Ever since her three grandchildren began attending school, Persandra Ward has been saving $600 from her August pay to take them shopping for fresh supplies.

It was the one luxury the 63-year-old could afford in her otherwise bare-bones monthly budget: $1,350 for rent in Southeast D.C., $60 for gas, $80 for electricity, $150 for her phone bill, and $25 for personal items like deodorant or a bottle of shampoo. She relied entirely on food stamps for nourishment.

Ward was proud that her job as a cashier at a casino allowed her to support her grandkids and her husband, who stopped working after a stroke. And she remained proud when she figured out how to continue providing for her family with pandemic unemployment assistance when the coronavirus temporarily shuttered the casino last March and Ward lost her job.

But on Sept. 4 — 18 months and 50 failed job applications after Ward’s last day at the casino — most pandemic-era unemployment benefits lapsed. For the first time, Ward is staring at $1,665 worth of bills without reliable income.

The $600 for her grandkids had to go.

“Did I ever think I would be in this situation? No, I did not,” Ward said. “I was a dedicated employee. I did everything to keep my job. I did nothing wrong.”

For the first time in 18 months, many jobless people in the Washington region and beyond in September did not receive enhanced payments from federal programs designed to help them weather the pandemic. These programs expired Labor Day, when many people hoped the pandemic would have effectively ended and a new season of economic opportunity would have begun. But instead, the delta variant emerged with vengeance and hamstrung efforts to boost the economy — leaving millions of workers without extra government support while still struggling to find gainful employment.

“We have gotten calls from people saying they are concerned,” said Elissa Silverman, the chair of the D.C. Council committee on labor and workforce development. “They don’t know how they’re going to pay their bills. They want to know what more we can do.”

As of mid-August, there were about 12,000 people who were collecting pandemic unemployment assistance in D.C., according to the city’s Employment Services Department. Though Silverman added that, as of early September, she had received fewer calls from concerned constituents than she expected because of support available from the local government.

The end of federal pandemic assistance programs has been especially daunting for some because it coincided with the Supreme Court’s decision to end the eviction moratorium, which was meant to keep renters in their homes until states distributed federally funded rental assistance. That means that many people lost the benefit programs — which provided an extra $300 per week and expanded the pool of people eligible for aid — just as they most needed money to keep roofs over their heads.

Some states have instated protections to keep renters in their homes until at least the new year. In Virginia, landlords are required to apply for rent relief before they can evict tenants for nonpayment — a policy that legal experts in the area say has largely kept people from losing their homes and may continue to do so until next summer. Similar regulations exist in D.C. The council passed measures that phase out the moratorium in a tiered process that prohibited pandemic-related eviction filings until the new year. In Maryland, however, legal protections from eviction expired over a week before the Supreme Court ruling.

With stimulus payments and additional unemployment, some workers are reassessing when and how they’ll get back to work as the economy emerges from crisis. (Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post)

Each state has also been racing to distribute federal rental assistance, which Congress set aside to help people pay off bills that have piled up over the last 18 months. States and cities have been tasked with allocating the funding, and that process has been riddled with technical glitches and confusion. By mid-September, D.C., Maryland and Virginia had each distributed more than 60 percent of the first batch of funds.

Kimberley Harrington, a 45-year-old who lives in Baltimore, started receiving notices after the eviction moratorium ended in August.

Harrington was working three jobs at the start of 2020: as a liquor store cashier, part-time in a friend’s office and as a full-time in-home health nurse working one-on-one with sick patients. But in March, she left her health-care job to avoid catching the coronavirus. And soon after, the liquor store took her off the schedule.

“That’s when everything just started falling apart,” she said.

She applied for and received rental assistance to remain in the apartment complex she had been living in for over 20 years. But she said her landlord, Hendersen-Webb, would not accept those payments. The property management company said in a statement to The Washington Post that there were “ambiguities and conflict” in the Baltimore City rental assistance contract Harrington used. They are working toward a resolution, the company said, and the Maryland Multi-Housing Association has addressed the company’s concerns with Baltimore and is working with the city to finalize an agreement. In the meantime, however, Harrington is still vulnerable to eviction.

“It’s frustrating and it’s scary because I’ve been here for 20 years and I’m like, ‘What’s happening? I didn’t put myself in this predicament,’” said Harrington, who is scheduled for an eviction hearing in October. “I’ve been working all my life since I was 14. . . . I never been without a job like this.”

Even for people without the threat of losing their homes, the sudden end of the pandemic unemployment assistance programs has presented new, technical challenges. People enrolled in the lapsed programs are not immediately transitioned to traditional unemployment, according to the D.C. Employment Services Department.

That means that many people, including Ward, logged onto their benefits earlier this month and, to their surprise, found $0 in payment. Ward said she did not know she was supposed to reapply for standard unemployment insurance.

Less than 10 miles away from Ward, in Capitol Heights, Md., Marrika Rawlings was similarly struggling to understand how to receive government help.

Rawlings, 37, had been promoted at her job as a housekeeper at a D.C. hotel three months before the pandemic hit — a promotion she said she’d been working toward since starting out in the customer service business over 10 years earlier.

But then March came, the pandemic shut down travel, and her once-stable $18-an-hour job was gone. Rawlings was soon more than $15,000 in debt from back payments. Her savings account was depleted.

“It’s like starting over as a teenager,” she said.

After trying for months to receive payments from an overwhelmed Employment Services Department — while also applying for jobs in a customer service industry still strained by the pandemic — Rawlings finally collected pandemic unemployment assistance this spring. In the months-long process, she turned to entrepreneurship, creating her own business selling handmade candles, soaps and body-care goods, which she could run from home while caring for her six school-age boys.

But on Sept. 4, Rawlings once again found herself staring at a precarious financial future. Her pandemic unemployment payments stopped when the program ended earlier this month, and she soon learned that she did not qualify for traditional unemployment benefits.

Confused about what government support is available to help support her family, she turned to a Facebook group titled “Not Receiving DC Unemployment Networking Together” for help. She found many people just like her similarly unsure about which payments they are entitled to — and what to do if they cease entirely. Some members questioned how they should transition off the pandemic assistance and onto traditional, extended unemployment.

“Ok I’m confused in regard to applying for extended benefits,” one Facebook user wrote last Saturday. “Do I apply for it at this moment OR what until midnight to apply or wait until Monday to call to see if I’m eligible....?”

“Yes what should we do?” another user replied in the comments. “Do we need to call back on Monday for Extention?”

Rawlings has spent her days applying to over 20 jobs and waiting for a callback.

“I try my best not to show it on my face with the kids,” Rawlings said of the family having no steady income. “It would break my heart if they knew.”