Dispatches from a Pandemic: ‘A perfect storm of horrible’: A single mother, whose daughter has anorexia, lost her unemployment benefits — now the rent is due


Michelle Gimlin lies on a carpeted floor beside her 23-year-old daughter who sleeps on a twin bed each night. She cannot afford another bed nor is there space for it in their cramped one-bedroom subsidized apartment located in Davis, Calif.

That’s just one of the many sacrifices she makes for her 5-foot-6 daughter who weighs just 93 pounds.

Her daughter, whose name she asked not to be included to protect her privacy, has been struggling with severe anorexia for three years. Her health providers recommend that she eat 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, but realistically Gimlin, 50, can only help her eat around 1,000, and that takes hours to accomplish.

Prior to the pandemic, Gimlin worked as a self-employed massage therapist, earning around $4,000 a month. She stopped working in March of 2020, fearing she could contract COVID-19 and spread it to her daughter who is especially vulnerable and cannot get vaccinated due to her medical condition. On top of that, she needs to be with her daughter 24/7 to care for her and ensure she eats.

Usually, self-employed workers like Gimlin do not qualify for unemployment benefits, but because of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a CARES act program that was extended in subsequent stimulus packages, she along with millions of other Americans with non-traditional working arrangements qualified.

Since President Joe Biden’s stimulus package went into effect in early March, Gimlin has been collecting $97 a week in PUA benefits plus an additional $300 in federal enhanced benefits.

Even though the funds didn’t cover all of her living expenses she considers them “a lifeline.”

But over Labor Day Weekend Gimlin along with some 7.5 million Americans were cut off from unemployment benefits since lawmakers did not extend them past their Sept. 6 expiration date.

That’s left her and her daughter who, is legally blind as a result of her condition and cannot work, without any income.

“It’s a perfect storm of horrible,” Gimlin told MarketWatch. “I’m terrified and sometimes paralyzed with fear and stress. The stress is insurmountable.”

“‘The stress is insurmountable.'”

— Michelle Gimlin

MarketWatch spoke with Gimlin to better understand what the loss of unemployment benefits means for her and her daughter, who receives no support from her father who hasn’t been in the picture since she was three months old.

MarketWatch: What expenses did your unemployment benefits cover? Were you able to get by on them or were you still struggling to make ends meet?

Michelle Gimlin: I was very much struggling to make ends meet. We live in low-income housing and our rent is $735 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. With California’s COVID-19 rental-relief program I’ve been able to just pay the minimum of $200 a month for the rent but that expired after July. Now August and September rent are due.

“‘There have been times recently I knew my daughter was about to tell me we needed food and I knew I didn’t have the money'”

(Gimlin is still protected from getting evicted through the end of September, but she has already received a 30-day quit or pay notice from her landlord. She’s applied for more rental aid)

We get $400 a month in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits but spend around $900 a month on groceries.

There have been times recently I knew my daughter was about to tell me we needed food, and I knew I didn’t have the money. My heart was so heavy and filled with unbearable pain knowing this and I wanted to die knowing I could not provide for her. There’s nothing worse than telling a young lady with severe, life-threatening anorexia I cannot buy her food.

MW: Do you have a plan going forward to earn more money? Have you been applying for jobs?

MG: I’m in a tough spot because massage therapy I don’t believe is safe to go back to. I’ve been trying to think of ways we can make money. For instance, last fall my daughter and I started making acorn and pinecone wreaths. I’ve been approaching grocery stores and farmers markets about selling them, and they all said yes — but not until October.

When I first started telling people about this I thought I’d still be getting some income [from unemployment benefits] but now I don’t even have the money to buy the supplies to make the wreaths.

“‘I wouldn’t need pandemic unemployment if my daughter wasn’t ill and the pandemic didn’t happen'”

I literally cannot leave my daughter alone. She has to eat six times a day and each meal takes hours and grocery shopping takes three hours — it’s really, really painful painfully slow.

I’ve tried to talk to people about my situation but it’s really awful because they’re like, ‘Just get a job you could work from home and just do anything or do even DoorDash

‘ and I’m like, ‘I can’t. She’s ill.’

MW: Is there any glimmer of hope that helps you get through the most difficult days? Is there anyone or anything that you turn to?

MG: No, there isn’t. And the bad days seem to get worse all the time. We ask ourselves constantly ‘How are we doing this?’ We don’t even know how we’ve survived this long.

We’re motivated people I wouldn’t need pandemic unemployment if my daughter wasn’t ill and the pandemic didn’t happen. But I feel like a terrible mom I want to be able to provide for her. I can’t help but think if she had a different family she’d be doing a lot better.

Gimlin started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover the cost of around-the-clock care at a treatment center for her daughter.

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