Texas workers struggle to pay for groceries and rent after losing wages during winter storm

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Nearly a year ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, Hockley resident Roxanne Espinosa didn’t know how she and her husband would pay rent or feed their family. They decided to buy groceries and make a late payment to their landlord.

Espinosa, who cares for their children full time, tried to file for rental assistance, but the process took too long to provide any immediate relief for her family.

“We did have to pay rent like 10 days late, and we got charged a lot because we had to pay late just so we could have groceries,” she said. “So we chose groceries over rent. I don’t ever want to have to go through that again.”

Espinosa’s family — like many in Texas — is again facing that same choice between buying groceries or paying rent on time. As this month’s winter storm left millions without power or ways to get to work, hourly wage workers across the state lost income.

By missing an entire week or more, some residents missed out on earning over a quarter of their monthly wages. As they sat under blankets in the dark and cold, many wondered how they would make up for their financial losses ahead of rent and bills coming due Monday.

Espinosa’s husband, who works for Harris County, uses his entire paycheck on rent, and works a second job as an Uber driver to pay for groceries and utilities.

“We’re not able to buy groceries or anything we need for the house or pay bills on time if he loses a week of work,” Espinosa said. “It just sets us back big time.”

According to a Federal Reserve study from 2018, almost 40% of Americans cannot cover an emergency expense of $400 or more, but experts also said that proportion has increased significantly during the pandemic.