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AP
Rent's due, again: Monthly anxieties deepen as aid falls off

Another month passes. The coronavirus pandemic marches on. And Americans struggling amid the economic fallout once again have to worry as their next rent checks come due Aug. 1.

Many left jobless by the crisis are already behind on payments. And the arrival of August brings new anxieties. A supplemental $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits that helped many pay their bills is set to expire as July ends, with Congress bogged down in disagreement over a new round of aid.

Also set to end, unless lawmakers intervene, is a federal moratorium on evictions that has shielded millions of renters — though some Americans remain protected by similar state and local actions.

The Associated Press reconnected with renters first interviewed ahead of their April payments. Four months later, some have returned to work. One saw her church step in to cover her rent. Some found landlords willing to negotiate, while others are still looking for relief.

———

Sakai Harrison moved to New York to try to make it as a personal trainer and designer - but his gym shuttered early in the pandemic, and after weeks of struggling to both pay the rent and put food in his fridge, he knew what he had to do.

He moved back to Georgia for greater stability.

In May, he left his Brooklyn apartment and its $1,595 monthly rent for Atlanta. When the first of the month rolls around, his new place costs about $400 less - and it’s larger.

“This is the biggest silver lining I’ve ever seen,” he said.

He’s training with a few one-on-one clients, and he’s launched a boot camp with a dozen more.

This week, he met four of them at a park, where they did lunging squats, pull-ups, and a military-like crawl. Harrison then led them into a gym for dumbbell exercises. They didn’t wear masks for virus protection - Harrison says they take precautions, but pointed out that the state doesn't mandate face coverings.

Harrison modeled the proper form and pace, corrected the men when needed, and gently teased when they tired or slowed down. Some shot barbs back, and Harrison smiled.

He’s charging clients slightly less than he got at Blink Fitness in New York, but that amount’s helping him develop an apparel brand. He’s taking orders for a line of shoes, T-shirts and hats.

Barring another shutdown, Harrison said, “I’ll be fine.”

- Aaron Morrison, New York, and Ron Harris, Atlanta

———

Financial challenges keep piling up for Roushaunda Williams months after she lost her job of nearly 20 years tending bar at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago.

Potential reopening dates for the hotel have been pushed back, Williams said, and hospitality jobs remain scarce. She anticipates being unable to pay her $1,900 rent by September — especially if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the weekly $600 in additional unemployment aid as part of a new relief package.

Williams, 52, said she asked the management company that owns her apartment for a rent reduction or other help. So far, she’s been told her rent will just accrue if she can’t pay.

The Illinois governor recently extended a moratorium on evictions into August. Still, Williams worries about debt piling up while she’s unemployed.

“I’ve exhausted my savings," she said. "So I don’t have a safety net at all now.”

- Kathleen Foody, Chicago

———

Jas Wheeler once hoped to ride out the pandemic and return to work at a Vermont bakery. Not anymore.

Wheeler, 30, is immunocompromised and fears going back to the bakery would increase risk of infection. The former social worker started working at a small grocery store that pays less but allows more room for social distancing.

Wheeler took the gig in anticipation of losing the $600 weekly unemployment aid. That money ensured Wheeler and their wife, Lucy, could afford their $850 monthly mortgage payment.

The couple closed on their house in Vergennes the same day Wheeler was laid off in March. Wheeler’s wife kept her jobs, but money remains tight. They’ve sold a car and are growing some food.

“The unemployment without the enhanced benefit is not enough to live on at all,” Wheeler said. “We’re broke.”

- Michael Casey, Boston

———

Though the pandemic took away Itza Sanchez’s two incomes, it has strengthened her faith. The mother of two says the generosity of her Richmond, Virginia, church has saved them from hunger and eviction.

Sanchez fell behind on rent when she stopped selling homemade tamales and collecting scrap metal over fears of contracting the virus. By mid-July, she owed about $950 in unpaid rent. That's when Sanchez got a notice to vacate the mobile home where her family lives.

She was spared when her church sent $800 directly to the landlord.

Now she's trying to scrape together $460 for August's rent. She gets food donations from church. The school system delivers lunches for her children, 11 and 7.

