PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Like many, Rebecca Wilcox has been out of work since March. At first, the Subway restaurant where she worked was going to temporarily close, but almost five months later, it hasn’t reopened.
Her second job as a house cleaner has dried up, too. People don’t want strangers coming into their homes in the midst of a pandemic, she explained.
With no job prospects on the horizon, the mom of seven is growing increasingly worried. Her base unemployment benefit is only $108 a week. It became a living wage thanks to the extra $600 a week that’s been provided under the federal stimulus package known as The CARES Act, but that’s about to change.
That $600 will still appear for Rhode Islanders certifying their benefits this week, but it runs out on Friday. Republicans in Congress want to see the weekly bump reduced to $200, while Democrats are pushing to extend the $600 for the remainder of 2020. No agreement has been reached.
For now, the benefit is set to expire. It’s a bleak prospect for Wilcox and roughly 110,000 other Rhode Islanders who have been relying on the money.
Wilcox rattled off her concerns: “Being evicted, not being able to pay my registration and insurance, not being able to put food on the table.”
When asked where she saw herself in a couple weeks time, she didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Probably homeless or have to go in with family,” she said.
Dozens of Rhode Islanders reached out to Eyewitness News to express their fears and anxieties about the weeks and months ahead. Some said they feared they’d be living on the streets or in their cars. Others worried about how to feed their kids. Many questioned when there would be a job for them to return to and if it would be safe.
Melina Lodge, the executive director of the Housing Network of Rhode Island, said she wasn’t surprised by the dire outlook. She said there was already an eviction crisis before the coronavirus pandemic struck, pointing to 8,000 evictions last year in Providence alone.
“We’ve already seen about 400 [eviction] filings since the court opened on June 2, and that’s when folks were receiving the additional bonus, so we know those folks who’ve just been hanging on will likely now be falling through the cracks,” she said.
In addition to the short-term effects, Lodge worries about the long-term impacts, like children having to continue with distance learning without a permanent home, or parents having an eviction on their record.
“These are things that just stay with people, and they spiral further and further downward which makes it harder to help people when we have really limited resources available,” she said.
While many who contacted Eyewitness News expressed varying shades of worry and distress, some said they understood the decision to halt the $600 weekly bonus.
“It was a treat, but all good things must come to an end,” wrote a person named Lori B. on Twitter. “I’m furloughed and not sure when I’m going back but that extra [money] helped us catch up on bills and do some home improvements.”
“Not worried at all about the $600 coming to an end,” tweeted user Diana Redeemed. “I was making way more every week to be home than many people who still had to work.”
The GOP’s proposal would see the $200 universal bonus transition into a formula-based system that would pay recipients 70% of their salaries.
Rhode Island Deptartment of Labor and Training Director Scott Jensen said in an email that the DLT will work to implement any new programs as quickly as possible, but he noted there could be delays depending on what Congress decides to do.
“Changing the $600 to another set amount for all claimants would not present an issue,” he said. “Calculating different bonus payments on an individual level would be a challenge that would require time to address.”