For the past seven decades, four generations of Catherine Escalera's family have, at one point or another, lived in her Long Island home. As the current owner, the 49-year-old former nail technician is responsible for the $3,200 a month mortgage that remains.
Until last month, Escalera would spend nearly her entire retirement check on the mortgage, and her three adult children who still live at home would chip in for other living expenses. Now that two of her contributing sons are out of work, Escalera fears she will lose the house.
"People have normal problems and you pile this on top, its a recipe for disaster," Escalera said. "Financially, people who are already teetering on the edge, you're pushing them right over."
Escalera's three eldest sons pay all of the bills outside of her mortgage. Two of them, including a barber who contributes the most, haven't gotten a paycheck in three weeks, she said.
"We're all in this together. We're a close family. You know if we need bread, someone gets the bread. We live paycheck to paycheck," she told Business Insider. "I can barely pay the mortgage as it is."
In addition to missing an electricity payment this month, and fearing for what's going to happen when the next round of bills hit early next month, Escalera has resorted to feeding her family mostly cheap bulk meals of pasta and rice.
Her family rarely eats out, so that's something that hasn't changed. Now, though, meat is missing from some their meals.
"My kids eat almost all their meals at home, but they'd like to order little things at night, maybe a pizza. But now there is none of that," she said. "Not that we could go out and eat steak every night anyway, we eat chop meat every night, but now you can't even do that. You gotta stretch everything."
Escalera said her family can't afford to wait for the stimulus checks. Her mortgage payment is coming up fast and now that she can't put her whole retirement check toward that, the family is in trouble.
She was already a bit behind on her mortgage as is, so she thinks it's unlikely that her creditor would be willing to negotiate again.
Even when the $1,200 does come, it will barely pay a month's taxes on her house, she said.
The financial hardship she's facing has made Escalera frustrated with the government's slow response.
In order to stay afloat, Escalera believes that people living in expensive cities, like New York, would need relief of several thousands of dollars a month.
"I really believe in this country. We're Italian-Americans. We're so patriotic in this family," Escalera said. "It was everything: you worked for unions, you take care of your family, you buy a house, you pay your bills on time. But you're killing us. You're killing the middle class."
"I just see people with tears in their eyes in the grocery store," she added. "There's sadness everywhere, and I'm just very sad for us now."
Still, at the end of the day Escalera said she tries to stay positive for her children, especially her daughter, who is 14.
"I have a TV from Rent-a-Center. If that has to go, so be it. That's not a big deal," she said. "Cellphones have to be paid because that's the only line of communication. If we have to sell this house, we have to sell the house. I'm not going to kill myself over it."