IDAHO FALLS — As many wonder whether they’ve done enough for their loved ones this Christmas, an Idaho mother is grappling with the possibility of being homeless when her third child is born in February.
“Christmas is pretty sad for us this year,” said 27-year-old Sara Carroll, a Pocatello native who currently resides in Idaho Falls. “We had to choose to save all the money we could and got a few presents for the kids is all.”
Carroll is seven months pregnant with her third child, Aaron. For the last two years, her family of four has shared a two-bedroom apartment in a fourplex with her diabetic father. She shares a bedroom with her two children, ages 1 and 8, and her husband Matt, a mechanic.
Because the new owners of the fourplex are significantly increasing the rent, Carroll says her family is being forced to move and has until Jan. 15 to find a new place to live.
Carroll, who works delivering meals for DoorDash, and her family are among an estimated 30 million to 40 million Americans living on the edge of eviction amid a COVID-19 plagued economy.
“We are bringing in money,” Carroll said as her voice cracked. “We’ve been paying our bills and keeping up on things but we were just not expecting this. All but one of our vehicles have recently broken down in the last few months — we’re all sharing one car right now — and then this guy shows up with the paperwork and that’s it. We have 30 days to leave.”
A recent United Way survey on the impacts of COVID-19 in Southeast Idaho revealed that three out of every five local people have experienced some form of financial need during the pandemic, with nearly 70% of asset-limited and income-constrained families with earnings of less than $50,000 annually indicating they have only one month or less of savings to pay bills.
Thus far during the pandemic, asset-limited and income-constrained local families have applied for unemployment at almost twice the rate of the general population in Southeast Idaho. Almost one in four of these families turned to debt to seek reprieve during the pandemic, with 23% increasing the balances of their credit cards to pay the bills.
Many Americans are now trying to figure out which basic needs and necessities should receive portions of the $600 check they’ll receive as part of the federal government’s latest COVID-19 relief effort.
For those Americans who lost their jobs at the onset of the pandemic, a weekly $600 stipend from the federal CARES Act helped stall problems with paying rent and other bills. But those payments ended on July 31, around the same time most eviction moratoriums expired, and the true weight of the financial crisis began to set in for families in Idaho and nationwide.
Carroll says her household earns just over the limit to qualify for food assistance, so a healthy chunk of their money goes just toward providing enough for everyone to eat.
“We have canceled everything and anything we can think of in order to help us save,” Carroll said. “I’m to the point where I need to ask for help.”
But if facing homelessness while trying to provide her children with gifts on Christmas morning wasn’t stressful enough, Carroll says she’s expecting Aaron will be born with a cleft lip and palate, a diagnosis doctors say will require several surgeries and costly trips to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City over the first few years of his life.
“We were trying to make sure that we could save enough to afford the trips we’ll need to take to Utah every few months after he is born,” Carroll said. “But there’s just no way.”
To help secure a new place to live and know she has enough to get her son the medical care he needs, Carroll has launched a $5,000 GoFundMe campaign accessible by visiting gofundme.com/a-family-with-unfortunate-luck.
“We have been looking for three-bedroom apartments, but everything is just so expensive,” Carroll said. “We just don’t have the funds to move out in less than 20 days after the holiday season.”
Carroll also said she is open to advice from financial experts or those who have found themselves in similar situations on what steps she can take to obtain additional assistance.
“Any little bit helps. Even a few dollars will help,” Carroll said. “We just don’t really know where else to turn.”