Some days, Cheyenne Berg skips meals to ensure that she has enough food to feed her two young daughters.
The 30-year-old lost her job in March when she got sick (tests for Covid-19 came back negative, but she was out of work for a month) and has been struggling to find part-time work while homeschooling her kids. She is living off $1,200 per month in unemployment benefits in Oregon and has had to choose to pay rent over buying groceries for herself, she says. The internet her kids need for virtual schooling was shut off at one point when she couldn't pay the bill.
Though she declined to say which party she is supporting, she says the stimulus negotiations have had a major impact on how she will vote this year. She's one of countless out-of-work Americans outraged that Congress has yet to pass another stimulus package.
"I did not choose to be unemployed, none of us did," Berg says. "I have kept my faith because of the good Lord, Jesus, but the selfishness and the carelessness of our government has sickened me to the core."
As the U.S. enters the eighth month of the coronavirus pandemic, Berg is far from the only American left wondering where her next meal will come from. Last week, about 22 million people collected unemployment benefits of some kind. Food insecurity has more than doubled as a result of the Covid-19-induced economic crisis and affects almost a quarter of all U.S. households, according to researchers at Northwestern University.
If Congress fails to pass another coronavirus stimulus deal, an estimated 5 million people will exhaust all of their unemployment benefits next month, according to a letter sent by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week.
Millions more gig and part-time workers will lose their benefits altogether at the end of the year when the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program expires. Plus, utility and student loan bills that were deferred are all coming due soon, just as the nationwide eviction moratorium is set to expire.
The Senate, House of Representatives and White House have all given different timelines for a relief package. The Senate is currently recessed until after the election after confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt last week that the chamber will handle relief "right at the beginning of the year," with legislation targeted toward helping struggling small businesses and hospitals.
Pelosi has said she wants a deal sooner, but negotiations between House Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have hit wall after wall, with both sides refusing to budge on their pet stimulus issues. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, told reporters last week that "we will have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election."
Brittany Maynard also hopes Congress will eventually come to an agreement and "do everything in their power to help the American people." The 34-year-old owns a hair salon in Kentucky and has lost an estimated $16,000 in income over the course of the pandemic.
Though her husband works, she says it's not enough to make up for the shortfall in her income. She is considering getting a second job, but she has an autoimmune disease and knows it would be risky.
Another stimulus package would go a long way to help her family and others she knows.
"I know there are families who have it way harder than we do and that hurts my heart," Maynard says. "It doesn't seem that help will be coming anytime soon."
Congress's inaction infuriates Ashley Hartley, a 31-year-old mother of three who left her job in March to care for her kids.
"I've always been proud to be an American, but this is sickening," says the Idaho resident. "Why are we working every day and contributing to society when this is what we get when we need help?"
Hartley is routinely kept up at night wondering how she and her partner will pay all of their bills. She's also concerned about the number of mothers she sees leaving the workforce and what the past few months have done to the nation's collective mental health.
"How are we sitting here, how is Congress not being pushed?" she says. "They're letting poor people suffer. I don't understand it."
She notes that after seven months, the $1,200 stimulus check is the equivalent of about $5 per day. That's not enough for anyone to live off of, she says.
"You can't retroactively feed somebody, you can't retroactively put someone back in their house," says Hartley. "We need help now, like yesterday. Three months ago would have been nice."