Mona Ogas was laid off right as the pandemic hit. She’d spent a career working on the business side of health care, and had a good professional network. She’d been laid off before, and always found another job.
Then, the shutdown happened.
“As a week turned into another week and turned into another week, it just became really scary,” Ogas said.
Ogas has spent countless hours over the past year navigating the unemployment system, searching for jobs and networking.
She cut back on household expenses, stopped going out to eat, and hasn’t gotten a haircut or a manicure in a year. That’s tough for a woman trying to make a good impression at job interviews, she said.
Ogas also started driving for InstaCart and Uber Eats. Between the extra cash from gig work and unemployment payments, she’s been living on less than half of her pre-pandemic income.
“The stress of it has affected my physical health. It’s affected my mental health. It’s affected my relationships,” she said. “I’ve struggled with embarrassment and shame, wondering how this can be happening. I’m 57 years old and I’ve been working my whole life.”
Looking For Help
By the end of 2020, Ogas was caught up on rent, but her savings were exhausted.
She missed her January rent payment. She missed rent in February, too, but she knew Congress had approved billions of dollars in rental assistance. She told her landlord she’d apply as soon as she could.
On Feb.15, in the middle of the massive winter storm, applications for the Texas Rent Relief program opened.
On Feb.16, Ogas applied. It took hours to upload all of the required documents and complete the application on her smartphone. She’d cancelled her home internet service to save money.
Then, crickets. Weeks went by with no indication her application was being reviewed.
March 1 came and went, and she was, again, unable to pay rent.
“The landlord starts sending me emails saying do you have any updates? Do you have any updates? Do you have any updates?” she said.
What Mona Ogas didn’t know was that behind the scenes, the Texas Rent Relief program was hamstrung by software problems and other issues. The program could barely process applications, leaving tenants in limbo.
The contractor hired by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to run the program eventually had to switch over to an entirely new software system to handle applications.
Three weeks after she applied, a letter arrived notifying Ogas that her landlord had decided to evict her.