An immigrant from Honduras, Sanchez isn't eligible for unemployment benefits.

"In this crisis we have moments of anguish, and one feels desperate, Sanchez said.

"But I have been blessed so far.”

- Regina Garcia Cano, Washington

———

For Andrea Larson, life took an unexpectedly good turn.

She lost her sommelier job in mid-March, when restaurants closed in Nashville, Tennessee. She was just getting by on unemployment, but worried about choosing between losing benefits or going back to an unsafe restaurant job.

Then a former boss offered her a spot at a new restaurant - the White Limozeen, named in tribute to a Dolly Parton song and decorated in over-the-top kitsch.

While Larson still fears the virus, she appreciates that her employer “spent a lot of money to make sure people are extremely safe.”

At her duplex, a plumbing disaster forced her to live in a construction zone for a couple of months. But she counts that as luck: She didn’t have to pay rent.

- Travis Loller, Nashville, Tennessee

———

Jade Brooks and her family have counted on an eviction moratorium in Massachusetts to get them through the pandemic. Still, 22-year-old Brooks worries: How long will it last?

Brooks’ mother hasn't found find full-time work since losing her insurance-company job. And Brooks doesn’t get paid enough as a hospital switchboard operator to cover rent — recently raised to $2,075 monthly — for their two-bedroom Boston apartment.

Her family had an August eviction hearing scheduled in court after they refused to pay the $265 increase. Then the governor extended the eviction ban until mid-October, giving temporary relief.

“It kind of gave me extra hope to figure things out, instead of jumping into the fire,” said Brooks, who lives with her mother and an 8-year-old cousin.

Brooks hopes the extra time gives her mom a chance to find work, and perhaps they'll negotiate a new lease rather than go to court.

- Michael Casey, Boston

———

After two months of missing payments as part of a “rent strike,” Neal Miller and his housemates heard from their landlord.

To their surprise, he agreed to reduce the monthly $1,500 rent for their home on Chicago's West Side. Miller’s share is now $150, down from $400.

Miller, 38, said his landlord gave the impression that he'd prefer some income from the house over nothing at all.

Miller’s last stable job was as an adjunct professor at Loyola University. During the pandemic, he’s patched together odd jobs — dissertation editing, bookkeeping for a psychiatrist’s office.

He said lower rent cuts the pressure: “We are definitely in a unique situation by the response we got.”

- Kathleen Foody, Chicago

———

Tnia Morgan’s family has grown by one since the pandemic upended their lives. The birth of a grandson, her youngest daughter’s first child, June 25 was a rare blessing during a spring and summer otherwise filled with stress.

“I love his smell. I love his smile. I love everything about him,” said Morgan, who shares a townhouse in Baltimore County, Maryland, with her newborn grandson, her daughter and a nephew.

She needed something to celebrate. Her income plummeted after she lost her hotel banquet-hall job in March. Bills pile up monthly.

Four rent checks have come due since then. Morgan's landlord lets her pay what she can. She estimates that's been nearly half what she's owed since April.

Food stamps help feed her family. She says she's tried in vain to sign up for unemployment benefits. Her only income comes from working for a food delivery service.

“It’s not much,” she said, “but it’s better than not having anything.”

- Michael Kunzelman, Silver Spring, Maryland

———

Ruqayyah Bailey has lost much of her independence and wants to get her life back on track.

Bailey, 31, has autism. Until March, she lived in her own apartment, worked part time as a cashier at a St. Louis cafe, and attended college.

The coronavirus tossed all that structure out the window. Bailey could no longer get the one-on-one tutoring that helped her thrive in college. The cafe closed. With no money coming in, she moved back in with her mother.

The cafe reopened in June, but Bailey now works just four hours a week. She’s signed up for seven hours of college classes but isn't sure she'll get tutoring. She uses savings to pay bills and worries about losing her weekly $600 in extra aid.

“I am completely stressed," Bailey said. “I don’t know how to pay my bills. I’m not sure how I’m going to able to get back into my apartment.”

- Jim Salter, St. Louis

———

Jason W. Still spent nearly three months without work before he went back to cooking at a high-end restaurant in Spokane, Washington.

