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Martinsville waitress voices concerns over unemployment benefits



Tracey Sizemore, 57, reads the book "Goodnight Moon" to her grandsons Niko and Elam on March 26 from her car window. Sizemore was a server at Indy's Family Restaurant in Martinsville for three years but was laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a typical week, Tracey Sizemore doesn’t have much to worry about. Her car is paid off, and she really only worries about her utility bills.

Indy’s Family Restaurant in Martinsville, Indiana closed its doors March 17 after Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered restaurants and bars to close down to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Sizemore has been worried since.

“You know, the world as we knew it six months ago is gone,” she said. “It’ll never be the same.”

Sizemore, 57, has been a server at Indy’s for three years. Servers don’t make much on their hourly pay alone, and Sizemore said she lives mostly on tips. What used to be $500 to $600 a week in tips on her paycheck is now $103 a week in unemployment checks.

She was blindsided by the change. She had heard from the news the federal government signed into law that some people on unemployment will receive an extra $600 or so a week, but so far she hasn’t gotten any extra money. She was put on hold with the unemployment office for more than two hours while she waited to find out why she wasn’t getting her money.

The unemployment office told Sizemore she couldn’t receive any unemployment benefits unless she was actively in search for another job. She knew this was how it worked, but she didn’t understand how she was supposed to be out looking for a job when everywhere was ordered to close.

She said she felt unprepared, both mentally and financially, for the future. She felt the government was making empty promises to its people.

“If I’d have known this was going to happen, I would’ve been more cautious,” Sizemore said.

Sizemore was caring for her mom, who was in hospice care at the beginning of March. She didn’t have time to think about what was going on in the world when her own mother was on her deathbed. She spent her time visiting her mom before it was too risky to do so. Her mom died March 9 at her granddaughter’s house.

When Sizemore returned to work before Indy’s closed down, she said her daughter told her to start paying attention to what’s going on around the world. Sizemore didn’t feel prepared. She only had two rolls of toilet paper left at the time, and people were already starting to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer in bulk to stock up.

Sizemore said her daughter was her salvation. Her daughter made sure she had what she needed and has been making masks for people. She came up with ways for Sizemore to still see her grandkids.

She FaceTimes with her grandkids, 2 and 5, every night to read to them. Their favorite book is “Goodnight Moon.” A few days ago, Sizemore stopped by her daughter’s house and read the book to her grandkids from the window of her car.

In a video posted to Facebook, the kids sit in their pajamas on a blanket in the front yard. They hold onto every word Sizemore says out her car window.

Sizemore volunteered for three years at Pantry 279, a food pantry in Ellettsville, Indiana. Typically, she would spend a few days a week there, but her daughter advised her to about once a week while things were getting worse.

“I just can’t not do it,” she said. “I may have to slow down just to please her.”

Cindy Chavez, who runs the pantry and has worked with Sizemore, said their busiest days are Monday and Wednesday. The pantry gives food to around 100 people on a typical Monday. Now it’s getting more than 300 people through the pantry on Mondays and close to 700 on Wednesdays.

The majority of people it helps are food service and retail workers who are out of work due to the pandemic. She said most haven’t ever been to a food pantry in their lives.

She said she’s also seeing people who stopped coming years ago return to the pantry after running into more problems because of the pandemic.

“It’s such a bummer to see someone who struggled so hard to make it be right back where they were,” Chavez said.

Sizemore said her doctor told her Tuesday she can’t volunteer at the food pantry anymore until the pandemic subsides because she’s at high risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Before the pandemic, Sizemore used to see her four kids and six grandkids almost every day. FaceTime isn’t the same, but it’s better than nothing. One of her daughters and granddaughters just moved out of Sizemore’s house into their own. She used to see them every day, but now it’s maybe once a week, if that.

“It’s hard to think that your whole life in just a split second is gone,” she said.

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