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Saturday, March 6, 2021

Financial struggles a symptom of COVID-19

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The first — and last — round of stimulus checks lasted Shaquona Ellis, 25, just two weeks.

Ellis, who uses they/them pronouns, used the $1,200 check to pay rent on a new apartment. Shortly after the pandemic began, Ellis was furloughed from their nonprofit job and was able to use paid vacation time to keep an income. By July, however, their company began another round of furloughs and layoffs, two possibilities Ellis couldn’t afford. 

“The stimulus check was a little cushion, but if we had other aid that wasn’t money related, I think that would have lasted people longer,” Ellis said. During the height of the pandemic, Ellis used their church food pantry to get groceries and asked some friends for help when money got tight.

Ellis eventually got a new job in the health care industry, which means secured income regardless of the route the pandemic takes. They also work part time as a server in a restaurant.

Over the past several months, Ellis has experienced two different realities many Hoosiers, especially Black Hoosiers, have faced during the pandemic: a rollercoaster of employment and unemployment.

Erin Macey, senior policy analyst at the Indiana Institute for Working Families, said recent surveys show a “mixed bag” of outcomes for Hoosiers. 

“Some people are doing fine and have been able to continue working,” Macey said. “But certainly, there are people in really precarious financial situations who have lost housing and facing financial devastation.”

The Indiana Institute for Working Families conducted surveys over the course of the pandemic to study the financial well-being of Hoosiers. Macey said the Institute is still analyzing the findings, but it’s clear Hoosiers need more help.

“We’re advocating for another round of stimulus,” Macey said. “Hoosiers will be hurting without it. It needs to be multi-faceted, and we want to see things like nutrition assistance and paid leave included.”

For Ellis, a second stimulus check would help them pay off credit card debt and save for any unforeseen circumstances. Like many Americans, Ellis sometimes struggled to keep up with their bills while furloughed and transitioning between jobs. Macey said falling behind on some bills can snowball into a much bigger issue. 

“Some people are in a situation where even having a job means you’re earning less,” Macey said. “People are having their hours cut or have fewer customers, so they’re struggling even though they’re working. With COVID, economic consequences can compound, and it can be difficult to dig yourself out of it.”

For example, few protections are in place for people who fall behind on their car payments, and losing a car could cost people their jobs and create a cycle of economic issues. Therefore, the institute has been asking Hoosiers about car payments, and Macey said she will examine car repossession in the next economic quarter. 

While Ellis doesn’t have any concerns about a second wave of COVID-19, both because of safety precautions taken by their company and health insurance through their employer, a spike in cases could drastically impact the lives — and livelihoods — of Hoosiers. 

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, estimates the next three months will be the “darkest” period of the pandemic. Osterholm told NBC News on Oct. 18 he expects anywhere between 67,000 to 75,000 cases reported daily during the holiday season. This spike in cases would likely be accompanied by state or nationwide shutdowns to curb the spread of the virus, leading to more businesses closing and more Americans losing jobs. 

“There’s so much going on, and people are losing sight of who is hurting the most,” Macey said. “There are consequences of inaction, … We really need Congress to get this done.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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