RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Just as federal unemployment benefits run out, bills that people have deferred will come due in the next few days as state and federal moratoriums end.
Liz Labunski lost her job as the COVID-19 pandemic began. She cares for her adult son who is on the autism spectrum.
Since losing her job, she said she’s kept their expenses to the bare minimum needed to survive.
“I have been having literal anxiety over this for the last several weeks,” she said.
She’s deferred payments on some bills and made partial payments on others. She qualified for unemployment, which has been boosted since early April by $600 per week from the federal government.
That weekly supplement ends this week unless Congress votes to extend it. In addition, a federal moratorium on evictions, which was included in the CARES Act, will end Saturday. And, next Wednesday a state moratorium on having utilities shut off for failing to pay is scheduled to end as well.
“All of these things feel like, to me, a giant tidal wave that is coming crashing in,” said Labunski. “People in my household are pitching in, and we are still terrified about what’s about to happen because I’m facing homelessness.”
Labunski, who lives in Charlotte, described the situation as “the equivalent of having a hole in the boat that is just getting bigger and bigger.”
Chelsea Cook, a staff attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina, said there’s been a “huge uptick” in eviction cases filed since a state moratorium on evictions ended in June. She said more than 10,000 cases are pending.
“Folks who are already barely scraping by on their rent are not going to have any other options,” she said. “That’s going to be a lot of people on the street, and a huge public health crisis.”
She said the federal moratorium that’s still in place for the rest of this week applies to about one-third of rental properties in North Carolina. She said people could receive eviction notices by the end of this month with evictions taking place at the end of August.
Cook said she’d like to see the moratorium extended but said some kind of financial assistance would need to be provided, as landlords need to be able to pay mortgages and other costs.
“It would be nice if we could see an immediate line of money to the landlords to keep people from being evicted,” she said.
Congress is still debating what to include in the next stimulus package.
“A moratorium in and of itself doesn’t do the trick. There’s just no way,” Rep. David Price (NC-4th) said, as he called for the moratorium to be extended. “With no money in the system, no increased ability of people to meet their obligations, then you just kick the crisis up the line. You have small landlords that can’t make it.”
Some Republicans in Congress have raised concerns about the amount of money being spent amid the pandemic.
The CARES Act, which passed in the spring, cost about $2.2 trillion. The HEROES Act, which the Democratic-controlled House passed in May, cost more than $3 trillion. Senate Republicans are drafting their own stimulus proposal, which could exceed $1 trillion.
“What in the hell are we doing? We can’t keep just shoveling cash,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said this week as the Senate prepared to unveil its plan. “I’m not only a no, I’m a hell no.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) released a plan to combat COVID-19 Thursday. It mentions increasing testing and the supply chain of PPE. It does not mention addressing unemployment benefits or housing.
In a statement, Tillis said, “I’ve been working across the aisle to support our hospitals, save jobs, and help North Carolinians during this crisis. While we’ve made progress, we still have work to do to get through this pandemic, which is why I’m offering a plan of action to advance testing, boost PPE production, and protect the jobs and livelihoods of North Carolinians who are weathering this storm.”
Kate Frauenfelder, a campaign spokesperson for Democrat Cal Cunningham, who is running against Tillis this year, wrote in an email statement, “Thom Tillis’ plan fundamentally fails to take action on many of the most basic needs of the people of North Carolina.”
As people begin to pay their bills again, Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks said the company will work with customers to try to arrange payment plans so that overdue payments won’t have to be made all at one time. The company is also encouraging customers to pay what they can now.
Some cities have used federal CARES Act money to set up programs to help people pay rent, mortgages and utilities. Fayetteville is one such city and is asking people to call 211 and ask for COVID rental, mortgage or utility assistance. You can also visit the website here.
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