Stories of those impacted by COVID-19

Jessie from Kalispell

“My name is Jessica, and I am a 33-year-old disabled veteran, wife, and stay at home parent of four children. I would like to discuss what COVID-19 has done to my family, friends, and community.

I believe that first and foremost, we must take care of our workers and families because they are our backbone and what keeps this economy going. Working-class Montanans keep our society afloat.

For my family, we struggle as a household with mental health and mental illness. It’s real for us every day. There are many other Americans who face similar situations to ours, whose mental health crises are being exacerbated by the pandemic. We are pretty busted up physically, as well. My husband has had to have a knee repair and has arthritis. His bang-ups are from all the hard work he has done all his life. Mine are from my military service. He worries about all the current issues I have physically, which play hell on mental health. Stress aggravates the physical problems and makes them worse. COVID-19 being the major stressor, bringing fear and whole-body suffering. COVID-19 has put us in the worst position imaginable on the body and mind. For my household, it has created nightmares, loss of income/hours, and over excess of stress on the body and mind.

While my household hasn’t suffered to the degree where we have lost everything, our income has been cut back because my husband’s work hours were reduced. When we filed unemployment, we learned the amounts we would get barely covered our cost of living. It takes almost $3,200.00 per month to pay our bills, which doesn’t include additional necessities like clothing for my children and ourselves. My rent is $1150.00 a month which is more than a quarter of what my husband makes in the spring. COVID-19 wreaked havoc on our income, which even caused marital distress because it is difficult to have 4 children and wonder whether the next bill will be paid for or not.

My household has received our stimulus check, but it only covered the cost of one month’s worth of bills. As an American I am grateful, but it hasn’t helped enough to provide stability. My family along with many others I know who are parents, teachers, or those who play other necessary roles in society need to be taken care of, as do any and all workers. I implore you to think about your favorite restaurants, your family doctors and their staff, teachers, nail techs and salons, the bank staff that takes and helps with your financial futures. Is their job worth so little that they don’t deserve to be taken care of the best way? Any and all workers need to be taken care of so we as a country can thrive.”

Toni from Helena

“My name is Toni, and I am a 78-year-old retired person living in Helena. I usually get by on my Social Security income, along with the income I have from a part-time caregiver job. Since COVID-19, I lost my part time job, which is $320 less per month I have to work with in supplemental income. I only have $40 in my account for the next three weeks until I get my Social Security money. I haven’t used SNAP in the past, but due to COVID-19, I was able to qualify for assistance. Now I have meat in my freezer and a stockpile of soup for the winter!”

Kate from the Kalispell/Whitefish area

    “My name is Kate and I am a Montana native, living and working in the Kalispell/Whitefish area for the past twenty years. Like most everyone else, right now I am keeping a low profile, staying home, and anxiously waiting for this health crisis to pass. It will, of course, it will. Eventually.   But can we expect life as we knew it to return to the “normal” that we knew? How realistic is that expectation for people who will be heavily in debt from lost revenue, wages, and possibly even medical bills? I am very concerned about the lingering impact this disaster will have on my community and my state. I believe it needn’t have been as bad as it probably will be.  

Our state has been pleased to offer low labor costs as an incentive to “do business” in Montana. In addition, many areas in our state base much of their economies on service industries such as travel and tourism which typically pay minimum wage and count on the practice of “tipping” to make up the difference between that and a living wage. Meanwhile the cost of living in these areas – the cost of housing in particular – climbs disproportionately. For the most part, we get along, limping from paycheck to paycheck, until some reversal sends us into a financial death spiral. The difference now is that reversal isn’t just the unhappy lot of one individual or a few while the majority continues on. Soon there may be thousands falling deeply into debt and unlikely to make their way back out while incomes remain low and living costs remain unrestrained. I don’t think one-time stimulus checks or small business loans are likely to be enough. I do think it may be time for our people and their elected officials to renegotiate Montana’s business plan to make the distribution of our wealth more equitable. After all, if our citizens were in the position to save more of their incomes they may be better able to weather unexpected adversity.  It comes to this: pay more up front in wages and benefits or pay more later in social services.”

