As mentioned above, many participants during these Fall 2020 conversations had lost or left jobs during the pandemic. Some left due to safety and health concerns or illness, others due to employer shutdowns. Latinx farmworkers, not eligible for unemployment benefits, kept working to help families survive, in Vermont and elsewhere.
Both regular unemployment and pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) was difficult to access, with participants reporting delays of up to 6 months between initial (and often repeated) submission of paperwork for PUA, and first payout.
Access to unemployment benefits was especially difficult for non-English speaking New Americans. The online form was only available in English; bilingual children called in to assist completed forms incorrectly, leading to the stress of costly ($8,000-$16,000) clawbacks. Department of Labor employee attempts to loop in the only approved interpretation service caused calls to drop after hours-long wait times—-even though local bilingual case managers were right there on the line with people waiting to assist. Some New American participants reported that they could not communicate with former employers to make sure their paperwork agreed with employers’ accounts.
Vermont residents across the communities with whom REJOICE spoke were frustrated, worried, and sometimes angry about trying to balance safety with the need to earn a living, and, for parents, with children’s learning and wellbeing. Parents, particularly women, and primary caregivers from multiple communities reported particularly heavy burdens during the pandemic. For example, a mobile home resident who worked for a veterans’ home had no flexibility in her schedule, and was told if she couldn’t be there due to her other responsibilities she should find a flexible job.
“It’s hard on the working moms of this country because they’re trying to do their own job, take care of home, take care of kids, educate on the days that they need to educate because they are remotely learning. And it’s a lot. It’s an awful lot.”– Mobile home resident
Parents who were speakers of languages other than English, including in the Deaf community, said how much they had depended, pre-pandemic, on being face-to-face with teachers, or on school liaisons. They frequently reported a frustration and a strong sense of disconnection, from difficulty in understanding what (and how) their children were supposed to be learning. Accessing the internet for schooling could be a source of conflict with landlords, or between non-English-speaking parents, and children engaged in remote or hybrid learning.
New American young adults called out the importance of attending school in person to their younger siblings’ ability to connect with counselors. Without regularly meeting with mentors–without bumping into them in the hallways, they asked, who could support and guide these potential first-generation college students in the pathways to successful college application and financial aid?
Summary compiled by: Dr. Susannah McCandless, Center for Whole Communities REJOICE 2021