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‘I’m terrified, frankly.’ Meet the people who are counting on another stimulus bill

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Bridgette Reynard has a new habit since losing her old job.

Right before the 28-year New Orleans resident falls asleep, she checks for news about any stimulus deal on Capitol Hill.

And when she wakes up, she checks her Apple
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 iPad about the same topic.

She and many others learned this week that President Donald Trump was ending his participation in talks on a second round of stimulus. In March, Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES act, which authorized direct payments of up to $1,200 to Americans and an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits for people who had been laid off.

The president later said on Twitter
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 he would be open to certain portions of a deal. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resumed talks and by Thursday the president said discussions were “very productive.” Later in the day, Pelosi said she wasn’t interested in piecemeal deals, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a bargain before Election Day was “unlikely.” As of Friday, Trump reportedly had a $1.8 trillion offer on the table.

Outside the Beltway, the negotiation turns are leaving Reynard, and other people like her, twisting in the wind at a precarious point.

See also: With Trump postponing a stimulus package, here’s what Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan would prioritize

Most of the stimulus checks have long been disbursed and the supplemental federal benefits ended in July. Extra $300 unemployment benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently ended too.

The September jobless rate was 7.9%. That’s off the double-digit rates of the spring after the pandemic’s initial shockwave. But September marked the smallest gain in employment since state economies started reopening; 700,000 people left the workforce because jobs are scarce.

When travel and tourism dried up by late March, Reynard lost her job supervising crews that cleaned Airbnb rentals. She used her stimulus check and unemployment benefits to pay her rent and utility bills while unsuccessfully looking for jobs at gas stations, hospitals and elsewhere.


‘It really brings me into a depression not knowing my next move.’


— New Orleans, La. resident Bridgette Reynard

“It really brings me into a depression not knowing my next move,” Reynard said.

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections continue. As of Friday, 7.6 million Americans had been sickened by the virus and flu season is approaching.

With another stimulus check or more supplemental unemployment benefits, Reynard said she could start looking around for a one-bedroom where she and her 9-year-old son could stay. When Reynard couldn’t afford rent and her landlord served her with a notice to vacate — despite a national eviction moratorium — Reynard and her son moved in with her mother.

Without more stimulus money, Reynard said, “I feel like we’ll be trapped in this situation forever.”

Christine Gaydos, a 31-year-old new mother and stagehand in In New Castle, Del.,has been out of work since March and has watched her monthly household income drop from approximately $6,000 to $1,420.


courtesy of Christine Gaydos

In New Castle, Del., 31-year-old Christine Gaydos, a new mother and stagehand who’s been out of work since March, has watched her monthly household income drop from approximately $6,000 to $1,420.

Gaydos used her stimulus money for pregnancy-related hospital bills and household necessities. “I used that money to keep us afloat.”

Another stimulus check for her and her husband wouldn’t be a huge sum of money in the bigger picture, she said.


‘When you’ve already stretched yourself so thin, that would be enough to make sure we’re okay. We don’t have to worry some much about everything.’


— New Castle, Del. resident Christine Gaydos

Still, “that money would be such padding. It really would just feel like a safety net. …When you’ve already stretched yourself so thin, that would be enough to make sure we’re OK. We don’t have to worry some much about everything.”

Right now, Gaydos does worry about everything — right down to how much it will cost to buy solid baby food as her infant daughter grows.

Without any more fiscal assistance from federal lawmakers, Gaydos said, “things are going to get a lot harder for a lot longer.” She might have to skip credit card bills, she said. “Whatever I can get away with not paying, I’m not going to pay.”

Gaydos’ career is based in Philadelphia and the city’s arts scene follows New York City’s lead, she said. Broadway curtains won’t be rising until June 2021 at the earliest.

Gaydos, at one point at least, said she expected a deal on a second stimulus package. She wasn’t alone. Recent stock market peaks and valleys have been fueled on deal expectations.

