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'What's Going To Happen Next Month?': Vermonters On Financial Uncertainty From The Pandemic

A woman and her son in face masks, leaning together and looking at the camera, with a door behind them.
Elodie Reed
/
VPR
Leiann Moran and her son Lucas, 11, stand for a portrait outside their Colchester home. While they've stayed financially afloat during the pandemic, extra expenses, plus the isolation, have been difficult.

The pandemic has upended our daily lives and pushed people into tenuous financial situations. Many are making enough for the essentials but extra expenses, reduced income and isolation from loved ones has created anxiety about the future.

As 2020 came to a close, VPR checked back in with some Vermonters about how they’re managing economic uncertainty and thinking about the coming months.

In April, Leiann Moran, a Colchester resident who works at a preschool, was furloughed and filed for unemployment.

“I’m definitely nervous,” Moran said in April. “I mean right now we’re fine … gotta little saved up.”

"I haven't been paying rent, and I've barely been making it every month." — Leiann Moran, Colchester

When I called Moran again in December, she said she returned to work in late May, though at first it was remote. Now Moran’s back working in person, and her 11-year old son, Lucas, like many kids, is adjusting to a hybrid school year with both remote and in-person learning.

Moran, a single parent, also hasn’t been able to work her second job helping another family clean their house and throw dinner parties. That would normally give her an additional $150 to $200 a week. Without it, extra expenses are adding up.

More from VPR: 'I Ran Out Of Money At The Grocery Store': A Tough Month For Laid Off Vermonters

One example: her phone bill. Moran said Lucas has a 7:30 Zoom call with his class, and she needs to drive herself to work and Lucas to his learning pod.

“So he is on the Zoom call in the car, which takes up data,” Moran said. “So I've had to pay more for my phone bill, because I have to buy extra data for him to be able to get to the meetings and for me to get to work on time.”

A mother, cat and young boy holding a laptop all outside a house in a snowy front yard
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Lucas Moran, 11, videochats with his Colchester Middle School class on the morning of Dec. 21 as his mom, Leiann, plus Arya the cat, get ready for everyone to leave the house. Leiann has had to buy extra cell phone data so her son can attend school remotely while she drives to work.

Moran says she’s not living an extravagant lifestyle, but all the unexpected costs that come with life during the pandemic are taking a toll.

“It's definitely scary, like what's going to happen next month?” she said. “We've had this program helping with rent, which has been really fantastic and also sort of terrifying, because I haven't been paying rent, and I've barely been making it every month.”

The recently passed federal stimulus package might help alleviate some of Moran’s anxiety. Moran will receive $600 for herself and another $600 for her son. The bill also includes $25 billion in rental assistance to strengthen programs like the one Moran’s been using.

A person cooking food
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR File
Chris Grandfield cooks over his mini-smoker outside the Feed the Pour food truck in a Kingdom Trails parking lot last summer.

Moran is not the only person who’s finances are stretched.

“It is a bit of a scramble,” said Chris Grandfield.

Chris Grandfield lives in Greensboro Bend with his wife. I met him last summer when I was writing about the economic impact of the Canadian border closure. Grandfield was working at a food truck parked at Kingdom Trails. In normal times, the mountain bike trail network is packed — but not this year.

“It was just really, really slow all summer, which at the time was a little bit upsetting,” he said when we spoke in December.

"I feel like it's going to take a couple of years of employment and income at the level that we were at to really get back to where we were." — Chris Grandfield, Greensboro Bend

Grandfield, 38, had been planning to buy the food truck he worked in, but after the slow season, he and his wife decided it wasn’t a good idea.

He’s currently collecting unemployment, but he plans to get a job cooking or bartending in the Mad River Valley, about an hour and a half away, once the ski season picks up.

Grandfield says he and his wife will be able to cover basic expenses, like food, heating fuel and their mortgage.

"But, I feel like it's going to take a couple of years of employment and income at the level that we were at to really get back to where we were,” he said. “And it's going to be multiple jobs and maybe not the jobs we were envisioning, but we're going to be fine.”

Two people in a room with a lot of frames on the walls
Credit Liam Elder-Connors / VPR File
Lynn and Michael Currier sit in their living room in St. Albans.

Michael Currier, 59, also said he’ll be able to pay his bills.

Currier and his wife Lynne, 60, live in St. Albans. Back in 2019, they told me money was tight. The couple lived off disability checks and Currier’s salary as a part-time housekeeper at an assisted living facility.

But the pandemic hasn’t really changed their situation, according to Currier. They still get disability checks, and Currier kept his job.

“We got that first stimulus in March — we made that go as far as we had to go,” he said. “And thank God we got Section 8 housing. So that kind of that plays a lot into how our rent is at least paid.”

More from VPR: 'We Get By, That's About It': 40% Of Surveyed Vermonters Can't Cover A Surprise Expense

Currier tells me what is more concerning is that people aren't taking the pandemic seriously. He says that he and his wife strictly follow public health guidance: They wear masks, avoid people and only leave the house for essential trips, like work and grocery shopping.

The toughest part of all of this, he said, is the isolation.

“I’ve got family that live up the street, my own brother lives up the street, and not being able to go around him or be around him and our friends — and going to church, that’s another thing we miss, too,” he said.

"I've got family that live up the street, my own brother lives up the street, and not being able to go around him or be around him and our friends — and going to church, that's another thing we miss, too." — Michael Currier, St. Albans

This sentiment from Currier is one I heard a lot. The financial uncertainty is hard, but it’s been harder to be apart from friends and family who would support us.

I asked Leiann Moran’s son, Lucas, about what the pandemic has been like for him. He told me it’s been weird and tough — and most of all he wants to visit his cousins in New Hampshire.

"It would be really nice if we could go see them, and we could also hang out with friends more,” he said. “Friends and family is probably the biggest thing for me. Like, I can't hang out with my friends, I can’t hang out with family, other than my mom.”

Leiann, his mom, poked her head into the frame of the Zoom call: “I am a joy,” she said, laughing.

Lucas looked bashful for a moment, then agreed and started laughing too: “Yeah, sometimes.” He added that when he starts to get overwhelmed, he just reminds himself that, eventually, the pandemic will be over.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors.

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