Home News It’s getting bleak for out-of-work hotel workers: ‘My biggest worry is securing...

It’s getting bleak for out-of-work hotel workers: ‘My biggest worry is securing shelter’

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Payne, along with her 27-year-old daughter Kipati and 28-year-old son Atrayu, gather in their North Philadelphia living room, with the household bills in hand. She reviews the mortgage payments and her retirement and savings accounts with her children.

“We’re going into our fourth month of not paying our mortgage,” Payne tells them. “I was hoping to pass on my retirement savings to you, but it looks like we’re not going to have that. That’s gone — because we’re using it to get by.”

Payne, 51, a single parent, recently received a letter from Marriott, which she reads out loud to her children: “We’re extending your layoff until December 31, 2020.”

The US leisure and hospitality industry lost 7.5 million jobs in April, accounting for half of all jobs in that sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recovery has been slow, with only about half of those jobs lost early on in the pandemic added back.

In a new survey by the American Hotel Lodging Association, 74% of US hotels say more layoffs are coming if the industry doesn’t get additional federal assistance.

For months, Congress has been negotiating a new stimulus bill, but Democrats and Republicans have yet to reach a deal. House Democrats could potentially vote on a pared down version of their coronavirus stimulus legislation this week, hoping to break the stalemate that has kept relief from reaching many out-of-work Americans and struggling businesses. The hotel industry is looking for assistance through a new version of the Paycheck Protection Program, which would likely be included in the relief bill and would aim to help businesses to pay staff.

“It’s scary because I’m waiting, but there’s no guarantee I’m going to come back,” said Payne.

Payne has lost not one, but two jobs. Her part-time job as a bartender is also on hold, she says. Before the pandemic, she was working seven days a week to pay for her new home and feed her children. Her son Atrayu is autistic and her daughter is his home health aide.

Payne, who has arthritis and a heart condition, is also nervous about getting sick from Covid-19 and fears the worst.

“I’m trying to prepare my daughter — how to pay the mortgage, how we pay the bills — so that she can be the head of the household because my son cannot. I’m preparing for a death sentence financially, as well as physically,” she said.

‘We live and die’ by conventions

Hotel occupancy is at 50% nationwide, but just 27% in Philadelphia, according to STR, a global analytics firm that tracks the hospitality industry.

And that could get worse. Every winter hotels in Philadelphia expect occupancy to dip, but their saving grace has been conventions. Several hotels, including the Marriott, are attached to the Philadelphia Convention Center, which is often booked a decade in advance, according to the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. But with gatherings of more than 25 people prohibited in the city, the conventions have come to a halt.

“We live and die by our convention center,” said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. “When our conventions started to cancel during the pandemic, it was not only a short-term problem, but also a long-term problem because we don’t know when some of those conventions are going to rotate back to Philadelphia.”

Two hotels in Philadelphia have closed their doors for good — while seven remain temporarily closed, said Grose. He expects that number to grow without federal aid. The Pod Philly Hotel is one of those temporarily closed — with nearly all of its 30-person staff on furlough. Windsor Suites, a sister property, still has half of its 70 employees on furlough.

“It’s just a bleak scenario,” said Michael Roberts, general manager of the Pod Philly Hotel and Windsor Suites. “The end goal will certainly be to be able to bring folks back. How quickly that happens is anyone’s guess and very much TBD.”

Black workers hit especially hard

More than 70% of hotel workers in Philadelphia are minorities, according to Unite Here, a union representing hotel workers in the city. Nationally — Black unemployment was 13% in August, nearly double the rate for White workers, according to BLS.

Lisa Palmer has been cooking in hotels in Philadelphia for 20 years, where she says she’s worked long hours as a single mom to provide for her 5-year-old daughter, Jaylee. In March, she was furloughed from the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Philadelphia and the hotel has remained closed ever since.

“I was set to receive my pension July 13th — that got ripped from me,” said Palmer. “I have no idea if I’ll be able to get that time back to try and make ups the difference to be able to secure my pension.”

Both Palmer, 39, and Payne, say since the extra $600 in unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, their weekly unemployment checks haven’t been enough to support their families.

Palmer worked as a cook at a hotel in Philadelphia until she was put on furlough.

“The government [thinks] that unemployment assistance is keeping people from going out and going back to work or getting jobs. How about there are no jobs? How about every job in my field is shut down or restricted?” said Palmer.

Both women say they’re barely keeping their heads above water. At the end of one of her most recent morning family meetings, Payne told her children she is reapplying for unemployment since it expired after the allotted 13 weeks. As she awaits her new checks, money will get even tighter.

“We’re going to have one, maybe two weeks where I’m not going to have any money coming in,” she tells her children. “We’re going to have to rough it — that’s where we are right now.”

The Payne family has roughed it once before, when they were homeless for two years. A roof over their heads means everything.

“My biggest worry right now is securing my home, securing shelter” Payne said. “If we have to be cold or have no water, I can deal with that, I’ve been through that. But we need a house.”

CNN’s Kate Trafecante contributed to this report.

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