Still, 30, returned to the kitchen at Clover when it reopened in early June. Before then, his wife's job in Washington's legal marijuana industry and Still's unemployment checks helped assure they never missed a rent payment.

Still is back to working 40 hours a week. But he wonders whether that'll last, as COVID-19 infections surge in the U.S.

“It’s terrifying to me to be in a service industry that can just shut down again at any time,” he said.

- Anita Snow, Phoenix

———

Tinisha Dixon scraped money together to cover her $1,115 monthly rent for April and May. Since then, she's been unable to pay.

Dixon, 26, shares a downtown Atlanta apartment with her partner and their five children. Before that, Dixon was homeless. Now she worries daily about her family ending up on the street.

Dixon's partner works as a security guard, but reduced hours have shrunk his earnings to about $800 a month. Dixon said she worked briefly at a coronavirus testing site outside the city, but relying on her partner for rides interfered with his job.

Before the pandemic, Dixon says, her landlord had begun taking legal steps to evict them.

“I’m pretty overwhelmed trying to get everything situated, not knowing how long I can hold out here,” she said.

- Sudhin Thanawala, Atlanta

———

Eli Oderberg of Denver remains out of work. He lost his job at a Colorado energy company in a wave of mid-April layoffs sparked by the pandemic’s economic fallout.

Oderberg, 36, once worked on apps to track spills and leaks. Now he receives unemployment benefits as he sends out resumes and interviews for new jobs. He said he’s been a runner-up for several positions but hasn't been hired.

Oderberg and his wife, Katie, have been making their mortgage payments. She’s on unemployment after losing her retail job. She’s also pregnant, and the couple fears running out of money after the baby arrives. They also have a 5-year-old daughter.

“I’m trying to get a good balance so I can enjoy my family,” he said. “And I keep reminding myself there are a lot of people in a much worse situation.”

- Anita Snow, Phoenix


News
Parks and Rec fall sports still in limbo even though high school contact sports have the go-ahead

Even though Gov. Bill Lee has greenlighted such sports high school football this fall, non-school programs are still floating in limbo.

Lee’s Executive Order 55 released Friday engineers guidelines for how those types sports can plow ahead in the middle of a pandemic.

But that still leaves Parks and Rec on the bench. With the summer well underway, some programs already have been stalled.

But agency Director Joe Huff still has his sights set on youth football and basketball.

“We’ve got some ideas if we can’t play contact sports,” Huff said Wednesday. “We’re trying to get people involved to come out and help us where kids can come out once a week. Since they can’t play each other, we can do training skills and get them involved in the game.

“I think there are some alternative things we can offer the community if we’re not allowed to play contact,” he said.

Huff said even if programs have to start a little later, officials are willing to do so.

Parks and Rec has been preparing for the good and the bad. Huff said with a thumbs up, all the moving parts are in place to start up programs, even though they’ll come with a whole new set of safety guidelines and precautions.

People are willing to help, however. In the fall, soccer usually garners about 40 coaches, Huff said, adding that though they might not need that many on a reduced schedule, people are still willing to pitch in where needed.

“I think parents and kids are both eager to get out and do something,” Huff said. He wants to keep kids involved in sports they’re already invested in and even if that just means practice sessions, leadership wants to make it happen.

The football program doesn’t start until mid-August anyway, and right now Huff indicated teams are ready to go: They have equipment, thermometers and manpower.

“I think we can make it happen fairly quick, and if we have to move it back a week or two, we can,” Huff said, adding that although the tackle football league usually ends Oct. 1, teams may be willing to play through the end of the month.

“So there’s a lot of options out there,” he explained. “We’ll make the best of what we have available to us.”

Sports aren’t the only thing that hang in the balance for Parks and Rec. Should more seasons get canceled, more revenue streams will dry up. The organization already has had to consider budget shifts after a 2020 fiscal year that ended with massive revenue drops from canceled programs.

Though most Parks and Rec facilities remain shuttered, the outdoors have been a daily respite for the community, especially during months when COVID-19 closed most businesses, Huff said.


Politics
AP
Fauci confident virus vaccine will get to Americans in 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday that he remains confident that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early next year, telling lawmakers that a quarter-million Americans already have volunteered to take part in clinical trials.

