Outbreak could break the bank for lower-wage workers, potential home buyers, parents needing new daycare options
After years of living in substandard conditions, Misty Ingersoll’s life appeared to be on the upswing before the coronavirus outbreak threatened to derail it.
The single mother of three worked as many hours as she could as assistant manager at Taco John’s in the Chippewa County village of Lake Hallie, scrimping and saving money to relocate from a dilapidated mobile home park on Eau Claire’s north side to a house for herself and her children. In recent weeks she has been in talks with a bank, working out terms of a loan that would allow for the purchase of a new home.
But buying a house could now be imperiled, Ingersoll said, after she learned Monday that dine-in business at her place of employment will be closed for now, with only the drive through remaining open to customers. That could mean a loss of work hours and income, she said, and leave her without enough money to buy a house.
“That’s more than half of our business,” Ingersoll, 38, said of inside sales at the restaurant. “With that many fewer customers, I’m worried I’m going to lose hours. And that could mean I no longer make enough money to qualify for my home loan.”
Ingersoll is among many in the United States whose livelihoods are being adversely impacted by concerns about coronavirus that grow, along with the number of positive test results for the contagious virus, which causes the illness COVID-19.
Some, like Ingersoll, will struggle to pay bills and afford necessities like food and transportation with reduced or lost income. Others are forced to go to work, even if they are sick, because their employers don’t offer paid sick leave that would provide them with a portion of their pay while they are not on the job. Still others without paid sick and family leave are struggling to find childcare in the wake of Gov. Tony Evers’ announcement Friday that all Wisconsin schools will be closed after Wednesday for at least two weeks.
The lack of paid sick and family leave has become a topic of discussion and governmental action as more people are being told to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak. On Saturday, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act after negotiations with the White House. The bill now headed to the Senate would provide funding to most American workers stuck at home because of coronavirus.
But the bill wouldn’t cover everyone. It would require small- and mid-size companies to provide benefits to employees. Self-employed workers would receive the benefit as a tax credit. And businesses with more than 500 employees are not mentioned in the bill, and they would have say over whether to offer paid sick leave.
According to the Center for American Progress, 6.7 million U.S. workers, could be left without any sick pay. Analysts say there are currently 159 million employees in this country.
People like Sally Lundin, of Madison, are among those who said they must go to work, even if they’re sick or at risk of infecting others, because they lack sick pay and can’t afford to go without the money they earn. Lundin, who works at a coffee shop, said her husband has lupus, an autoimmune disease, and is particularly susceptible to catching illnesses because of his compromised immune system.
“I’m terrified that by going to work I’m going to get my husband sick,” she said. “But I feel like I’ve got to go to work anyway. He can’t work anymore, and we can’t afford to live without my income.”
Wisconsin Democratic legislators hope to address situations like Lundin’s. On Monday state Reps. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, and Sondy Pope, D-Mount Horeb, held a news teleconference to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on workers without access to paid sick and family leave. Both legislators have previously introduced bills that would expand sick and family leave provisions for Wisconsin residents, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has refused to take those measures up for vote.
“The need for legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave or paid family leave is now more apparent than ever,” Subeck said. “Nobody should have to choose between their health or that of their community and their own economic security.”
Evers’ decision to close schools to curb the spread of COVID-19 has prompted challenges to parents across the state. Appleton resident LeeAnn Baldwin said she’s worried about leaving her two children, third- and fifth-graders, home from school while schools aren’t in session. Baldwin’s job as an assistant manager in an office usually doesn’t allow her to work from home, she said.
Baldwin has lined up a neighbor to help check in on her kids as often as possible, she said. She is working on a plan that would allow her to work from home part-time, she said, but so far she will have to be at her office at least 25 hours weekly.
“I understand why we don’t want our kids in school right now,” she said in reference to the spread of coronavirus. “But to suddenly be forced to come up with a plan to have someone watch your kids, it’s a big deal. There are so many people I know struggling with this right now.”
Even as the need for childcare rises across the state, some providers are closing their doors because of coronavirus-related concerns. Renee Ernsting, assistant director for ChildCare Partnership operated by Western Dairyland Community Action Agency in western Wisconsin, said her department is working with the state Department of Children and Families and the Supporting Families Together Association to enact a childcare plan of action.
DCF is surveying childcare providers statewide to assess the impact of closing them, she said, noting most providers remain open.
“The Department of Children and Families is trying to be as responsive to this situation as it can,” Ernsting said. “But it’s a challenging situation.”
Some businesses are working to line up child care for their employees. For instance, Marshfield Clinic Health System set up a system that connects its workers needing child care with providers in the community. Several hundred community members have offered childcare services since the system was established during the weekend, Marshfield spokesman Matthew Schneider said.
“We haven’t experienced any issues yet, but we anticipate with the closing of schools and physicians having to be at work, that we will have a childcare need,” he said. “We created this tool to help connect people so they can have care for their children while they continue to work.”