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Podcast: ‘It's going to take longer to have some sort of normalcy’ in Las Vegas

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Hear more of Nicole Vitale’s story and others on Cashay’s new podcast “Money, Honestly.”

Nicole Vitale has always worked in the Las Vegas hospitality industry. In mid-March, her maternity leave was ending and she was set to return as hairdresser and makeup artist when the coronavirus lockdowns began.

“I got a phone call from my director of the salon and spa,” Vitale, 33, said. “She let me know that I would not be returning from maternity leave because we were closing the doors of all the resorts.”

Taking a 12-week unpaid maternity leave, for four of which she received short-term disability insurance, already took a toll on her finances and savings, since she’s the main source of income for her family.

An entrance at the closed California Hotel & Casino in downtown is wrapped in caution tape due to the statewide shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic on May 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. ( Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
An entrance at the closed California Hotel & Casino in downtown is wrapped in caution tape due to the statewide shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic on May 27, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. ( Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“It's been tough, I was already on leave, so I was using my savings at the time,” she said. “There are lots of bills that are coming out and my savings are just depleting.”

Paying her mortgage, auto loans, and car insurance has been difficult because she has been struggling to get her unemployment benefits application approved since the beginning of April.

“My claim is saying that I had a voluntary quit, which is not what really happened,” Vitale said when interviewed for Cashay’s podcast “Money, Honestly.” “I'm filing weekly and every week it's getting denied because it's saying that I had a voluntary quit.”

‘It's going to take longer to have some sort of normalcy’

Nevada has the highest unemployment rate as of April at 28.2%, or almost double the national rate of 14.7%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industries that thrive in Las Vegas thrives are the ones hit the hardest.

“Leisure and hospitality has just been absolutely devastated,” said Martha Gimbel, manager of economic research at Schmidt Future. “That is an industry where it's really hard to do a lot of jobs if you are not face to face.”

The unemployment rate in leisure and hospitality is 39.3%, according to data from the Federal Reserve of St. Louis. With travel decimated and many events canceled, there’s the added question of when consumers will feel safe going back to places like Las Vegas.

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Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.

“It's a real question for that industry of whether or not consumers will feel safe coming back in and whether the industry can take actions to make those consumers feel safe, and whether they will be able to have a profitable business model under those actions they're taking,” Gimbel said.

With the pandemic changing the look of a city like Las Vegas, Vitale is not sure whether she will return to work and if her job will exist in the future.

“We live in a luxury city, so we actually need a lot of people to be comfortable within their finances to take, a vacation and come here and spend money,” she said. “It's going to take longer to have some sort of normalcy.”

DT (00:00):

This is Money, Honestly, a podcast by Cache. I'm your host, Denitsa Tsekova. Nicole Vitale is 33. She was at the end of her maternity leave when she was notified, she won't be returning to her hairdresser and makeup artist job. She lost her job as hotels, casinos, and everything in Las Vegas was closing down. Due to the coronavirus.

NV (00:27):

I'm originally from Brooklyn, New York, but I'm living in Las Vegas, Nevada for majority of my life now about over 20 years in Las Vegas.

DT (00:38):

Okay. And so you were recently laid off. What was your job? Where were you working at?

NV (00:43):

I'm a hairstylist and makeup artists at the MGM Resort Salon.

DT (00:49):

Okay. And when were you laid off?

NV (00:53):

I was laid off, our salon closed and the whole casino closed March 18th. So it was a complete close down. I was actually on maternity leave during that time. So my layoff turned into April 2nd or April 3rd, which is when my maternity leave ended.

DT (01:14):

Okay. So your maternity leave was ending in the beginning of April. You were supposed to go back and work and this happened at the same time that this has already affected your work. And after returning from maternity leave, you found out you were laid off?

NV (01:32):

Yes.

DT (01:33):

Okay. And how did you found out about this? Was it an email, a phone call?

NV (01:38):

I got a phone call from my director of the salon and spa. She let me know that I would not be returning from maternity leave because we were closing our doors of all the resorts.

DT (01:50):

Okay. And how long have you been working for that specific employer?

NV (01:55):

Two years.

DT (01:56):

Two years. And what was your initial reaction? Was that something you were expecting?

NV (02:03):

No, I wasn't expecting it mostly because I wasn't working in the salon at the time. So I didn't see how the situation was occurring in the salon, how people were... how things were contracting by touch. And I wasn't really as aware of what was going on with the coronavirus, because I was home with the baby. And so yeah, it was a shock to me, but also I thought it was precautionary. So I understood.

