Friday, October 30, 2020

Pay Bills Or Buy Food?

Guardian |  Americans struggling with broken state unemployment systems throughout the US are still fighting to obtain benefits, as utility shut-off moratoriums are expiring and evictions continue despite a federal suspension.

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the US jobs market. Some 787,000 people filed for benefits last week – roughly equal to the population of Seattle. The figure is sharply down from the peak in April, when 6.6 million people filed claims in just one week, but it remains four times as high as it was before the pandemic struck and many hit by the Covid recession are now finding that the benefits and protections they need are running out.

Ann Largent of Orlando, Florida, has been out of work as a patient care technician through the pandemic, but found a new job and was hired at the beginning of August at a nursing home. She has yet to receive a start date, but a hold was placed on her unemployment benefits on 5 September, and she hasn’t received any benefits since.

Largent, 39, lives in a mobile trailer park with her 12-year-old daughter, who requires frequent doctor appointments as her cancer is in remission. When she first lost her job in the beginning of the pandemic, Largent received $355 a month in Snap food assistance, but the benefits were reduced to $16 a month when her unemployment benefits began.

The Trump administration authorized a $600-a-week boost to unemployment benefits in March but that was cut to $300 and Congress has since been deadlocked on a replacement. Once the expanded unemployment benefits ended on 26 July, Largent was only receiving $247 a week, Florida’s maximum unemployment benefit payout after taxes are taken out.

Her rent is $244 weekly, which includes water and electricity, and she is currently at risk of eviction for running late on rent.

“I have fallen behind. I have to miss a rent payment to try to pay the other bills. I already had my car insurance canceled four times so far this year. My internet is usually a month behind, and I’m out of gas,” said Largent. “I cry a lot, so I try to hide my tears from my daughter. She doesn’t need to know my problems. This has been the worst year. I had put in 347 job applications and nothing. Finally got a job, and I haven’t started yet. Now I’m getting screwed over with a work hold.”

She is not alone. As of October 1.76m US households in 36 states were no longer protected by utility shut-off moratoriums, according to a report by the energy efficiency startup Carbon Switch. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an eviction moratorium through the end of 2020 for those meeting eligibility requirements, but the order hasn’t fully halted evictions during the pandemic and landlords are still able to start eviction processes.