Still, Gaydos said she felt “dumb” for her expectations. “I feel like the girl that keeps on going back to the guy that’s a piece of crap to her.”

It’s a sad state of affairs when that’s the way she feels about lawmakers, Gaydos said. “We should expect more, because we elected them to a position of trust and authority.”

What’s the right approach?

Hours before Trump said he was pulling the plug on stimulus talks, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the nation needed more fiscal support. “Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” he said.

See also:Frontline workers in eye of pandemic storm for months, now fending off repo man

Seventy percent of Americans say the federal government should write another round of direct checks, according to a Gallup poll released last month. Eighty-two percent of Democrats in the 5,000-person poll said that was the right thing to do, while 64% of Republicans and 66% of independents agreed.

More checks are popular with the public, but Adam Michel, senior policy analyst at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, doesn’t agree.

A wide-ranging, broad-spending stimulus package isn’t the answer, he said. Stimulus checks may go to people in need, but they would also go to people who are employed and in more comfortable positions. Higher-income households tended to save their economic impact payments,one study suggested.


‘Our children have to pay for stimulus check I get and put in the bank account. … It’s a waste of those future resources and it ultimately takes away from the aid of people who need it.’


— Adam Michel, Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst

“Our children have to pay for stimulus check I get and put in the bank account,” Michel said. “It’s a waste of those future resources and it ultimately takes away from the aid of people who need it.”

Michel does agree with more government assistance for people who are unemployed, people like Reynard and Gaydos. “That’s the type of targeted measure that does make sense right now,” he said.

But others say that with an estimated 33 million workers being harmed by the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, “It is terrible economics to pause stimulus talks.” That’s according to Heidi Shierholz, senior economist and director of policy at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

She wrote that “the extra $600 in weekly UI benefits was supporting a huge amount of spending by people who, without it, have to make drastic cuts. The spending made possible by the $600 was supporting millions of jobs. Cutting that $600 means cutting those jobs.”

‘We need that help’

Back in New Orleans, Reynard waits while talks continue in Washington D.C.

“We need that help. I feel like we deserve it because we didn’t put ourselves in this situation,” she said.

Gaydos said the “financial anxiety” is setting in — and that’s despite the fact she was able to put aside a little in savings during the first round of stimulus and get some financial help from her family.

“I’m terrified, frankly. I try to keep a positive outlook and I try to remember this is only temporary and we try to figure it out. It’s still scary and I’m not even the worst off. There are millions more like me. It seems like people like us are getting forgotten about right now,” she said.



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‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2019.

A school break changed 66-year-old Martin Farber’s life forever.

In 2007, his daughter — who at the time was attending Illinois State University — decided she wanted to spend a college holiday volunteering in Costa Rica and staying with a local family, he explains. She came home raving about the experience, so, in 2008, Farber — who at the time was living in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago, and selling cars — took his first trip there.

“It was a big surprise to me — bumpy roads, dogs barking in the streets,” he says. “I wasn’t enamored at first.”

But as his daughter began traveling there more and eventually moved there for a year, he took additional trips to Costa Rica. It quickly grew on him — in particular, the people. “The Costa Rican people are warm, open and friendly. I felt less invisible in a strange country in a strange town where I didn’t speak the language than I did in Evanston.”

And the more time he spent there, the more it impacted him: “On one of my trips there, I thought: My daughter’s life makes more sense than mine,” he says. “There was nothing wrong with my life, but I felt that my life was out of context with who I’d become. … I would have bills and make money to pay them, but that had ceased to be satisfying,” he recalls. “I knew I needed to change my life — there was no more joy in what I was doing.”

What’s more, when he’d return from his Costa Rica trips, people noticed. “I would come back, and my friends and therapist would say: You seem better after you go,” he says with a laugh.

A view from the hot springs near Martin Farber’s home in Costa Rica.


