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Jobless fret as rent comes due again amid virus outbreak
Spokane cook Jason W. Still, 30, is still waiting for unemployment benefits
The rent is due again for more than 30 million people around the U.S. who have filed for unemployment benefits after losing work in the coronavirus pandemic.
Across the nation, households with dwindling bank accounts face tough choices between putting food on the table and paying the rent -- while landlords face their own cash crunch with taxes and utilities due.
Meanwhile, activists are encouraging even those who can pay rent to withhold payment to force government intervention.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is among those voicing support for the strikes, which are being coordinated by an array of housing groups.
In New York, more than 12,000 people have pledged to not pay their rent, and activists are organizing similar strikes in California and Philadelphia.
But while the activists urge willful nonpayment, many who would like to meet their obligations are unable to. An untold number of those who have been laid off or furloughed are still waiting to receive federal stimulus checks or unemployment benefits from overtaxed state labor departments with antiquated systems.
Jason W. Still has been waiting six weeks for his first unemployment check since losing his job as a cook at an upscale restaurant in Spokane, Washington.
Scroll down for full list of eviction moratoriums
Eli Oderberg in Denver has his mortgage due after being swept up in a later wave of layoffs as the pandemic's effects spread to the oil company where he had worked on apps to track spills
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Out-of-work bartender Luke Blaine in Phoenix got his first check three weeks ago, but now has to pay his landlord again.
And Eli Oderberg in Denver has his mortgage due after being swept up in a later wave of layoffs as the pandemic's effects spread from restaurants to corners of the economy, like the oil company where he had worked on apps to track spills and leaks.
Federal data released this week show the U.S. economy contracted at a 4.8 percent annual rate last quarter as the pandemic put the nation into a recession.
Economists expect January-March to be just a taste of the widespread pain being recorded for April-June.
And while a record number of people have applied for unemployment insurance payments, there are many other out-of-work people who don't qualify or couldn't get through the states' overwhelmed systems.
Out-of-work bartender Luke Blaine in Phoenix got his first unemployment check three weeks ago, but now has to pay his landlord again
More than three dozen cities and states, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York state, have put in place their own policies to halt evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs out of concern that the economic fallout from massive job losses will push many people to the brink of homelessness at a time when they need to stay in their houses and apartments.
But all this really means is that deputies won't be knocking at their doors, for now. The money is still due, and delaying the payments just puts off the pain.
Still said he's filed for unemployment every week, with nothing yet to show for it, since he was first interviewed a month ago, just before he paid April rent.
His wife still has her job in the legal marijuana industry, and his $1,200 stimulus check helped pay an assortment of bills. 'But I'm about to hit my savings and I really don´t want to do that,' he said.
'I've made about 900 calls over the last month trying to find out what´s going on,' Still said. On April 24, he finally got into an on-hold queue behind 83 other callers to Washington state's unemployment office, and after hours of waiting, he was transferred to a claims specialist, but then the call was dropped.
It took him until this week to reach a human, who said there seemed to be a minor glitch in his file that needs to be worked out.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has joined with activists calling for a 'rent strike' and urging tenants who are able to pay their rent to withhold their payment
A protester drives by in a car with the message 'Cancel Rent' taped on during a rent strike demonstration in front of the Downtown City Hall in Los Angeles on Thursday
'It seems to be getting closer, but it's not clear to me what's going on at that end,' said Still. 'I think I'm the last person who was laid off at my restaurant who hasn't gotten an unemployment payment yet.'
The restaurant, Clover, remains in limbo. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee this week announced a partial opening May 5 of some recreational offerings like state parks, fishing and golf courses, but restaurant dining rooms and most other businesses will remain closed for now.
Blaine counts himself lucky: He started receiving unemployment checks three weeks after being laid off on March 17. Several coworkers are still waiting for their money after losing their jobs at Fez, a popular restaurant in Phoenix.
'I feel very fortunate based on what I´ve heard from my friends here and around the country,' said Blaine, who also was interviewed by the AP a month ago. His boyfriend, Kyle Schomer, still has his job in the tech industry, and is working from their home in a trendy neighborhood of adobe homes. They have a huge vegetable and flower garden out back.
Blaine also said that he and everyone else he knows have received their stimulus money. With that and the unemployment checks, which through July include an additional $600 per payment, Blaine has made ends meet, for now.
'We will be back,' Fez management promised on the restaurant's "Cách xác nhận facebook" (www.atongdai.com) page. 'We hope sooner rather than later.'
Oderberg lost his job in Denver on April 19, as global oil futures plunged into negative territory following the shutdowns of air travel, factories and commuting
Anything but an opening soon is unlikely resolve the anxieties of people whose savings are running out as the initial wave of service-industry layoffs sweeps up other hard-hit sectors, like energy.
Oderberg lost his job in Denver on April 19, as global oil futures plunged into negative territory following the shutdowns of air travel, factories and commuting around the world.
He said his wife got her first unemployment check after losing her job in retail, but he's still waiting for his. The Colorado website for benefits has confirmed he is eligible, 'but I haven't been able to get through to talk to anyone after making about 100 calls each time,' he said.
In the meantime, Oderberg has been lining up job interviews in information technology, including at least four this week, and hopes to land something quickly, before he has to scramble for their next mortgage payment for the house he shares with his wife, who is pregnant, and their 4-year-old daughter.
'From my job, I'm accustomed to planning everything six months in advance,' said Oderberg. 'So we're going to be OK, for now at least.'
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