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‘I’m terrified,’ high-risk Utahn faces uncertainty as $600-weekly unemployment boost concludes

Posted at 4:40 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 20:17:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY — She can’t find a job and can’t be in a public setting – now, as the weekly 600-dollar federal unemployment stipend is set to expire for thousands of Utahns, one immunocompromised resident is holding out hope for an extension.

“I spend a lot of my time just trying to figure out how to not go into public,” said Kristen Wolfe as she sat in her apartment in Salt Lake City. “I’m terrified.”

Kristen has lived in the beehive state for the last 6-years. But, over the last four months, her world has changed as the world changed around her.

“At the time I was thinking this crisis is going to be over like next month and my job will be back and everything will be normal and I will be fine,” Wolfe said as she reflected on early March.

Flash back to the onset of the pandemic, Kristen was working as a project manager for a software company. She said her boss had gathered the employees into a room and assured them ‘it’s going to be okay.’

“The entire company was going to go remote for two weeks,” Wolfe said. “That was the plan.”

Kristen believed this was the ‘best case scenario in a really bad situation.’ Then the pandemic hit harder – and her job, was gone.

“Kristen Wolfe has been laid off due to the COVID-19 national emergency,” Wolfe said as she reiterated the words she read in her termination letter. “One sentence, really.”

Kristen immediately applied for unemployment and soon after started receiving about 300-dollars from the state of Utah and an additional 600-dollars from the federal government CARES package.

Then, she came to the realization – no job, no health insurance.

“I lost it, I broke down, I cried, I wept,” she said.

You can’t tell by looking at her, but Kristen is disabled.

“Just going out into the sun without protection can cause my immune system to attack my kidneys,” she explained.

Kristen has lupus, an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy tissue in her body and leaves her at high risk to illness and infection.

“Knowing that I encounter people every single day that aren’t wearing masks, that just don’t take this pandemic seriously, that’s a huge risk,” said Wolfe.

Without health insurance, and a denied claim for Medicaid, Kristen had to use the majority of her extended unemployment money just to maintain her treatments.

“I was having to pay for my doctor’s appointments and all of my medicine, which I don’t have a choice but to take, I can’t just say, ‘oh, I’ll wait till I have coverage,’” she said.

“I spent close to 16-hundred dollars, out of pocket, in May,” she continued.

Kristen said she was aware the federal stipend would expire, so she purchased 90-day’s worth of medication and did everything she could to save what was left after paying for her treatments and bills.

“What can I do? How much money can I save? I mean I’ve sold things that I own, I’ve sold electronics just to build a savings account to keep myself home that much longer,” Wolfe said.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services said the additional 600-dollars was never meant to be a permanent solution.

“The added support of the $600 federal stimulus expires across all programs on July 25, 2020.

This program provided temporary relief for many until economic recovery began to resume, allowing ongoing stability to now be found in employment.” Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said in a news release sent to FOX 13.

Once the federal stimulus expires, those on unemployment will go back to solely receiving state benefits; for most that amount ranges between $200 and $300 per week.

But, with more than 88-thousand Utahns still unemployed, including 7-thousand new unemployment claims filed in the state of Utah last week, Kristen believes the need is still there.

Now with a looming benefit deadline, Kristen can’t find work in her field, and finding work anywhere else isn’t an option.

“To lose my job at no fault of my own, and then be told I need to go work in a public environment during a global pandemic, that would be a death sentence… that would kill me.”

Leaders in Washington are discussing another stimulus package that could extend the supplement for unemployment, but Kristen believes people like her don’t have time to wait for answers.

“I still have to pay for my life, my life didn’t end when I lost my job,” Wolfe said. “I can’t be that productive member of society if I get sick and I die.”