‘We’ve got two weeks before we run out of food’: Americans trapped between coronavirus and poverty

‘We’ve got two weeks before we run out of food’: Americans trapped between coronavirus and poverty

7 mins read


In Kansas City’s poorest neighbourhoods, they wait and they watch.

The city’s most vulnerable residents wait for coronavirus to reveal itself as they watch its daily progression from the edges of the country to the heartland. But they face another wait too. For the money to run out, uncertain which of these two potential calamities will arrive first but dreading the day the two collide.

Chris Brown lost his job as a waiter as soon as Kansas City’s mayor ordered the closure of restaurants and bars. “I was lucky that I had a little money in my pocket when this happened. Not a lot. Maybe $100. But that’s more than a lot of people, especially in my industry. I know a lot of my comrades out there only had $20 in their pocket when the restaurant closed. I don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.

Until the end of last week, Brown and his wife, Alex Smith, still had a lifeline. Smith worked as a bartender at a hotel which remained open in a neighbouring county. But that closed on Friday and now the couple, both in their mid-40s, are down to the cash in their pockets with no savings and no health insurance.

“We took the little money we have and came down to get groceries so we at least had some for the next few weeks,” said Brown outside the Save A Lot discount store on Kansas City’s east side, one of the poorest parts of the city.

Coronavirus has been relatively slow to reach the sprawling plains of Missouri and Kansas, although deaths have been creeping up. But its impact is already felt among the hardest-up residents of Kansas City, which straddles the Missouri River dividing the two states. Both are reporting a spike in unemployment claims and they’re likely to go on rising with the Kansas City metro area under a stay-at-home order from Tuesday and more businesses closing.

Even when they were working, Brown and Smith earned only $2.15 an hour, the federal minimum wage for servers, plus tips.

“We’ve maybe got two or three weeks before we run out of food,” said Brown. “It’s on the razor’s edge for sure. We don’t have any way to pay the rent. I’ve talked to the landlord and let him know what’s going on. I’m trying to prepare for the worst.”

Smith is worried. “He could definitely put us out,” she said.

Then there’s the question of what happens if either or both of them catch coronavirus. “We don’t have health insurance,” said Smith. “At home sick is pretty much what we would do.”

With some people hit with hospital bills for tens of thousands of dollars for treatment, Brown and Smith are not alone on Kansas City’s east side asking whether they would run up a debt they might never be able to pay or take a chance on shutting themselves away and hope to make it through. Even if they catch coronavirus, it may not officially be confirmed. Getting a test in Missouri is still a challenge, even for those showing symptoms of the disease and they require a prescription from a doctor who all too often has to be paid as well.

No one in Kansas City expects to starve but the fear of catching coronavirus is often secondary to the worry about financial calamity.

Outside the Save A Lot, Linda Flores made her two young children wait in the car while she went shopping. Her husband is an itinerant construction worker stuck on the west coast without the pay he used to send home weekly.

“I’ve spent the last of the money on food,” she said.

Flores’s bags are crammed with instant pasta meals, pot noodles, tinned beans, anything to fill the children up. “We have enough food in the house for two or three weeks. I don’t know what happens after that. Will we still be made to stay home?” she said. “We can sell things. We could try and sell the car. We can go to our church. Maybe they will help us.” There are also food banks, although some in Kansas City have closed because donations have dropped off sharply and volunteers are staying away.

Johnetta Greer faces a different challenge. She’s a 65-year-old healthcare worker with a respiratory problem and diabetes. And yet remote working is not an option.

“I tick three of the boxes. So for me in my household this is serious,” she said.

Greer has a face mask hanging around her neck ready to put on as she goes into the store. But her concern is not only for her own health. She helps care for a group of nuns in their 80s.

“I definitely do not want to take anything to them. We’ve been keeping their place pretty much sanitised to the hilt. I told my kids I feel like their place is cleaner than mine so I’m all right going to work,” she said.

Greer’s dilemma is that she fears carrying the virus from the outside and infecting the nuns, and yet the elderly women cannot be left alone. “It’s just us. It’s not like we have people on reserve we can call. We’re just to do the best we can about these ladies,” she said. “If I get sick, who looks after them?”

Go To The Full Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.