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How Long Islanders are spending their federal stimulus payments

Newsday's Sarina Trangle spoke on Thursday to Jessica Mendez, of Huntington Station, about receiving stimulus payments from the federal government and how it helped her family during the coronavirus pandemic.  Credit: Newsday / Sarina Trangle

As part of the largest aid package in American history, the federal government launched $2.2 trillion worth of loans, grants and other attempts to bolster businesses and families struggling in an economy severely restricted by coronavirus.

This U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act included about $300 billion for "economic impact statements." The federal government has since set about distributing this funding to individuals making up to $99,000 annually and couples earning up to $198,000 annually through one-time remittances commonly referred to as stimulus payments.

The U.S. Department of Treasury said the administration has handed out at least 88 million stimulus payments so far, of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child, depending on recipients' income.

On Long Island, families have spent remittances on everything from gifts for those mourning COVID-19 victims to landscaping service.

Out of work and grappling with an overwhelmed unemployment system, some recipients waited weeks for income, while spending more feeding children who are no longer eating meals at school. They have immediately put the remittance toward rent, food and other necessities.

For others, the payments have provided an opportunity to settle credit card debt, pay down mortgages or assist neighbors through commissions, tips and charity.

These are their stories.

Boris Yagudayev

Age: 30

Oceanside

Stimulus payment: $1,200

Yagudayev was working on getting a job and moving out of his parents' home before the pandemic struck.

“I had a $600 credit card payment. I basically just paid the minimum on it for the past two years now — $35 a month ... keeping it at $600. Blanking out my credit card bill was a really great thing … I have my insurance paid off for six months, so my only cost with my car is gas … Some of the money is going to go on gas, going looking for different jobs.”

Marisol Kohler 

Age: 53

Locust Valley

Stimulus payment: $2,900 

Kohler has not been able to work her part-time housekeeping job, but has gotten some money from her employer; her husband, who has a house painting business, has not been booking jobs. The couple, who have two children at home, are waiting for stimulus and unemployment funds in the mail.

“If we receive it, just the basics — just pay the rent; pay the bills and food. … We have to just expect [it] through the regular mail, and that is going to take a long time I hear. And we don’t even get our [tax refund] yet, so we are kind of desperate … I manage the Facebook page of my church, and I just posted a video. … It’s trying to inspire people that we still have God; we still have hope, and we are going to go through this.”

Chaz Gubelman

Age: 25

Manorville

Stimulus  payment: $2,900

Gubelman and his wife both work for a hospital and no longer  can rely on parents and grandparents for help watching their infant.

“I spent a few hundred dollars before everything — [when] they were predicting that it was going to be kind of crazy — on groceries and supplies and stuff, and I put that on my card. So I paid my card. … I was looking at tools. … I tried to find something that was made here … I figured with a stimulus check, at least try and support an American company. We order [food] every Friday, so we’ve been trying to tip well. …. I hired somebody, this guy that does deejaying and landscaping on the side. … I was happy I was able to use him, rather than using somebody that just does landscaping because he was out of work completely. … We’re going to be saving the remainder of it, and probably make a little bit extra mortgage payment.”

Prithpal Kandhari

Age: 70

Mattituck

Stimulus payment: $2,400 

Kandhari is a partner in eight 7-Eleven locations, all but one of which are currently closed. His firm received some assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program, which aids businesses, and has applications pending. His wife, Nina Grewal, who works as a pharmacist, has also had her hours cut. Neither decided to apply for unemployment.

“We did not receive anything yet. … It would definitely be very helpful because it would help pay for all the bills … fixed expenses like rent, electric. … We stopped spending. We’re very careful. … We always were taught to save for a rainy day, and that savings is helping out now. And that makes a big difference. … A lot of other needy people need that money [unemployment] more than me and my partner. We both decided not to do it. There’s a lot of people that need much more. Save it for them.”

Amanda Epstein

Age: 33

Holbrook, but moving to Lindenhurst 

Stimulus payment: $1,200

After shutting her Lave Om Hair Studio, Epstein was unable to pay rent and has not yet worked out a deal with her landlord. While trying to access government aid for businesses and the self-employed, Epstein is moving forward with pre-pandemic plans to move.

“It wouldn’t cover my rent. It’s not enough, but at least I could have possibly put something toward it to kind of show good faith I guess. It would really probably go to just paying whatever bills I can’t hold off and food. … I was able to find movers — scrounging up the money for that, but it’s necessary. … I will stay home as long as I need to to keep myself and everybody I care about safe … even though it’s stressful, and even though I miss doing what I love.”

Joanne Gray

Age: 59

Bay Shore

Stimulus payment: $1,200

Gray is no longer babysitting in the mornings, but continues to work for a nonprofit. She has sent wind chimes to three families after their relatives caught COVID-19 and died.

“My landlord required me to pay April’s rent. … I have a partner here, so we each split $1,000 [rent], so I took $500 out, which left me $700. I put some money down on my car note. … then, what came to be: deaths. And they came so close to each other. … for however long we’re going to [have this] quandary of separation from people, that is going to be our signature to everybody, which is to give them the angel [wind chimes] … When they ring, it’s almost like that person is looking over you. … That gave me enough money to go food shopping for me. I bought some stuff for my daughter-in-law, my son, and then my daughter; and then I have a 93-year-old mother … Meals on Wheels has been great for her, but you know, the little things like Lactaid milk, Ensure, stuff like that. … I put [$300] in a savings account.”

