fold - and according to an analysis by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute it was the largest share of federal UI distributed in 2020.

However, the supplement was due to expire in July 2020. Freed founded to advocate for expanded unemployed benefits. It is still active a year later. Freed is the executive director, chief strategist and communications director. The group boasts a "engaged base of more than 25,000 people," according to its website.

Here is Freed's story, in her own words. It has been edited for simplicity.

I had never worked in advocacy.

We began by reaching out to the Senate offices and setting up meetings. In the fall, we met 40 senators, inviting constituents to share their experiences with the unemployment system, the pandemic, as well as the loss of $600.

Continue the story

Stephanie Freed speaks at the Extend PUA Action. Stephanie Freed

It was quite amazing, but not in a good way. Just watching how many times we had to keep reviving the fight was incredible. The $600 was lost by people. We were about to lose everything by the end the year. The extension was granted at the last moment.

Then, in March, we decided to end it all over again. Then, it was extended to the very last minute.

It's been like a rolling cliff, where no one has ever stopped to get air and to just survive the pandemic. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and millions more are still waiting to be pushed off the cliffs.

I found it impossible to continue this 24/7.

It's great that I have found a job. It's a great job, but I am not the only one who is lucky. We have to keep working because 7.5 million people will lose their aid if this happens. I am in my thirties. I have marketable skills and a resume. It took me 15 years to find a job.

Because they are responsible for childcare, many people find it difficult to get a job. We also hear from people who continue to apply and don't get a response, or who do receive a reply and are told that they are either underqualified or overqualified.

To survive, people are forced to change their industries.

It was initially a coping mechanism.

It's overwhelming to feel unemployed and not knowing when you would get work again. For me, PUA was a great coping tool. It remains to be determined if that was healthy or unhealthy, as I was on the job 24/7.

It's disappointing to see that there is not much appetite for the last extensions. There are very few advocacy groups. They aren't even advocating for extensions.

We are not an established nonprofit. It seems like many of these groups are more susceptible to what the government will do than what they can do.

People say, "Well, just get a work!"

People who say that don't know what they are talking about are probably not aware of the reality. These jobs are often not fully-paid or well-paid. To make enough money to send your children to daycare, you could need to have four of these jobs.

The schools aren't being consistent. The Delta surge means that there is not much confidence in whether children will remain at school or be sent home for distance learning. Parents can't return to work if their children are home.

It's possible it isn't clicking.

We are in good touch with many Democratic legislators. We had meetings with both sides last fall, but since the Democrats have taken control of both Congress halves, technically, our advocacy has been centered there.

It is disappointing to see how many people voted in them and put faith and hope into them. However, they allow that to be overshadowed and distorted by false narratives about people being too lazy work.

Although President Biden may sometimes speak out against it, it seems that he is also buying into the idea of it being a deterrent to work, even though this has been proven false. It's a cruel talking point, and it's a horrible narrative to believe.

Americans aren't lazy. They are working hard.

Still, we are in a pandemic. The Delta is on the rise. People are closing down events. As if all our events in theaters were reopening and shows getting cancelled again, We're now seeing a drop in our programs and this is because, I would argue, political weakness. They're tired of fighting for important things and are letting go of this one.

There are 10 ways to get involved.

It is important to reach out to federal legislators right now to let them know that you, as a constituent, want to see something done. These extensions are needed for a constituent who's unemployed.

While some of this may shift to the state, it is important to get into your local paper and reach the governors and legislators of the states.

Next, we need to fix the unemployment system in order to prevent this from happening again. Participating in the Fix UI movement is another way to help solve this problem. We don't need to reach these cliffs if we fix the program. Benefits will be more equitable, higher quality and closer to replacing wages.

Business Insider has the original article.