Breanna Reeves |

Important Message from the Editor: 

Everyone has a story to tell about their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IE Voice and Black Voice News is presenting this report in four parts, highlighting the journeys of inland empire residents during this ongoing, historic and pervasive event.  

Meet Norma Escalera

When California announced a state of emergency in March resulting in the stay-at-home order, thousands of people were furloughed and businesses were forced to close—some permanently. As a result, more than 23 million Unemployment Claims have been filed since March 2020. While people in California are going back to work, many are still experiencing job insecurity in particular industries. 

Norma Escalera and her husband Gabriel live in Norco, California and are still experiencing the repercussions of pandemic restrictions. Gabriel owns a garage door business and relies on the import of steel, but the prices for metal have been inflated and are expensive.

Prior to the pandemic, Gabriel’s business was running and Norma was working and making $20 an hour. During the pandemic Norma was out of work and made sure to stay home because of her asthma. Fortunately, Norma was able to have her medicine delivered to her home during the pandemic.

Restrictions across the state during the pandemic included wearing masks indoors and outdoors and socially distancing by standing 6 feet apart from others. (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth McDaniel via Unsplash)

“And then I started getting the EDD, but I was only getting—I’m only getting $67 a week which is not enough to live on. I don’t know what they expect me to do with that,” Norma said. “I was like ‘okay, sure $67 a week,’ you know, that’s not even enough for food for a week.”

One of  the biggest adjustments Norma and her husband made during the pandemic was having very little to survive on and not being on the go.

“I even had to apply for EBT because we didn’t have enough food. So, it’s a life-changing experience because some stuff that you thought you were never going to have to do, now you have to. You know, apply for EBT just to get food to survive,” Norma said. 

Despite barely having enough money to survive, Norma is thankful that it is only her and husband in the home and that their children are grown. Norma and Gabriel have grandchildren who come over to visit.

“So that was a little bit (of) a little stress for me because I told [my husband] if the kids were small I would’ve been in total panic mode, but I know since it was just me and him it was easier,” Norma explained. “Like, if we didn’t have food for a day we could manage — it’s two adults, but you know if it were kids it would have been a whole different story.”  

During the pandemic Norma and Gabriel applied for rental assistance through Inland SoCal United Way who began their emergency rental assistance program in April 2020. According to United Lift data, “Since June, United Lift has assisted 5,639 households across Riverside County with a combined $19,489,096.55 in CARES Act-funded emergency rental assistance.”

Restrictions across the state during the pandemic included wearing masks indoors and outdoors and socially distancing by standing 6 feet apart from others. ( Image courtesy of United Lift)

“United helped us out tremendously. And I applied right when it came out and that was like at the beginning of April,” Norma said. “But that’s the only thing that’s saving us right now. I’m so thankful for them because if it wasn’t for that I don’t know what I would’ve done.”

United Lift covered Norma and Gabriel’s past due rent as well as their back owed utilities from the beginning of the pandemic. They are now caught up on payments and their rent is covered for one more month under United Lift.

“You know, it’s a blessing because that’s money that you don’t even know how you would be paying back if it wasn’t for that (help),” Norma explained. “So, they took care of everything that we owed and we’re good for one more month and then we have to start paying, but it gives us that room where we can start building up our income again and saving up to pay that rent.”

United Lift is still accepting programs for those in need of rental assistance in Riverside County. Visit www.unitedlift.org to begin the application process dial 211 for more information or assistance.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.

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