NEW YORK (AP) — Last Christmas, Shanita Matthews cooked up a feast for her family of three: Roast chicken, barbecue spareribs, spinach, macaroni and cheese.
This year? They’ll stick with tuna fish and crackers, among the few items she can afford at the supermarket.
“We’re not really doing Christmas — I guess you can say it that way,” said Matthews, who lives in Suwanee, Georgia. “We are struggling. We are tired, and all I have is my faith.”
Like nearly 10 million other Americans, Matthews has been jobless since the viral pandemic ripped through the U.S. economy in March, triggering a devastating recession and widespread unemployment. Now, many months later, they face a holiday season they hardly could have foreseen a year ago: Too little money to buy gifts, cook large festive meals or pay all their bills.
Nearly 8 million people have sunk into poverty since June after having spent $1,200 checks that the government gave most Americans in the spring and a $600-a-week supplemental jobless benefit expired in July, according to research by Bruce Meyer at the University of Chicago and two other colleagues. And finding a job is getting even harder: Hiring in November slowed for a fifth straight month, with U.S. employers adding the fewest jobs since April.
Some relief may — potentially — be on the way. This week, Congress approved a $900 billion pandemic rescue package that includes a $300-a-week unemployment benefit, cash payments of up to $600 for most individuals and a renewal of extended jobless aid programs that are about to expire. On Tuesday night, though, President Donald Trump injected doubts about that urgently needed federal aid by attacking the rescue package as inadequate and suggesting that he might not sign it into law.
Help, in the meantime, can’t come soon enough for Matthews. With her bank balance now negative, she worries that her account could be closed if she doesn’t receive financial aid soon.
Matthews, 41, has been struggling with her finances since she had to shut down her wedding business in March, when ceremonies were canceled and any need for the centerpieces and flower arrangements she made suddenly evaporated. Matthews was denied unemployment aid by Georgia’s labor department. She doesn’t understand why and is appealing the decision. But the process is so slow that she’s waited months just to get a hearing.
Despite being a registered nurse, Matthews has been unable to land a job. She can work only late hours because she often needs to help her 6-year-old daughter, who must do virtual learning at home when virus cases spike at her school.
Matthews’ car was repossessed after she couldn’t keep up with payments. Most of what her husband earns goes to a $1,600 mortgage on their home. That leaves them with about $200 a month for groceries, utilities and a $50 internet bill — a necessity for her daughter’s schoolwork.
Matthews hopes that a relative can step in and buy a Christmas…
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