LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Forget living paycheck to paycheck. Many families have lost work in this pandemic and are running out of cash as they wait for unemployment checks and government stimulus money to arrive. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on the tough choices some families are making about which bills to pay and what experts recommend.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: There are eight souls living under Dyan Navejar's roof. Only one is still working full time.
DYAN NAVEJAR: Food - that's the biggest thing in my household right now. These kids can eat.
NOGUCHI: Navejar, her husband, five children and a grandchild are at home in Lexington, Ky. Sometimes they eat the same meal of potatoes, eggs and hotdogs to save money.
NAVEJAR: Before, you know, if they wouldn't finish their plate, I'm just like, OK, we'll just throw the rest in the trash, and put your plate in the sink. Now it's like, whatever you don't eat, make sure you put it back in the fridge and then finish it later.
NOGUCHI: Her husband lost his dishwashing job last month. He hasn't yet received a severance his restaurant promised. Unemployment benefits haven't arrived. Navejar works from home as a call center operator. But the $480 a week she earns isn't enough. So she asked her landlord for a break.
NAVEJAR: And his response was business as usual.
NOGUCHI: She must also make her car payment. But utilities, like water and electricity, are not shutting off service.
NAVEJAR: They're offering extensions till May 1. So I'm figuring I can get away with that for a minute just to do the car, some of the insurance and the rent and groceries.
NOGUCHI: In many households, cash is scarce, and families are pooling what little they have to pay for what's most needed.
KATHY HAUER: You know, the cliched rock and hard place that we're going to face in the next couple months for the average American family - I just - just staggers me.
NOGUCHI: Kathy Hauer is a financial planner in Aiken, S.C. Lower-income families, she says, have little wiggle room. Some don't have credit cards or are maxed out. So Hauer says she's giving advice she's never given before.
HAUER: Defer as many payments as possible and worry about it later.
NOGUCHI: But, she says, don't just ignore everything. Instead, make a list of all upcoming bills. Then call each company. She says whether it's loans for a home, a car, college or a medical treatment, ask for forbearance. Forbearance might mean a delayed payment or a different payment plan. Then, Hauer says, pay for the most critical things first - daily essentials like food and medications, anything that cannot wait.
Other finance experts advise cutting recurring charges, like cable TV and streaming music subscriptions. If borrowing from family isn't an option, rely on credit because that will buy some time. Hauer says choosing what to pay for can get very tough. Just consider health insurance.
HAUER: You're really faced with a huge, huge choice because if you don't pay your health insurance and somebody gets sick, it can be a disaster.
NOGUCHI: This scares Andrea De La Cruz. Last month, her husband lost his new job as a bus driver before qualifying for health benefits. Her work as a photographer and realtor also dried up. They both applied for food assistance and unemployment benefits. To tide them over, her husband thinks about driving for Uber or Lyft. His wife worries that will expose the family to the virus.
ANDREA DE LA CRUZ: Listen. I rather owe a whole bunch of money when everything is over and talk to people and try to see what they can do than me risking my life. There's so many people dying out there.
NOGUCHI: This is a dramatic reversal of fortunes for her family. They moved to Orlando from Miami last summer when they felt flush.
DE LA CRUZ: We moved here because we wanted to buy a house. We wanted to do all these things. And now it's like - God knows when that's going to happen.
NOGUCHI: But, she says, she knows there are many others like them waiting for much-needed cash.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.
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