Jane Courcy was living in San Diego doing IT consulting work for colleges and universities when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, her work dried up completely.
With the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment money she was able to get by. But with that gone now, she says the state benefits won’t cover her rent and other bills.
“I’m concerned — will I have a place to live,” Courcy says. “You know, I come from New England and we’re strong people and we take care of ourselves, but we also need government to help us a little bit. When the money runs out, what do I do?”
Right now, there are millions of Americans asking that question.
The expanded federal unemployment benefits are gone with no extension from Congress in sight. Eviction moratoriums are expiring even as large numbers of people continue to lose jobs. And so this sudden, deep recession is forcing many people to upend their lives.
Courcy is 63, and after living in San Diego for a decade, she’s moving all the way across the country to Portland, Maine. She’s from there and still has family nearby. “I just really this past week decided I can do this,” she says. “I can get back to Maine.”
She just rented an apartment in her home state. It’s cheaper than California. She’s applying for all kinds of jobs, from more professional ones to working in a warehouse for L.L.Bean.
And if all else fails, she can move in with her parents. But they’re in their 90s and live an hour and a half away from Portland. “They have a very small house,” she says.
To make the cross-country move, get into a new place and pay rent for a while, Courcy pulled everything out of her retirement account — about $25,000.
“It’s really disheartening,” she says. “You grieve your loss of your financial future and your resources.”
Congress gave most struggling homeowners the option to defer mortgage payments for up to a year. But there’s no help like that for renters. So they don’t get that breathing room. And many feel they have no choice but to spend down their life savings.
Of course, many others barely have any savings at all.
Pam Gunner lives in Rapid City, S.D. She’s a teacher but was between jobs when the coronavirus pandemic hit so she didn’t qualify for unemployment. The school system she’d been applying to froze new hiring. But she kept looking and found a job teaching on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
She’s excited about that, but the school hasn’t started yet and she’s had no income for two months. That’s left her with very few options.
“I was able to make a payment arrangement with the electric company,” she says. “But I could not pay the phone bill.”
She has no phone connection now — that got cut off. She’ll need Internet access because her new school is starting remotely. So she’s made sure to keep paying that bill.
Like many other Americans who worked their whole lives and never thought they wouldn’t be able to afford groceries, Gunner stands in line at a local food pantry. And this month she couldn’t make her full rent payment.
“I got home and hanging on my door was an eviction notice, a three-day notice to vacate — to either pay it or get out.” She says she was completely caught off guard. “I hadn’t gotten emails or phone calls or anything else you know, that, ‘Hey, you need to make sure you get this other half of rent in.’ ”
Gunner was able to convince the landlord to be more flexible since she’s starting a new job and will soon earn money again.
But for people who are still out of work, both landlord groups and housing advocates are warning of a wave of evictions if Congress doesn’t approve more help. They’d like to see a rental assistance plan. And they’re calling for another round of those expanded federal unemployment benefits that were helping millions of people stay afloat.