Laura Santoli

Age: 35

Locust Valley

Stimulus payment: $1,700

Santoli has been working reduced hours at an oral surgeon’s office as well as at a home for disabled children. Relatives are caring for her 8-year-old daughter to minimize her exposure to COVID-19.

“Right away, as soon as I saw it in my account, it was gone in five minutes. … the cellphone, the light, the heat, food, and then pretty much it was gone. … It’s just not enough to pay bills and then really be able to stock up on — well for someone like me, to be able to stock up on food for let’s say a month. … I’m contributing to the household that … has my daughter, so I put them first, before myself, and I’m just kind of roughing it.”

Jessica Mendez

Age: 26

Huntington Station

Stimulus payment: $3,400

Mendez has not been able to work shifts at a neurologists' office and has gotten unemployment. The landscaping company her husband works for has reduced hours. 

“We [were] relieved because we need to pay the rent … and then we paid the Optimum bill, our cellphone bill. … We actually are using the money to pay our insurance as well, our medical insurance. … I gave my mom $200; and my dad $200; plus I paid one bill for them, and then another [car] insurance payment for my dad. They didn’t get any stimulus check because they’re immigrants. … I felt bad because both of them are out of work. My dad is a construction man. He is self-employed …  my mom is a housekeeper. … We have family members in Guatemala. … With that money, that $400 that we sent over, we [were] able to give 13 bags [of food] to 13 families. We wanted to help out because we’re struggling ... but they’re struggling more over there. … We’re just using a little bit to buy the kids snacks because they eat like crazy when they’re home. … We have only like $600 [left], which we can use to pay another month of bills or go food shopping.”

Ernesto Pereira

Age: 37

West Babylon

Stimulus payment: $3,400

Pereira works in IT for a hospital in Queens. 

“The stimulus check basically paid my mortgage for the month. So it’s like a nice breath of fresh air because I personally was laid off last September, and had been playing catch-up. … I started working at a hospital in Queens in December, so right when all this stuff was kind of cooking in the background. And it’s been pretty stable. … I thought it would be kind of irresponsible to throw the check to a new toy or a vacation we can’t take anyway.”

Tavyonne Vaughan

Age: 26

Glen Cove

Stimulus payment: $1,200

Vaughan works for a day care, which closed when children began getting sick. She has been getting unemployment assistance, but her partner is out of work and has not yet received unemployment or stimulus payments.

“I was supposed to get $500 for my daughter, but I did not. … I’ve called any type of toll free numbers they’ve had on there, and I never got through to anybody. … For rent, I pay $1,500 … When I got the $1,200, it helped me, but then it was gone. … Something should be done about the rent — help, or giving people that rent a couple extra days or something because if I didn’t have my unemployment to pay my rent, then I would be waiting basically to go back to work, and face an eviction when all of this is over.”

Michael Herbst

Age: 36

Manorville

Stimulus payment: $1,200

Herbst receives government assistance for the disabled and makes DoorDash deliveries, which he says has been busier and more lucrative than normal.

“It’s already gone — all $1,200 — [it] isn’t really much, especially when you look at other countries, and what they’re doing. … I pretty much paid off two credit cards and paid off my phone, so basically that’s going to end up saving me about $200 a month. … now I can take the savings and put it toward other things like other credit cards, other bills and … basically get ahead on other things.”

Monica Mejia

Age: 36

Southampton

Stimulus payment: $2,200

Mejia works in the storefront of a medical company, but has stayed home to protect her mother, who has health issues, and to watch her kids, who are not in school or day care. She has struggled to file for unemployment and was caught off guard when a roommate moved out unexpectedly last month.

“Just the rent is $3,200. … [My roommate] paid $1,000 toward the rent. … [The landlord] can’t evict us. But what do I do in four months, when I don’t have $12,000 to pay this man? … if I’m not working, and I’m not getting any type of unemployment. What if I don’t get it? What happens in four months? I get evicted? Where are me and my kids going? A shelter? … And my mother has a heart condition, has diabetes, has all kinds of issues. I can’t let that happen. We are sort of stuck.”

Catherine Singh

Age: 56

Hicksville

Stimulus payment: $3,400

Singh’s husband has shut his jewelry business, where she also works, and they sought unemployment insurance. Singh and her two children are being careful to keep their distance from her husband because they worry his diabetes may make him more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“It’s definitely gone. My husband felt the need to pay the mortgage because we’d like to keep our house. We spent [it] on other bills and mostly food. … It went for copays for medicine that my husband can’t be without. … I have learned how to stretch a pound of chopped meat. The children have learned that their favorite cereals, if they’re not on sale, are not allowed. … We’re very blessed that we’re all healthy now. … We have nurse friends who are holding hands of dying patients.”

Irene Grzegorczyk

Age: 85

Brentwood

Stimulus payment: $1,200

Grzegorczyk relies on her 401(k) and Social Security and lives with her daughter, who is working from home. Grzegorczyk volunteers with RSVP Suffolk's Community Computer Connections Program, which collects, refurbishes and donates computers to those in need.

“I got my stimulus check and my Social Security check … on the same day, and it was really a nice surprise. … I’ll put it toward the real estate taxes, and of course, we’ve accumulated bills because you buy everything on Amazon. You use your charge card. So it helps with that. … If there’s a little left over, between the Social Security and the other, I have to pay my monthly bills. … I miss getting dressed up and going to work [at Computer Connections] … I think of all the kids that are in school that we didn’t have laptops for, and they really needed them now.”

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