I was laid off from my job on Friday, April 3. I filed for unemployment insurance on Monday, April 6. On Thursday, April 9, I received a notice that I was scheduled for a telephone fact-finding interview to determine if I was, in fact, eligible for unemployment benefits and that interview would be on June 8.

Two months. No benefits. In the middle of a pandemic.

I’ve tried calling several times to see what’s going on, but I haven’t even been able to get into the phone queue to get put on hold. I just get a message saying that the lines are full and to call back later. And for the record, I am sure that everyone working at the Maine Department of Labor is doing their absolute best right now.

Now, I’m one of the very lucky ones. I can survive for a few months without the unemployment insurance benefits to which I am entitled. I have some savings in the bank and I don’t have three of the big expenses that many 20-somethings have: I don’t have children; since I live with my mom, I don’t pay rent, and since I drive a 14-year-old Subaru, I don’t have a car payment. (I used to think all these things made me a loser, but suddenly in this upside-down world, they are huge advantages.)

You know the statistic from the Federal Reserve survey that 40 percent of Americans can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing or selling something? I’m guessing that percentage is higher right now. Also, I had an unexpected $400 expense last week. My dog attempted to seek a position in the pest control industry and she killed a porcupine. Thanks to the extremely wonderful staff at the Hollis Animal Clinic (I cannot recommend them enough), she is fine now, but that was an unexpected hit to my wallet that took a chunk out of my savings.

But what about the $1,200 stimulus check, you might ask? That was deposited in my bank account on May 6. (Several days AFTER the porcupine encounter.) The CARES Act was passed March 27. By government standards, that’s pretty speedy, but by regular people standards, it’s a day late and a dollar short (as my mother always says).

I think a common feeling among the millennial generation is the feeling that we played by the rules and did everything right and still got bilked. We were promised that if we went to college and got a degree in something we were good at and passionate about, that was the ticket to financial security. So I did that, and ended up back in Maine, with $68,000 in student loan debt, unable to find a job in my field. So I tried the backup American dream: I got an office job that, while it wasn’t my passion, was decent enough. Solid benefits. And I worked hard and was good at that job, too – I have the performance reviews to prove it – but then came coronavirus and suddenly I was a bunch of numbers that needed to be moved off the ledger. So I was laid off. Poof went the benefits. But I did what I was supposed to do, and I promptly filed for unemployment benefits.

And still nothing. You know, when she was my age, my mom had been married for two years, and was two years away from buying her first house.

There is a bright spot. When I was laid off, I realized I would lose my health insurance at the end of April (as a country, we really shouldn’t be linking our ability to pay for health care to our employment). I applied for MaineCare – the state name for Medicaid. The application was long and a little scary and despite asking me about every single monetary asset I could possibly own, there wasn’t an option on the form to indicate “I got laid off from my job and have no income and that is why I am applying.”

But fortunately, I was approved pretty quickly. Now I’m on Medicaid, so if I contract coronavirus, or get hit by a car while I’m out walking the dog, I can go to the hospital without worrying about medical bills eating away at me for the next 20 years.

Life’s a bit of a waiting game for me right now, mostly. I suspect it’s that way for a lot of people – for the frontline workers, for nurses and doctors and delivery drivers and grocery store employees, everything is happening way too fast and too hard, but for the rest of us, employed or otherwise, it’s quieted down. Waiting for checks to arrive. Waiting for coronavirus cases to wind down. Waiting.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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