Americans scraping by say they fear a second stimulus won't be enough

People wait in line at the Grace Food Pantry's Christmas food and toy event in Massachusetts on Dec 19, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES) - With millions of Americans out of work and at risk of losing their homes, US Congress' failure to quickly reach a deal that would send more money to struggling families is increasingly frustrating those hit by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers were stymied over a proposed stimulus package on Saturday (Dec 19), and the clock was ticking.

Millions of people are at risk of being kicked out of their homes after Dec 31, when a federal moratorium on evictions ends, and as many as 12 million people could lose unemployment benefits on Dec 26, when two emergency programmes expire.

For Ms Renée DeCarlo, 49, an artist in San Francisco, the near-daily calls about her credit card payments make it impossible to forget about a mountain of debt that keeps piling higher.

She has had to keep her studio closed to the public, and she sold her car to try to stay on top of expenses.

Now, as the holidays approach, she is selling as much of her art as she can and using the money - coupled with unemployment benefits - to support her two teenage children.

"I need that money to live on," she said. "I've been trading art for rent."

Ms DeCarlo is hoping that Congress makes an effort to forgive some of the debt that has piled up for her and others as the pandemic drags on.

"Getting those calls just makes you feel worse and sort of inadequate, as a person and as a society," Ms DeCarlo said.

"I don't want to be pulling the economy down. I'm trying to bring things up in what I do every day."

Lawmakers were working on Saturday to strike an agreement on a US$900 billion (S$1.19 trillion) stimulus package before Sunday night.

The plan under discussion would extend unemployment benefits and issue stimulus checks of US$600, half of what the government sent to many Americans in April and an amount that many say would be gone - spent on necessities - as soon as it arrived.

"It's a joke," said Ms Chant'e Catt, an off-campus housing coordinator at Humboldt State University in Northern California.

"It's a slap in the face, and it's really disrespectful for somebody who lost their job."

Aid organisations that have been flooded with people seeking help amid the pandemic are also anxiously waiting for Congress to act.

The Gleaners Community Food Bank in Detroit ramped up its distribution this year as the virus spread and families lost jobs, delivering food to 150,000 households in the Detroit area each month, 50,000 more than normal.

Now those who work to distribute 3.03 million kg of food each month say they could lose half of it if a federal farm-to-family programme enacted during the pandemic expires.

"Michigan winters aren't the greatest, which means that heating bills are going up, and on top of that, there are people working or learning from home, so their heating bills are increasing as well," said Ms Stacy Averill, vice-president of community giving at Gleaners.

"All of those things are coming together now and bringing additional anxiety to households as they try to navigate trying to put food on the table."

In Cleveland, people were lining up on Saturday outside of a house in the city's trendy Ohio City neighbourhood to get donated toys for their young relatives.

The house serves as a food pantry for most of the year, but doubles as a toy centre during the Christmas season.

Among those putting her name on the list for toys was a retiree who said she was looking out for her grandchildren.

"I've never had to get Christmas toys for free like this," she said. "Sometimes you have to swallow your pride."

The woman said a US$600 check could help her family stay afloat.

"Right now, we are trying to live month to month, and a little bit more money might help us get to the next month," she said.

Mr David Caron, 22, recently got a job at a J. Crew store in Boston after working part time for DoorDash, the delivery service, and receiving some unemployment payments.

He said a stimulus check of US$600 would not be nearly enough to help him recover from the pandemic's toll.

"We bail out companies and corporations all the time," a frustrated Mr Caron said on Saturday.

"When it comes to helping the individual, we are left to hang dry."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.