DT (02:32):

And how old is your baby now?

NV (02:35):

She's three months. She'll be four months, may 10th.

DT (02:39):

I guess my first question from the financial part is book was does that you mean directly for your financial situation?

NV (02:48):

It's been tough. I was already on leave. So I was using my savings at that time. We don't really get... I didn't get maternity leave. You don't get pay for that. So I was already just going out of my savings, now being laid off, I'm trying to get on to unemployment and I'm having some substantial issues with that as well. So I have not received any payments and I've filed since April 3rd and I haven't had any payments. So it has been a stressful to say the least.

DT (03:21):

Can you walk me through the unemployment process and maybe some of the difficulties you've experienced so far?

NV (03:29):

Yeah, in the beginning with the initial claim that I was making, just the internet issues were happening, which was just logging you off. And that was just due to a flood of the system they said. So the Nevada Unemployment, they worked on it. So now at least the website is staying on. My personal issue I'm having with it now is that my claim is saying that I had a voluntary quit, which is not what really happened. So I do need to actually speak with a representative because I'm filing weekly with my unemployment, which you have to do weekly, just to say that you're looking for work, that you're still available to work, and then you would be granted that payment.

So I'm filing weekly and every week it's getting denied because it's saying that I had a voluntary quit. So I think it's just the lineup of me being on maternity leave, them not really understanding that I was on leave, and then got laid off. So I think that there's a miscommunication there. So now I'm having issues with calling unemployment, physically calling, which has been the worst headache of it. So I call, we open... They take calls at 08:00 AM. So I call starting at 08:00 AM [inaudible 00:04:48], from 08:00 AM to 09:30 AM, and all I got was a busy signal. This is an issue that multiple people are having. I'm actually a part of a Facebook help group and I'm getting more answers from that than I have from the actual system.

DT (05:08):

And assuming what you just told me, you haven't received any unemployment so far?

NV (05:14):

No. The only payment I've gotten since this all happened was the stimulus check. That's the only thing I got, which did help, but no, I haven't had any payments.

DT (05:24):

Yeah, that was actually my next question. That's the other relief a lot of people have in this situation, did you get the full stimulus checks and did it help you? What do you use it towards?

NV (05:37):

Yeah, I did. I got the $1200.00, which was helpful just for paying the mortgage that month. So that was just a big chunk that at least was helpful that didn't have to come out of savings. But depending every individual's different and the amount of money was beneficial, but some people's bills are higher than that. So you know, it's different for everybody, for us, it did help just to help with mortgage.

DT (06:08):

And for how long do you think that will be enough? Do you feel that for the time being, this was enough? Do you think there should be... Or you feel the need for another one maybe in a month?

NV (06:20):

I would love for my actual unemployment, if I could get in touch with them and be able to get the back pay of what... because I've been filing weekly for the last four weeks. So if I do get this cleared up because I was rightfully laid off by MGM, then hopefully I would be able to get the back pay of it. So these are all questions that I have for them, but if I still can't get ahold of them within the next month, it's going to start worrying me because there's lots of bills that are coming out and saving is just depleting.

DT (06:55):

But as much as you're comfortable with this, can you share maybe some of the bills you have to pay? You say you have to pay mortgage. What are the other things you have to pay for a month?

NV (07:06):

Just the basics. We have car payment, car insurance, the electric bill, which Nevada State Power did say that if you're having issues or lost your job due to COVID, you can send them a hardship letter and they would help you without turning your lights off. So there's some certain companies that are offering relief and I'm going to start looking into that coming soon because I'm still not receiving payment. So I would say, I have the mortgage, my car payment, car insurance, anything like the internet bill as well, internet connection, water, sewage, just things like that. It just kind of adds up. And then on top of that, just food, we also... My baby is doing formula, so we also have to get that regularly as well. So there's just basic needs in this house.

DT (08:00):

And what about savings for retirement? What is happening to those things in the current situation?

NV (08:09):

I had a 401k with the corporation that I was with, with MGM. So now with that, I'm not really sure what's happening with it. I haven't even looked into it, but I believe that because I was laid off, I can pull from it. I just believe that you get penalized. So I would have to look into that a little bit.

