'Will I Have A Place To Live?' Scrambling To Survive After $600 Benefits End

Aug 25, 2020
Originally published on August 25, 2020 11:55 am

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.

After her IT consulting work dried up and extra federal unemployment benefits ended, Jane Courcy pulled everything out of her retirement account to pay for a cross-country move.
Jane Courcy

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 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.

Pam Gunner outside the school she will soon be teaching at on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She feels lucky to have found the job amid the pandemic and has been staving off eviction until she starts getting paid again.
Pam Gunner

"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," Gunner says. 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 persuade 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.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Millions of Americans who have lost work during this pandemic are making some tough financial choices. The extra $600 a week in federal unemployment money has ended. Eviction moratoriums are expiring. NPR's Chris Arnold reports on what people are doing to survive.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Jane Courcy lives in San Diego and does consulting work for universities. But she says when the pandemic hit, her work suddenly dried up, and she's lost her income.

JANE COURCY: I'm concerned - will I have a place to live?

ARNOLD: With the extra $600 a week, she was able to get by. But with that gone now, she says the state benefits alone won't cover her rent and other bills.

COURCY: 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. It's that sense that when the money runs out, what do I do?

ARNOLD: Right now there are millions of people asking that question. And this sudden, deep recession is forcing many to really upend their lives. What Courcy's doing now - she's 63 years old - and she's moving all the way across the country to Portland, Maine. She's from there and still has family nearby.

COURCY: I just really this past week decided I can do this. I can get back to Maine.

ARNOLD: She's just rented an apartment there. It's cheaper than in 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, her backup plan is to move in with her parents, though they're in their 90s and live in a small house an hour and a half away from Portland. Still, just to move and get into a new place and be able to pay rent for a while, Courcy's pulled all of her life savings out of her retirement account - about $25,000.

COURCY: It's really disheartening. You grieve your loss of your financial future and your resources.

ARNOLD: 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 extra breathing room. And many feel they have no choice but to spend down their life savings. And of course, many other people don't even have much of any savings at all.

PAM GUNNER: My name is Pam Gunner - Pamela (ph) if I'm in trouble - and I live in Rapid City, S.D.

ARNOLD: Gunner is a teacher but was in between jobs when the 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, which she's excited about. But that job hasn't started yet, and she's had no income for a couple of months, which has left her with very few options.

GUNNER: I was able to make a payment arrangement with the electric company here but could not pay the phone bill.

ARNOLD: So she has no phone connection right now. That got cut off. She's going to need the Internet - her new school is at least going to start remotely - so she's made sure to keep paying that bill. Like many other Americans who work their whole lives and never thought they wouldn't be able to afford groceries, Gunner stands in line to get food at a food pantry. And this month, she couldn't make her full rent payment.

GUNNER: So 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. So I 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.

ARNOLD: Gunner was able to convince the landlord to be more flexible since she is starting a new job. 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 another round of those expanded federal unemployment benefits that were helping millions of Americans to stay afloat.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRECIOUS FEATHERS' "SNOWSHOES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.