Coordinate Your Resources
How to Contain the Financial Flurry
by Alacias Enger

Like many other Americans, in December, Mark’s unemployment ran out. Mark is in his mid-thirties, living in New York City. He was laid off from the administrative position he held for a major national retailer when COVID-19 triggered a state-wide lockdown. At first, Mark was fine. He was never great at saving money, but he did have a few thousand dollars in his savings account, and had no problem getting unemployment. In assessing his financial priorities, he rated his top three as being: medication, food, and housing. He had access to his medications through New York State’s ADAP, and immediately applied for SNAP benefits to help with the food portion of his budget. His unemployment was enough to cover his portion of the rent, which he splits with one roommate. Things were tight, but manageable. Then December came, and his unemployment benefits ended.

Since being laid off, Mark has applied for several positions. Unfortunately, it seems as though his résumé is vanishing into cyberspace. Knowing that his funds were quickly dissipating, he turned toward his creative pursuits. Mark is a talented artist, occasionally commissioned to create specific pieces. He decided that December was the perfect time to utilize these talents to make a little extra money. He created a few holiday card designs and posted them on various online platforms, offering to personalize them for anyone that placed an order. Moreover, he created a virtual gallery of his art, displaying samples of previous pieces he had done for others. Mark’s efforts were realized, and he was able to sell several sets of holiday cards, and was commissioned to do one larger piece. With the little bit of savings that remained, his final December unemployment check, and the proceeds from his art sales, he was able to make his January bills.

During times of extreme financial hardship, it is imperative to create an order of priority for your financial responsibilities. Next, take stock of any guaranteed income sources in addition to possible income opportunities or resources that could be coordinated to maintain those high priority items. Mark’s quick thinking helped him get his food costs offset by SNAP, and he was able to take advantage of an additional income opportunity. This savvy allowed Mark to stay afloat until further assistance came available.

A $900 billion Coronavirus relief package was signed into law on December 27, providing much needed relief for those impacted financially by COVID-19. This package not only includes direct payments of $600 per person for those within a certain income bracket, but also an extension of unemployment benefits including the enhanced federal jobless benefit of up to $300 until March 14. This lifeline is absolutely critical to the countless Americans facing financial difficulties during this time. One possible concern is how long it might take for unemployment benefits to be reinstated for those that have previously run out. While Mark and his roommate have kept the lights on and rent paid thus far, they are living in constant fear of falling behind. On the 28th of December, in a special session, New York State Legislature approved an eviction moratorium later signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The moratorium prevents evictions until May 1 so long as the tenant submits a “hardship declaration” and proof of COVID-related economic hardship. While this provides Mark with the peace of knowing that he and his roommate will not be evicted for nonpayment if they’re unable to keep up with the rent, it doesn’t keep them from being responsible for the bill. So, keeping the rent current should continue to be a priority.

While Mark awaits the reinstatement of his unemployment benefits, he plans to utilize his $600 direct payment to ensure his next rent payment. He is also considering ways to continue building his art business. During times of economic hardship such as these, looking at areas of talent can be a great way of generating additional income. Mark’s successful 2020 holiday season made for his largest amount in annual sales to date. Additionally, he should consider filing his income taxes right away. If he is entitled to a refund, the sooner he files, the sooner he will see his money back. Mark should do his best to use his tax refund for his most important bills and attempt to save as much as possible.
While we continue to navigate the unchartered waters ahead, prioritizing the absolute necessities and coordinating all income opportunities and resources will be the key to ensuring our ability to weather this financial storm.

Alacias Enger is a performing artist, writer, and educator. She lives with her partner in New York City, and is the founder of blogs “Sense with Cents” and “Travel Cents.” Follow her on Twitter @sense_w_cents.