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Millions of Americans owe rent tomorrow but have no way to pay it

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  • Melody Morris last earned a paycheck in March, when she school, for which she drives a bus, closed due to the pandemic. 
  • In the months since, she has sold most of her belongings and use her stimulus check from the CARES Act to keep a roof over her and her daughter.
  • But jobs are in short supply and Morris’s bank account is running low so she doesn’t know she will pay rent for August.
  • The coronavirus has caused historic unemployment and economic insecurity in the US and millions like Morris don’t know how they will make a living as government aid draws to a close.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Melody Morris regrets buying herself a new pair of shoes.

She took the plunge in June because her only other footwear was missing a sole.

But, Morris said, “I feel guilty because that money could have gone to my daughter in some way. I have no idea how to buy her school clothes or any of the other items she will need.”

This is only one example of how the coronavirus has obliterated the financial security of this 52-year-old mother of three.

The longtime school bus driver lost her income in March when schools in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, and the rest of the US were forced to close. Morris injured her knee — she can’t afford knee replacement surgery — and has asthma so it’s been hard to walk, much less find a new job.

As expenses piled up and her application for unemployment benefits was met with silence, Morris sold her clothes, kitchenware, furniture, and even curtains to protect herself and her 16-year-old daughter from losing their home. With her stimulus check, Morris paid rent through July 31 and a handful of bills, and uses $16 in food stamps to come up with two meals a day. 

But Morris has no idea how she will scrounge together rent or utilities in August or insurance and bill payments in the coming weeks.

“This pandemic is horrifying,” Morris told Business Insider. “Financially, I am devastated. I want to go back to work, but the virus has made it all but impossible to find any job. I’m so stressed, I don’t know what to do.”

Morris is not alone.

A US Census Bureau survey between July 2 and July 7 revealed that more than 43 million Americans – around 25% of the country’s adult population – missed or deferred last month’s rent or mortgage payments or aren’t sure they can afford to pay on time next month, according to USA Today. And the American Apartment Owners Association reported that 60% of landlords say their tenants can’t afford rent.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was passed by Congress in March, forbade evictions for renters who live in buildings with US government-backed mortgages.

In May, the Texas State Supreme Court declared that some of the protections initially put in place on the federal level by the  CARES act could be rolled back. Landlords across the state were permitted to begin eviction proceedings beginning May 18, though many local municipalities decided to continue eviction protections beyond that.

And then the federal eviction moratorium expired on July 24. Now, a whopping 28 million Americans could lose their homes in the coming months, Emily Benfer, one of the creators of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, told Reuters.

And on Friday, the $600 weekly federal unemployment supplement lapsed, leaving millions in the lurch while Congress tries to hammer out the details of the next stimulus package. 

Emily Benfer, one of the creators of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, told Reuters that a whopping 28 million Americans could lose their homes in the coming months.

The GOP coronavirus relief bill proposes a weekly  $200 unemployment subsidy, which has been criticized as too little to make a difference. Morris agrees it should not be “a forever thing,” but believes “it needs to decrease gradually, not just suddenly stop,” she said.

It’s a sorry state of affairs, though, that “self-entitlement” is driving people to conflate coronavirus-related restrictions with the trampling of civil liberties, Morris said.

“The ‘You’re taking away my freedom,’ the ‘You can’t tell me what to do, ‘ and the ‘This virus does not pertain to me’ attitude I see in my state and other places is disheartening,” she added. “If people just did as suggested, this virus would go away.”

What Morris said she doesn’t understand is why people are willing to take precautions with less serious illnesses, but are outraged by guidance to wear a face mask, maintain social distance, and avoid crowds. 

“The fact that the numbers were so low before the states opened up, and how high they are now, should tell us something. I’ve heard of people dissing this virus, not wearing a mask, doing their own thing, and then dying from it,” she said.  

Asked what she plans to do when rent is due tomorrow, she said: “I’m hoping my landlord will give me time to begin working and come up with rent somehow. I cannot be homeless.”

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