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After six months, she hopes unemployment pay is behind her.


Karen Kent hopes this will be the last week she will have to file a jobless claim. A cafeteria worker at a high school in Pennington, N.J., Ms. Kent, 47, was laid off in early March when the pandemic hit and schools closed.

Last week, she got a call telling her she was the one cafeteria worker from her school going back to work. Her first shift is supposed to start next Wednesday.

Her husband, who works for a fire protection service company, held on to his job, but because he works on commission, his income was unpredictable.

“The $600 is the only reason we stayed afloat,” Ms. Kent said of the weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits that expired in July. Without it, her state benefits came to just $157. “We’re at the stage where we’re pretty lean,” she said.

She and her husband live in affordable housing, and they have twice deferred their monthly mortgage payment of $537 and condo association fee of $234. Then there’s the $185 they owe to Verizon and $457 in unpaid medical insurance bills.

Ms. Kent was glad she was called back to her $11.40-an-hour job. But she has asthma and a heart condition and worries about her exposure to the virus while working at a school.

“I’m terrified because I don’t know if I’m going to have enough protection,” she said. “But you have to do what you have to do to pay the bills.”

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