Martin Farber

So in 2014, he packed up and moved to Orosi — a picturesque, lush small town with waterfalls and hot springs a little over an hour’s drive from San Jose — promising himself he’d stay for two years. It’s been five, and he now plans to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely. (Though Farber notes that, to him, “it’s not a retirement; it’s a chance to lead a new and different life.”)

Here’s what his life is like, from costs to health care to residency to everyday life:

The cost: While many expats spend way more living in Costa Rica, Farber says: “I could live on my Social Security and still save money.” He says “a person can live on $1,200 per month, two people on $2,000.” The key, he says, is to live more like he does and as the Costa Ricans do — in a modest home, eating local food and purchasing local goods.

Indeed, Farber himself spends just $300 a month for rent (he rents a home from a friend who moved recently and gave him a good deal), roughly $225 a month on groceries and just $50 a month total on water and electricity (the temperate climate in Orosi means you rarely need heat or air conditioning). The veteran Volkswagen
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salesman saves money by not owning a car (those over 65 ride municipal buses for free), which can be a significant expense in Costa Rica; for his cellphone, “I pay as I go … roughly $10 may last me a couple weeks or more,” he says, adding that “many people handle there their cellphones this way. You can get them recharged anywhere.”

His major expense is travel: He goes back to the U.S. to visit his mother in Florida several times a year and lately has spent part of the summer in Chicago helping out a friend with a dealership there. He also spends a good amount of money on health care. He says that while flights can be had for as little as $350 roundtrip during offseasons, the cost can be much higher the rest of the year.

In the saddle.


Martin Farber

Health care: Farber, who has permanent resident status in Costa Rica, says he pays about $90 per month to participate in the country’s health-care system — adding that the health care he’s received has been very good. (A 2018 study of health-care quality and access in more than 190 nations ranked Costa Rica No. 62.)

When he developed a detached retina, though, he paid for the procedure out of pocket so that he didn’t have to wait for the required surgery, he says — adding that the entire procedure cost him about $5,000. “I would have had to have waited four days,” he says, if he had not paid to expedite matters. “That might have been fine, but it might not.” And he adds that the quality of care depends on where you get it in the country.

Lifestyle: Though Farber says that he “moved here with no goals and no agenda,” he’s found plenty to do. “I take Spanish lessons two days a week for two hours a day. It’s been great. I never thought I would acquire a usable language in my 60s,” he says. He also rides his bike all around the area, does some writing and belongs to a community group that undertakes projects to improve the area.

And he often simply takes in nature, which he says has been an essential part of why he feels calmer and more relaxed in Costa Rica than in the U.S. “I live at 3,000 feet but in a valley surrounded by coffee fields and lime trees and water. At night, if I open the windows, I can hear the river rushing by,” he says. “It is very calming … hundreds of trees everywhere … you know the Earth is alive.”

The historic Iglesia de San José de Orosi.


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Cons: “I don’t want to overglorify. It’s not without its problems,” Farber says of Costa Rica. “There are social problems and downsides.” He notes that crime and petty theft can be a problem (“I am cautious,” he says of his approach) and seem to have increased since he moved there, and adds that he misses out on some cultural things because of where he lives. And, he says with a laugh, “I can’t order Thai food at 9 at night.” But, he adds: “These are trade-offs — in the afternoon, I get to walk in the coffee fields and see flocks of parrots.”

Residency: To qualify for Costa Rica’s pensionado visa, expats must prove that they have a pension of at least $1,000 coming in each month. (Here are the details of that program.) Once you have lived in Costa Rica for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. Farber used a lawyer to help him figure out the ins and outs of residency options; his entire path to permanent residency took about a year, he says.

The bottom line: “After five years I am still amazed and surprised that I made the decision to lead a life I never thought I would,” he says. And while he may not stay in Orosi forever — “the town doesn’t have an ambulance, [and] I don’t know what it will be like to be 80 there,” he says — he does plan to stay in Costa Rica in no small part because of the people and sense of community. “I have the feeling that life is good here,” he says. “It’s hard sometimes, but we are all in it together.”



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