DT (08:30):

Okay. And what about credit cards? Have you felt any pressure to borrow more than you normally do or you've kind of kept in the normal limits?

NV (08:41):

I'm pretty good about keeping within the normal limits. I'm just the type that gets nervous if my bill gets too high. So I strictly use that for credit building. I mean, if it was an emergency, then I would start putting things on my credit card, but without having the substantial money for me in my bank account, I don't like to play with my credit cards.

DT (09:05):

And going back to the layoff situation, have you tried to look into the legality of you just coming back from maternity leave and being laid off? Have you consulted someone on that?

NV (09:17):

Are you meaning for me to go back into MGM now?

DT (09:26):

Not so much about going back, but the fact that you were laid off just coming back from maternity leave, are there any protections for you in the current situation?

NV (09:39):

Not that I'm aware of, everyone was laid off, so I don't know if my situation would have been held differently because of the fact that I was on maternity leave, but there was no job to return to. So I think it just in my situation happened that way, if it would have happened while I was pregnant, I mean there's certain laws against laying off pregnant women. So there's other things like that, but for me, I feel like it was just a timing thing and I was coming right out of maternity leave and then my salon closed.

DT (10:17):

And how long was your maternity leave and approximately what percentage of your normal salary did they pay you?

NV (10:26):

I was off for twelve weeks and I got zero compensation. We do not get paid maternity leave. So I actually had to apply for short term disability, which is an extra payment on your insurance. And I was paid for four weeks of short term disability because I had a caesarian. So I only got four weeks of pay out of 12 weeks of not being in work.

DT (10:54):

So, I understand that your income has been damaged even before the coronavirus crisis.

NV (11:04):

Yeah. Yeah. We tried to save as much as we could going into it, knowing I was going to be off of work. So yeah, but it was already not the regular income that we were used to and now it's got drastically different.

DT (11:21):

And well, have you... Do you have any notice or any idea of when are you coming back? We hear out of, especially Nevada, I feel as though your mayor has been very vocal about opening up Las Vegas, how is that going?

NV (11:38):

Well, watching Mayor Goodman on the show was actually comical because we feel like it's more of a money game and they're not actually thinking of it as a human rights issue. So being someone that works in a tourist industry, I do feel like we need more precautions taken before we go to work. And if we are returning to work, what are those standards? Especially in my industry, I touch people on a daily basis doing hair. I style for weddings. So we are very up close and personal. So we would want those protective measures before going to work. And there has not been any communication with me or my staff from directors or people higher up of what they're planning in the future or even a projected date at this point.

DT (12:31):

You're also married. What is your husband doing and how is his income affected in the current situation?

NV (12:38):

He is a freelance photographer. He focuses on weddings, on real estate photography, so that has been affected as well. He basically owns his own business and that happened within last year. He went full stream with having his own business. So he has been able to still do real estate photography because these houses are vacant mostly. And then he's taking pictures for them to put onto the MLS for real estate. So he's been able to keep that a little bit, but I would say it is nothing compared to what it was before the coronavirus. It's mainly me who was providing, because it was someone that was starting a new business and he was starting to see it rolling out. And then this hit, he's got a wedding in October that might be postponed now. So there's things ahead that there's still not any promise that we're going to be actually having those jobs and getting that profit from it.

DT (13:47):

Yeah. It seems like both of you are really working in industries that are very heavily affected. First, I guess just Las Vegas in Nevada is one of the states and cities that are worse hit. I don't know. What are your thoughts on that, on the industry you're working in, the position that it's putting you in the current situation?

NV (14:13):

Well, it is kind of scary. We live in a luxury city, so we actually need a lot of people to be comfortable within their finances to take a vacation and come here and spend money. So I would say that it's going to longer to have some sort of normalcy with our economy. Going to what my industry is with hair and makeup, it is a little bit scary too, because I find myself working on people that just came off of airplanes from Paris, from all over the world. I get a lot of international travel and just domestic travel. So I know that a lot of these people don't check into their hotel right away, and they're coming to the salon to treat themselves before going out for a big night.

So now I think of it differently, which I never thought of before, but with this virus and how it's contracted from certain materials and things like that, we've always had a standard with sanitation, but this is a whole nother level because we actually are close to them kind of like the medical field is. We're right in their faces, we're touching skin. So that's something also that I find is changing. But my city in general, I think is very vulnerable right now because of the fact that we focus mainly on tourism to run our economy.

