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UW students among those struggling to pay rent due to coronavirus-related workplace closures

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UW students among those struggling to pay rent due to coronavirus-related workplace closures

Big Time Brewery, located on The Ave.

So far, Ashley Cullen has been able to pay for rent using the money from her tax return. How she’ll be able to afford rent in the coming months is a bit hazy.

Cullen, 21, pays for her own tuition and housing, and hasn’t had normal shifts at her server job at Bamboo Sushi in University Village since business started to slow down due to the coronavirus outbreak roughly three weeks ago. After Gov. Jay Inslee announced March 16 that all restaurants would be forced to close to slow the spread of the virus, she got a text from her manager. 

“My manager was like, ‘Hey don’t come in today,’” Cullen said. “I was like, ‘We’re unemployed aren’t we?’”

A few hours later she got an email from corporate telling her that it was a difficult decision but that she and her fellow co-workers had been temporarily laid off and that they should file for unemployment, according to Cullen. 

“I was kind of shocked that I was actually going to have to file for unemployment because I do have tuition and rent next month,” Cullen said. “It was one of those shocking moments where it was like ‘Whoa this is actually a thing right now.’” 

While she thinks she’ll likely be rehired when the restaurant eventually opens for normal business, it’s uncertain when that will be. In the meantime, without work, the price of Seattle rent for those like Cullen, who are living paycheck to paycheck, is proving to cost even more than usual. 

Cullen says some of her co-workers are moving back in with their parents or moving out of Seattle because of this sudden financial setback.

Cullen, on the other hand, is remaining in Seattle for the time being, but she’s had to be creative in order to do so. Since she’s a part-time worker, the process of receiving unemployment aid, in response to the coronavirus-related closure of her work, has been slow. 

“All of us who are part-time are denied right now and getting nothing while our full-time employees are getting some but it’s not necessarily enough to cover what they would’ve been making,” Cullen said.

In case her unemployment aid doesn’t come through in time, she contacted her landlord to ask if they could lower or delay the rent payment, or allow her to use the last month’s rent she paid in the beginning to cover her rent for May. She hadn't heard back, as of March 19. 

Even though she can’t get evicted due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s moratorium on evictions issued March 18, Cullen is worried that not paying rent might affect her credit score. 

“It’s just been rough,” student Arjae Guiao, 19, said in an email. “I know there is not much that can be done about the situation as a whole, but there needs to be a way for people to survive in times like this.”

Guiao, who works at Din Tai Fung to pay for his car insurance and cover his cell phone bills, said his hours have slowly dwindled down over the past couple weeks due to coronavirus. 

“I felt very annoyed because this puts people like us in a situation where we have to essentially beg for hours or not to be let go early,” Guiao said. 

Like many who have found themselves out of work recently due to the coronavirus, Guiao is having to figure out how to stay afloat. His only concern now is how to pay his bills, so he’s pulling from his savings.

Another UW student, Derek Sargent, 19, has particularly felt the social implications of having no work. Sargent works for Bay Laurel Catering to afford food and pay for part of his rent but also as a way to be around other people. 

“My employment is a big source of interpersonal interactions, and helps me take my mind off of class and take a mental break,” Sargent said in an email. “It's also something I enjoy a lot, so it being cancelled is difficult.”

While the social implications of having no work have resonated with Sargent, his biggest concerns are with paying rent and how long the pandemic will last. That said, he wasn’t exactly surprised after he began working less and less. 

“I find it reasonable that my work got shut down and I hope people realize that staying in is the best thing they can do to slow down the spread of the virus,” Sargent said. 

Reach reporter Elizabeth Turnbull at Twitter: @LizTurnbull5

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