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Rochester's unemployed: A single mother tries to adjust after losing her job in the pandemic

Amy Rivera is a paraprofessional. For the past two years, she worked one-on-one with special education students in the Rochester City School District.

"I loved it," she said. "I have two kids of my own, and I have a child with special needs, so I know how to deal with kids like this."

But Rivera's position with the staffing company that employed her ended in mid-March when schools across Monroe County were closed to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"It's been hard," she admitted.

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At first, before the federal government started supplementing unemployment benefits, the single mother was getting $120 a week -- not enough to cover her expenses.  

"I pay $336 in car payments monthly. I pay $600 in rent. I pay $60 in a phone bill," Rivera said, listing her monthly bills. "If I have to put them in day care, I have to pay $50 for each child. I have to pay for gas if I have to go out with the kids for an emergency. I do grocery shopping of at least $200 to $300 a week, so it's kind of hard."

The extra $600 a week in federal money helped, but that put Rivera into a higher income bracket and she lost the SNAP benefits she relied on to feed her 8- and 2-year-old sons.

She said she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

"I get anxiety and panic attacks every other day, and I don't take medication because the medication they give me tries to relax me, but it also puts me to sleep and I can't be in my bed every day, all day," she said.

Rivera hopes to have a new job soon that will allow her to earn as much as she now gets in unemployment payments -- and even more if she works overtime.

She said she was hired -- pending a background check -- to deliver packages for Amazon.

"It's four days of the week, each day a minimum of 10 hours, but I was told there were days when we could go up to 15 hours because there's a lot of packages going on right now," she said.

If that doesn't come through, she's hoping school reopens in September and she'll be rehired for her previous job.

Rivera admitted there are days when the stress makes her feel like she can't cope, but she finds a way to do it for the sake of her sons.

"I can't give up," she said, "because these kids, they need me."

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.