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Server Reacts To Stipend That Los Angeles Plans To Award To Food Service Workers

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Across California, ICUs crews are filling up, triggering another round of stay at home orders. That means no more outdoor dining at restaurants, only takeout and delivery. So servers, busters and bartenders are out of work again. Some, like Maria Buenrostro, have been struggling to find jobs since the first major round of shutdowns in March. She worked as a server and bartender at conventions and sporting events. And now with all that on hold, she's had trouble finding work and has been hanging on with unemployment checks.

MARIA BUENROSTRO: At this point now in December 2020, it's a catch-up game to see what I'm going to pay next.

SHAPIRO: Now, as Congress debates another relief package, the city of Los Angeles is offering 4,000 food service workers there a one-time stipend of $800. Applications opened today. And I asked Buenrostro what that money would mean to her family.

BUENROSTRO: Eight hundred dollars for the size of my family. I'm not even sure how boxed up I am. I'm going to make the best use of it. I'm not sure if at this time I'm paying a bill would make me catch up. I think I'm just going to use maybe a small percentage to keep food on the table. And the rest - still essential stuff is, like, cell phones. I guess I'll pay a cell phone bill. It's very minimal.

There's five family members here, and it'll be - so pick and choose where I'm going to use it. And definitely for Christmas, I think that's out. There will be no special Christmas gifts. I think just as long as we are - we're good on the table for Christmas. I don't think there'll be any Christmas gifts. I think it's very little, but it still helps.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You said there's five family members. Are you the only person supporting of that whole family?

BUENROSTRO: Yes, I am the No. 1 supporter here in my household, yes.

SHAPIRO: Tell us who's in your family. Who are you supporting?

BUENROSTRO: My son that's 27. He's in college. My daughter, who's 22. She's also in college. And my 16-year-old that's in high school. My mother that's here. I don't support her because she still gets her Social Security, but she's a handful being that she has cancer. And, well, myself.

SHAPIRO: So can you just describe what life has been like these last several months?

BUENROSTRO: Well, when the pandemic started, I just already have not paid none of my bills. It's just been figuring out what am I going to pay. It's all about bills. It's try to keep my house because I am paying mortgage here. And I am just definitely - I have to cut cable. I have to cut the gardening. My grass is dead now. I mean, it's just figuring out those things.

I try not to worry about what's late and behind and months and months behind. Creditors have been calling. I really don't know. I - sometimes I just want to put my hands up in the air because I had a good credit before all of this. We were all good. My job provided and supported my family. You know, I was doing well before the pandemic. There was lots of work. There's sports, my - you know, the restaurants. There was plenty of tips. I live off my tips. All of that is out the door.

SHAPIRO: When you describe the months of accumulating bills, the one-time $800 payment just sounds like a drop in the bucket.

BUENROSTRO: It does. I'm not going to say it's going to save me. It's not. I'm going to use it wisely. If I do get it, it will be essential bills like cell phone and Internet connection because right now kids are in school. So they're definitely always on the Internet. So that's essential right now. You know, the city trying to help us with $800 is definitely welcomed. But I would definitely like to see Congress help us out with the stimulus package.

SHAPIRO: And if things keep going the way they are, how many more months do you think you can stay on top of this?

BUENROSTRO: I think I will start going more into government programs if I'm not already in some. And that's just sounds horrible. I'm used to working for my money. I'm used to working 16 hours a day to all of a sudden start relying on government. That to me, doesn't sound right. But if it keeps on extending like this, I'm going to definitely rely on government services.

SHAPIRO: Maria Buenrostro, thank you for sharing your story with us and good luck.

BUENROSTRO: OK, well, thank you. Thank you for the wishes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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