DT (15:39):

And have you thought, or tried looking for another job? I mean, is it possible to find another job in a Las Vegas right now?

NV (15:49):

Right now we are kind of at a stand still and we have been since March 18th. So our Governor Sisolak he said, he's waiting until the CDC says that it is safe, but we have some restaurants that are doing to go orders, the typical things that are happening, but everything else is shut down, including parks. We went to the park recently and all we could go was to like the grass area because there's things that are shut down, just precautionary. So right now looking for a job, even when you're on unemployment, our website they have job connect and you go to connect to it and it says error because they don't have anything loaded. No one's hiring at this time. For us, there might be maybe some kind of customer service that I've thought about going into something from working from home, but I haven't had any luck with anything yet.

DT (16:47):

And along with all of this work difficulties and financial worries, how are you dealing with that new experience of being a mother? Is that bringing additional stress to the situation?

NV (17:02):

It's funny how it all happened because I feel like she, my daughter, is actually giving us so much more joy at this time. And so we focus on that and I would have had to already broken away and been at work. So that is one of the silver linings is that I get a little bit more time because of how it flowed into from maternity leave that now I'm still with her and off work. So I try to take and break the stress of money and just see what really is important, which is that quality time that we're getting right now.

DT (17:39):

Yeah, for sure. That's one positive thing of the situation is that you get to spend more time with her.

NV (17:45):

Yeah.

DT (17:47):

And I'm also... What about the healthcare? Is your healthcare tied to your job? Do you lost your health coverage due to your job?

NV (17:58):

That's one thing, so right now I'm still covered. My husband is on my insurance and my daughter, but we're only covered until June 30th because that's the next time that we would register again and they would check for hours, because we do it on a... I think it's a six month period that they do. And so they were extending our benefits until June 30th, but after that, there hasn't been any talk that we'll be at work before that. So from there, I'm probably going to have to apply for Medicaid or do it prior to that to get us on some kind of coverage because I don't want any lapse in coverage having a young infant.

DT (18:38):

Yeah, for sure. Yeah. You're probably... Medicaid sounds like a good option in this situation. There is also, you're probably eligible for Obamacare for affordable care, especially enrollment if you're being laid off. So that's also an option, that's on a separate note. Yeah. I guess how do you see the coming weeks, months, both financially and with your family, how do you see things changing and you going through that time?

NV (19:09):

I mean, all I can do right now is I'm trying to focus day by day to get this unemployment figured out and to get in touch with someone that I can actually have a call back number that I can leave with them, because that's the part that's the hardest is that you call and it's not even getting us on a waiting list to get a call back. It's just me calling a busy signal, busy signal, busy signal. So that is what I'm focusing on right now is just trying to get that fixed and try not to stress out too much about it. I dedicate at least an hour or two to calling in the morning. And it's honestly a horrible way to start your morning because you get so annoyed and then I have to breathe, like take a deep breath and kind of like, "Okay, it didn't work today, but we're going to keep going about our day."

DT (19:58):

Yeah. I can imagine waiting for [inaudible 00:00:20:02].

NV (20:02):

Pulling your hair out.

DT (20:04):

You didn't manage to do it online at all? You didn't manage to get in touch with anyone online?

NV (20:09):

No, it's just because they have my claim it just says voluntary quit. So every week that I am putting in my weekly claim, it's getting denied. That's where I need to investigate with someone and the only email that is on there is for tech support. So it's only if you have a lost password or you're locked out of your account, that you can email them. Everywhere else, on the... It's ui.nv.gov, is only numbers and I've called the one for Northern Nevada and I live in Southern Nevada, but I've been calling Northern Nevada as well thinking maybe they don't have as many claims and they can help me, but neither one is getting back to us.

I did get an email, however, and it was someone that was petitioning. I'd have to re-look at it. I'm not sure who it was with. I don't know if it was a Congresswoman, but I called her offices and I told her that I had an existing claim. I gave her my number, my claimant number, my name, and a call back and told her what the issue was, and she put me on the list to turn into the governor's office. So there's multiple people that have existing issues with their claims and they're not trying to make an initial filing. So hopefully something will come through with that. And then I'm going to still be determined to call and get through because there is no projected date of the city opening back up. And if it is opening back up, will they need as much staff in my salon is another question I have, as well as just I'm sure everybody in the casinos, they might cut half the staff because we might not have as much occupancy. So there's a lot of what if's in the coming weeks.

