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‘I Don’t Know How I’m Going to Pay Rent Next Month’

As more cafes, restaurants and hotels shut down, millions of workers will need help to survive.

By E. Tammy Kim | March 18, 2020

Carlos Rodriguez Herrera, a part-time barista at a Mediterranean restaurant in New York City, was told not to come in for his morning shift on March 14. The next day, just before Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered all restaurants and bars to cease dine-in service, Mr. Rodriguez Herrera and his co-workers were sent home several hours early. As the coronavirus has continued to spread, making “social distancing” a nationwide norm, foot traffic into coffee shops and restaurants has fallen to a light patter. Food service workers around the country are losing their jobs.

Mr. Rodriguez Herrera understands his employer’s predicament, he told me. He would prefer to stay home, out of harm’s way. But as a minimum-wage worker, earning just $15 per hour plus tips without any paid sick time or health insurance, losing work was almost as scary as getting sick. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent in the coming month,” he said. “I have no savings, no money right now. I guess I’m going to ask somebody if I can borrow some money.” On top of that, Mr. Rodriguez Herrera is undocumented, and so ineligible for unemployment insurance, Medicaid, food stamps, cash and housing assistance, despite two steady decades of living and laboring in the United States.

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