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'Terrified About Money': Poll Shows Most Vermonters' Finances Affected By COVID

A woman sitting in a chair with papers on a table in front of her
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Laura Erlanger sits on her porch for a portrait with her unemployment paperwork. Erlanger has been out of work as a substitute teacher since March.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a real impact on the financial health of Vermonters.Full July VPR - Vermont PBS Poll 2020 Results

The latest VPR-Vermont PBS poll asked a number of questions about how the pandemic is affecting household incomes, and according to the poll results, a lot of people are hurting.

Laura Erlanger is a substitute teacher from Brattleboro, and she lost her job when the schools closed in March due to the pandemic.

She said her experience with Vermont’s unemployment insurance program did not go well.

“Unemployment was literally a full time job for me. I was on the phone every day,” Erlanger said. “I was getting no money, and I had a mortgage. I had stopped paying my mortgage, and I was dealing with them. I mean it was awful, at one point I broke out in hives all over my body.”

Erlanger was one of the thousands of Vermonters who overwhelmed the Labor Department’s unemployment claim lines.

On mobile? Click here to see infographic.

Erlanger eventually received her unemployment payments, but as a substitute teacher, she's not entitled to continue receiving money in the summer.

There are still a lot of questions about what the upcoming school year will look like, and Erlanger, who is 70, says her doctor doesn’t think she should go back into the classroom anyway.

And, so she says, things are getting desperate.

“I’m terrified about money,” she said. “You know, and in the time of pandemic when there are no jobs to be had, what are we supposed to do?”

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

"I'm terrified about money. You know, and in the time of pandemic when there are no jobs to be had, what are we supposed to do?" — Laura Erlanger, substitute teacher

A lot of Vermonters are wondering the same thing, according to the latest VPR-Vermont PBS poll.

Some 70% of those who answered the poll said the COVID-19 outbreak was a threat to their personal financial situation.

That response was pretty evenly split between men and women, and between the different regions in the state.

A little more than a quarter of the respondents said the pandemic posed a major threat to their economic future.

Now that the federal government’s $600 unemployment benefit has expired, and as the pandemic extends into the fall, a lot of Vermonters are scared about how they’re going to make ends meet.

A bar graph
Credit Kyle Blair / Vermont PBS
Vermont PBS
In all, 70% of Vermonters said the coronavirus pandemic was a threat (either major or minor) to their personal finances.

“We knew from the beginning that the money that would be coming from federal and state sources would be too little, too late,” said Amanda Witman, a small business consultant who has been helping business owners around Brattleboro navigate the unemployment system and make sure they know about grant programs that are available.

The latest jobs report from the state Labor Department found that a little more than 32,000 Vermonters were out of work in June, which is four times what it was a year ago.

Witman says the business owners she's been talking to have been piecing together their unemployment and government stimulus checks to keep their doors open.

“There a lot of people who are absolutely terrified, absolutely terrified,” Witman said. “Because they don’t know how they’re going to make ends meet. They don’t know how they are going to pay their business expenses, or their personal expenses. And in this pandemic situation, I do think that we are looking at you know, a year, a year and a half, two years."

She added: "We’re looking so far out in the future we don’t even know how far out it is. We don’t know how this story ends because we have not seen this in our lifetimes.”

More from VPR: Poll: Vermonters 'Concerned' As Small Businesses Grapple With Pandemic

"We don't know how this story ends because we have not seen this in our lifetimes." — Amanda Witman, small business consultant

Allison Korn is a craftsperson, who makes silver jewelry out of her studio in Brattleboro. She was just starting her busy season when the pandemic hit.

In a normal year, Korn would be right in the middle of showing her work at summer festivals, and getting ready for autumn and then the super-busy holiday craft fairs.

All of that has been canceled.

“Right when all of this happened, and COVID started, and things got shut down, my first big show, I was planning to bring in $5,000 from that show,” Korn said. “That got canceled. And so I had nothing. So that was a huge — like all of a sudden I couldn’t count on that income that I had been planning to make.”

A woman in two braids makes jewelry.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Allison Korn usually relies on festivals and craft fairs to make a living as a craftsperson in Brattleboro, but they've all been canceled.

The VPR-Vermont PBS poll found that 74% of the people who responded to the poll said the federal government's $1,200 stimulus payment made a difference in their family’s finances.

Korn said the check helped her family make ends meet when things got tight at the start of the pandemic.

More from Vermont Edition: VPR-Vermont PBS Poll Reveals Pandemic's Toll On Finances, Mental Health

There were wide discrepancies statewide in how the stimulus payments affected households, according to the poll.

In Chittenden County, only 19% said the stimulus check made a big difference, while in southern Vermont, that number was 38%.

A bar graph
Credit Kyle Blair / VPR
According to a new VPR-Vermont PBS poll, the one-time federal relief payment for individuals made a big or small difference for a majority of Vermonters.

Korn was also receiving the $600 unemployment payments, but they expired at the end of July, and the future, she said, is uncertain.

“I’m honestly not sure how we can make it,” Korn said. “Right in this moment, I feel like we can. You know, this week we can buy groceries. This week we can pay our mortgage, and probably for the next month or two. Once fall hits, I’m not sure how it'll look.”

The VPR-Vermont PBS poll is a snapshot in time, of how the state is faring a few months into the pandemic.

But how long it drags on, and what the economy looks like when it is over, still remains to be seen.

Correction 2:05 p.m. 8/6/2020: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Amanda Witman's name.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman @hweisstisman.

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A green and blue logo that says "VPR - Vermont PBS 2020 Polls"

From July 15 to July 28, the VPR - Vermont PBS 2020 Poll asked hundreds of Vermonters how they felt about COVID-19, racial inequality and other issues.  Explore the full results here.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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