But if the future looks encouraging, public health alarms are still going off in the present. Officials testifying with Fauci at a contentious House hearing acknowledged that the U.S. remains unable to deliver all COVID-19 test results within two or three days, and they jointly pleaded with Americans to comply with basic precautions such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and washing their hands frequently.

Those simple steps can deliver “the same bang for the buck as if we just shut the entire economy down,” said a frustrated Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding that he has studies to back that up.

Looking ahead, Fauci said he's "cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021. I don’t think it’s dreaming ... I believe it’s a reality (and) will be shown to be reality.” As the government's top infectious disease expert, Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Under White House orders, federal health agencies and the Defense Department are carrying out a plan dubbed Operation Warp Speed to deliver 300 million vaccine doses on a compressed timeline. That will happen only after the Food and Drug Administration determines that one or more vaccines are safe and effective. Several candidates are being tested.

Don't look for a mass nationwide vaccination right away, Fauci told lawmakers. There will be a priority list based on recommendations from scientific advisers. Topping the list could be critical workers, such as as medical personnel, or vulnerable groups of people such as older adults with other underlying health problems.

“But ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” Fauci said.

Fauci, Redfield, and Department of Health and Human Services “testing czar” Admiral Brett Giroir testified at a moment when early progress against the coronavirus seems to have been frittered away. High numbers of new cases cloud the nation’s path. The three officials appeared before a special House panel investigating the government's pandemic response, itself sharply divided along party lines.

Nearly 4.5 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 150,000 have died. In recent weeks the virus has rebounded in the South and West, and now upticks are being seen in the Midwest. Testing bottlenecks remain a major issue.

Asked if it's possible to deliver coronavirus test results to patients within 48 to 72 hours, Giroir acknowledged “it is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today given the demand and supply.”

But rapid, widespread testing is critical to containing the pandemic. It makes it easier for public health workers to trace the contacts of an infected person. Delayed test results only allow more people to get infected.

Giroir said a two- to three-day turnaround "is absolutely a benchmark we can achieve moving forward.”

While hospitals can generally deliver in-house test results within 24 hours, large commercial labs that do about half the testing for the country take longer, particularly if there's a surge in new cases.

The latest government data shows about 75% of test results are coming back within 5 days, but the remainder are taking longer, Giroir told lawmakers.

The bitter politics surrounding the U.S. response to the coronavirus was evident at the hearing by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

As the health officials were testifying, President Donald Trump in a tweet repeated a false claim that high numbers of U.S. cases are due to extensive testing. Committee Chairman James Clyburn, D-S.C., tried to enlist Fauci to rebut the president.

And Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio tried to press Fauci into saying that demonstrations against police violence toward Black Americans spread the virus and should be curbed. Fauci didn't bite.

“You make all kinds of recommendations,” Jordan said, taking aim at Fauci. “You made comments on dating, baseball, and everything you can imagine ... I’m just asking should we try to limit the protesting?”

Fauci said it's not his role to opine on curbing political protests. But Jordan shot back, noting that church services have been shut down due to virus precautions, and implying that Fauci has a double standard on two First Amendment rights, religious liberty and freedom of expression.

“I’m not favoring anybody over anybody,” Fauci answered. “And I don’t judge one crowd versus another crowd. When you’re in a crowd, particularly if you’re not wearing a mask, that induces the spread.”

Some Trump supporters have urged the president to sack Fauci, and the president's tweet raised the stakes.

During the hearing Clyburn had displayed a chart showing rising cases in the U.S. juxtaposed with lower levels across Europe. That caught the president's eye.

Trump tweeted: “Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World.”

Clyburn turned to Fauci for a real-time fact check.

“Now Dr. Fauci,” the chairman intoned, “do you agree with the president’s statement, or do you stand by your previous answer that the difference is caused by multiple factors including the fact that some states did not do a good job of reopening?”

Fauci answered directly.

“I stand by my previous statement that the increase in cases was due to a number of factors,” he said. One was “that in the attempt to reopen, that in some situations, states did not abide strictly by the guidelines that the task force and the White House had put out.”


News
Correction1

correction

A July 31 front-page article on the Maryville City Council election incorrectly stated a candidate’s first name. She is Sarah Herron.