Laurie from Bozeman

“The COVID-19 pandemic has done nothing but exacerbate our already distressing situation. I was forced to stop working in early 2019 due to my son’s medical needs. While we received unemployment benefits for a little while, they have since been exhausted. We have applied for disability benefits for him but are currently locked in a waiting game with no income. My SNAP benefits have been reduced due to government error in overpayment. Our emergency fund in our family members has been dismantled because they too have been impacted by the virus. While I am quite resourceful and can live on very little, how can I expect to survive on 73 cents? How is a one-time $1200 stimulus check supposed to keep families afloat for longer than 30 days? This crisis puts our siloed, pigeon-holed programmatic approach under a microscope to illuminate its flaws and all the ways it disempowers and financially traps families. When will we have a system that puts children and families at the forefront? Let this be an opportunity for a renaissance of our current financial system, so that future generations may live in a functional democracy.”

Brianna from Bozeman

I’m a single mother fo three children. I work at an assisted living facility, and typically we live paycheck to paycheck. The COVID-19 crisis has really thrown us for a loop. I came down with a sinus infection and already missed two weeks of work. Due to the virus, I cannot return to work without extensive clearance from my doctor. Every day that passes is one without income. However, because I have a job that is not currently giving me income, I don’t qualify for unemployment insurance or SNAP benefits. I cannot afford my piling bills of rent, utilities, food, and student loans with an unstable income and no assistance that fits the needs of my situation.  This pandemic is a chance to reassess whether the way we do things is effective or not. I urge lawmakers to pass universal paid sick leave, along with other supports that help families like mine who do not qualify for what’s being offered and would otherwise fall through the cracks: particularly rent forgiveness. Rent subsidization and forgiveness for low-income families and struggling small businesses during this crisis will dramatically increase our chances of survival later. Even though we have halted evictions, I will not be able to pay back these rent payments later, with a job whose hours are unstable and unreliable at best during this time. I urge you to consider these additional measures to support Montana families and our small business economy.”

Lori from Bozeman

“My name is Lori, and I am a single mom to seven children. I am currently pursuing my Master’s degree while working, being a full-time mom, and home-schooling my youngest. We make ends meet by pooling our resources, as myself and my adult children all work and contribute to our household finances. Unfortunately, four of my children’s jobs have been impacted by COVID-19, as they have either lost their work completely or had their hours drastically cut down. We need both unemployment and SNAP benefits immediately, but applying for and actually getting this help is a slow and confusing process at best. I urge lawmakers to streamline their processes and administration of programs so that people can actually receive the assistance the government is offering. We must do better!”

Sabrina from Billings

    “My name is Sabrina, and I live in Billings with my family. The pandemic has been very debilitating for us. Our family used to rely on SNAP and other supports, and we only recently became financially independent and caught up on all our bills. Once COVID-19 hit though, I was forced to resign from my work because the company only had work-from-home positions available for the top tier earners at the company. Because I technically ‘resigned’ (even though I was forced to) I am not eligible for unemployment. Before I lost my job, my wife used up all her paid sick time to care for our son who had pneumonia, and then when the shelter in place happened, we lost our childcare. Since then, she’s used up her remaining paid time off given to her by the company for COVID-19, so now we are relying on my Instacart jobs to pay the bills. Sadly, Instacart doesn’t pay out a ton but it has been helping to stretch what we can. We have practically no income and need to get on SNAP again, which is a joke at best. We were offered thirty-two dollars a month. The next appointment is 3.5 weeks away. The line at our OPA office was all the way down the block, and a woman there told me to just go to the food bank instead because, by the time I got help, “all of this would be blown over.” As of April 16th, my wife who has had a job still with our company and using her paid time to be at home so I can run groceries has been asked to take a leave of absence for an unknown amount of time. 

Selena from Helena

“My name is Selena, and I am a single mother of two children. I lost my job as soon as the pandemic hit. Luckily, I filed for unemployment on the very first day, so I was able to beat the rush and actually get benefits. SNAP is another story though – I’ve given up because they are so busy that they don’t even have any callback slots left. It is impossible to get through to anyone, so we are just living on our unemployment money. It’s okay for now, but we’ve already learned that the business I used to work for won’t be reopening after things ‘return to normal.’ Our unemployment benefits are only good for 20 weeks, so I’m not sure what we are going to do when the money runs out.”

Do you have a story to share? Contact Elisha Buchholz. Or submit your story here.

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