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Teresa Trabucco
Age: 42
City: Menifee, Riverside County
Race/Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Waitress

In many ways, distance learning is keeping Teresa from making ends meet. The waitress can only work weekends when her son isn’t in class. She’s falling behind on rent and considering moving out of state.

Feb. 19, 2021

Hope rests in Idaho 

The schools and restaurants in Canyon County, Idaho, are decisively open. Coronavirus is comparatively in check. Rent is distinctly un-Californian, cheap. 

“Life is better here” is the motto of Middleton, a small town in Canyon County. Last month, in the midst of consoling her 9-year-old son who, after nearly one year of online school, had reached his breaking point, Teresa Trabucco decided that Middleton’s motto had to be true. 

Despite her best efforts to hang on to a life in California, it became clear to her that the best path forward from a seemingly endless stretch of economic pain now led out of her home state. 

“I was like ‘nope,’” Trabucco said. “We’ve got to go. It’s time to go out of California.” 

The extension of California’s eviction moratorium to June, recent federal relief and additional stimulus from Sacramento are allowing Trabucco to begin plotting her move. She has $1,200 from the federal stimulus, expects $3,500 in rental assistance to pay down roughly $9,000 in back rent and hopes to receive extended unemployment benefits if she can get through the state Employment Development Department.

Liam Ranck lives with his mother in a one-bedroom apartment in Menifee, Calif. Photo by Tash Kimmell, CalMatters

First she must wade through a lengthy and costly custody proceeding. 

Next month, Trabucco enters mediation with Liam’s father to allow Liam to leave the state. If he objects, the next step would be to undergo a lengthy evaluation process in which an evaluator provides a recommendation for custody to a judge. 

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It wasn’t Trabucco’s first choice to leave the state she’s lived her entire life. But a guaranteed job at the local Texas Roadhouse, open schools and a temporary place to stay in Middleton with her oldest son, who is expecting her first grandchild, are all beckoning for her to go. Simply put, the path has been paved. 

Three-bedroom apartments in Canyon County go for less than what she pays for one bedroom in Menifee. Despite a lower minimum wage in Idaho, she can lean on tips. 

“I can see myself buying a house there,” Trabucco said. “Here, there’s no way I’d ever be able to buy a house.”

Jan. 20, 2021

In her words

One difficult thing is going to the grocery store. It’s difficult when I’m limited on money. Liam wanted, as weird as it sounds, these Fruit Loops Pop Tarts and they were like four dollars and change. And I was like, “No, why don’t you get these ones? They’re like a dollar something and they’re the generic brand,” and he was sad because he couldn’t get the Fruit Loops ones he wanted. But I have to pick and choose what we get. Or sometimes he wants chips and I’m like “No, we can’t get that because we need the necessities.”

And that just breaks my heart that I can’t get what he wants. I’m constantly telling him, “no, no, no.” Sometimes he wants to go somewhere and we can’t go because I don’t have the extra money to go and spend on that.

But it’s basically just me putting money towards bills and food. At one point, I couldn’t pay my car insurance. So I had to let that go, but then I had to get it reinstated because that’s one thing that you have to have.

I have no headlights on my car. I don’t even have money to get those fixed, so I just don’t drive at night.

Dec. 6, 2020

When Teresa Trabucco puts her 9-year-old son, Liam Ranck, to bed for the night, she collapses on the living room couch in her one-bedroom Menifee apartment and lets the tears flow. It’s been this way since a mortifying letter from her landlord appeared in her mailbox two months ago.

The coronavirus has forced the 42-year-old single mother to trade in her weekday shifts as a waitress at a local restaurant to stay at home and look after her son’s distance learning. She can only work weekends when her son stays at his dad’s house in nearby Hemet. 

But weekend shifts at Texas Roadhouse haven’t been enough to pay the last three months of rent. She is behind $4,500 and she’ll be behind $9,000 in February when the statewide eviction moratorium lifts. 

The letter in her mailbox was clear: pay 25% of owed rent by February or she’s out.

Teresa Trabucco foregoes work to assist her son, Liam, with distance learning. Photo by Tash Kimmell, CalMatters

In a typical week, Trabucco works two weekend shifts and brings home $350. That’s $600 less than what she would earn each week before the pandemic hit. 

Trabucco had been managing for most of the pandemic. When the state shut down in March, relief from the CARES Act supplanted her income. Her weekly award of $339 was bolstered by $600 from the federal government.

She used that money to pay her rent months in advance, knowing the benefits expired in July. Trabucco didn’t have to worry about paying rent until September. 

Since then, Trabucco has been able to pull in only about $1,400 a month plus $766 in child support. She prioritizes paying her internet bill so Liam can attend class and the rest goes to groceries and utilities. Her credit card bills go unpaid.

At night when Trabucco has time to process her situation, she wrestles with feeling like a failed parent, but she knows there is only so much she can do. 

“You got to make sure you can provide for your kid,” Trabucco said. “So when you can’t, it’s hard.”

Trabucco says she feels abandoned by the government. 

“They’re fighting about whatever they want the stimulus package to be, but they have no idea about us that are having to deal with this and go through this,” Trabucco said. “They’re not thinking about the toll that it’s taking on all of us families.” 

A Trump supporter, she fears President-elect Joe Biden will implement mass lockdowns and completely shut down restaurants when he takes office in January, putting her out of work. Trabucco is still holding out hope for a Trump re-election. 

Trabucco believes COVID-19 is real, but thinks its danger has been blown out of proportion. 

And as much as she wants schools to reopen so she can return to work full time, Trabucco is adamant about not sending Liam back to school if he is required to wear a mask or be vaccinated with the new coronavirus vaccine. 

Confronted with the growing possibility of eviction, Trabucco is heavily considering moving out of state to Idaho, where her dollar goes much further. Life in California is simply too expensive, she says. 

Her 23-year-old son Anthony moved to Idaho with his girlfriend in June. He had worked alongside his mom at Texas Roadhouse for seven years before he moved. Now he works two jobs in Idaho, one of them at another Texas Roadhouse. If she’s unable to catch up on rent by February, Trabucco plans to follow in her son’s tracks. 

One of the few things lifting Trabucco up is her faith. She prays every night. On her fridge, she wrote on a calendar: “Believe Faith & God, IDK But I Know He Has Me.” 

This project is part of California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.

Staying Sheltered

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Orlando is a CA Divide intern at CalMatters. He is a journalism student at California State University, Northridge. Prior to joining CalMatters, he was the news editor at CSUN's student newspaper, the...