For Struggling Hunter Students, Coronavirus Means Added Financial Pressure

Chloe Carter-Daves isn’t particularly worried about contracting the coronavirus. But she has other things on her mind.

A senior at Hunter, where she majors in Political Science and Jewish Studies, Carter-Daves worked at a Manhattan restaurant — until she got laid off on Sunday night. “I knew it was coming,” she said, “so it wasn’t a surprise but it does suck.” 

Before the coronavirus outbreak escalated, Carter-Daves, who is “fully financially self-supporting,” put in about 25-30 hours per week across four nights at the restaurant. But because of the virus, restaurants have been losing business, and on Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that restaurants will be limited to takeout and delivery in order to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

“My unemployment is indefinite,” said Carter-Daves, whose only source of income was working at the restaurant. She is now applying for unemployment benefits and for Hunter College’s Emergency Funding, which provides funding and other resources for students in dire financial straits. 

She says that now, she is “just worried about paying rent and bills.” 

Carter-Daves is one of many Hunter students who needs to work to make ends meet. At Hunter, where the median income of students’ parents has been estimated at $49,800, not working is usually not an option.

Many students work by the hour in industries that do not allow them to work from home. This means that as businesses and consumers embrace social distancing to assuage the spread of the virus, and as the government begins to enforce it, hourly employees are left with less work or none at all. Several interviews with students indicate that under these conditions, student workers are facing increased financial insecurity. 

English major Anthony Gunzl is feeling the pressure in the retail industry. 

Gunzl recently got laid off temporarily from his part-time job at J. Crew and had his hours cut back at his other part-time job at Banana Republic, both because of coronavirus. 

“They don’t want to be responsible for part-time workers getting [coronavirus],” he said of J. Crew, “because they don’t give us insurance.” He also said that fewer people are coming in to shop for clothing.

“My week went from 46 hours to 28.5,” said Gunzl, who hopes to get a new job at Bath and Body Works.

“I’m so stressed because I finally wanted to get my bills paid,” he said, “and now I can’t.”

A coronavirus relief bill, supported by the White House and by U.S. House democrats alike, was passed in the House on Saturday and is expected to face the Senate this week.

If passed, this legislation would expand unemployment insurance and strengthen food security programs like food stamps. Congress and the White House intend to work on more such legislation as the situation develops. 

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near-zero on Sunday to encourage borrowing and spending in the hopes of stimulating the economy. 

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has ended the 7-day waiting period for unemployment insurance for people who lose their jobs because of coronavirus. 

The Real Estate Board of New York also announced that landlords representing at least 150,000 rental units have pledged not to evict people for 90 days.

For Carter-Daves, that’s cold comfort. “I guess we’ll just have to see,” she said.

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