DT (22:01):

And going back to your savings for how much time do you think you have enough savings?

NV (22:10):

I would say for this month we're okay. Next month I should be okay, but I would say by July, I'm going to start getting a little sweaty, a little nervous. I wouldn't even want to get that far because I would want to have savings for an emergency and at that point I would have nothing, and then I would also not have my benefits. So we would be coming out of pocket for insurance if we don't get Medicaid, which I'm sure we would, but which is just another whole thing we have to deal with.

DT (22:44):

And what would be your source of income if you go into that situation? Would you ask your parents for help, would you borrow or you're just going to rely solely on your savings?

NV (22:59):

Just relying solely on my savings. My parents are not in the situation where they could help. My stepfather is actually still working. So I mean, if I asked him, but I would never ask them, he's working, he's an essential worker because he's in construction, but it just, it's not something that I've ever done. So I wouldn't, I wouldn't be the first to ever asked my parents for anything. So it would probably be solely be my savings.

DT (23:29):

I think this is probably my last question. How do you imagine things financially with your family, professionally you say a month from now, how do you think things would look at?

NV (23:46):

Professionally for my family?

DT (23:49):

Yeah. Professionally, as your family financially, do you think you'll be back at your work? Do you think you'll have access to your normal income? Do you think you'll be able to start saving again? All that type of things.

NV (24:03):

Yeah. I doubt in a month. I don't feel that there is enough plans for Vegas to start up and running and we haven't even gotten any notifications of any of the casinos opening up or what precautions we're going to take towards opening. So I feel we're going to be in the same boat and with a lot of questions in the air and just trying to make do and finding support within friends, really. I mean just mental support because there hasn't been a lot of answers. So I think for me and my family, we're going to try to stay positive and just hope that I can get through to unemployment at this moment and keep trying in other ways online as well. So we're just going to keep trying.

DT (24:57):

I hope they finally respond to you and you get to figure this out quickly. [inaudible 00:25:06].

NV (25:06):

It's just sad that there's so many people that are going through it as well. And none of us can get through, which is what's crazy. I mean, there's been talks of people, who were going to start riding in front of the governor's office because there hasn't been any help. The only help he gave was that he wants people to file alphabetical on Sundays, but there's no more help centers being... They're still not taking calls on the weekend. It's only from 08:00 AM to 04:00 PM, and the queue gets full and then they take no calls for the rest of the day. So it's a system that is crumbling and needs to be rebuilt. So hopefully this will shine light on it too, that it does need some repairing.

DT (25:52):

You've been applying since the beginning of the month? So like three to four weeks almost?

NV (25:58):

Yeah, four weeks that I've been applying and I still haven't been able to get through. I have some friends, a friend that's a bartender, he's worked at the Stratosphere, he just got through last week and he has a family of two and his wife. And so it was really troublesome for him and he would call in the morning nonstop and I would see him posting his frustrations on Facebook. And I was like, "Wow." And so I asked him when I found out that mine wasn't approved, how did you get through? I literally called every day in the morning until I finally got through and it took him about three weeks to get through.

DT (26:35):

Wow. What about your stimulus check? Did you get it on time?

NV (26:41):

The stimulus check I did get because I had direct deposit with the IRS and I had already filed for my taxes. So I am hoping for that too. That would be going back to that question of next month, what would be helpful? Is I really do hope that my taxes come through on time so that would be awesome as well. Just for some support financially.

DT (27:06):

And did your husband get a stimulus check too?

NV (27:10):

He did not. No, he did not. I need to look into it differently, and also they're supposed to be expanding unemployment to self employed and having some other portal that they can apply. So that's something that they said that they're still not ready for them to apply. So he's waiting on that as well. I feel like you covered a lot of the finances and the struggle of being in Las Vegas, because that was one thing that is really troublesome right now [inaudible 00:27:42] depended on tourism and now that is kind of taken away from everyone. People are going to be thinking twice before going anywhere. I hope that they don't, but I also hope that we have measures to protect our tourists and our locals who are providing services. So I hope that we can all find some type of normalcy soon because it's a struggle for everybody.

DT (28:12):

Thanks for listening to Money, Honestly, by Cache, if you enjoyed this episode, go to Apple podcasts and leave us a five star rating and review. If you're looking for personal finance advice, check out cache.com. Until next time, thank you for listening.

Denitsa is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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