NEW YORK – As the coronavirus crisis unfolded, Akeil Smith’s employer cut his job as a home health aide to 25 hours a week. His $ 15 an hour salary was no longer enough to pay the $ 700 monthly rent, and he had to visit warehouses to buy food.

While millions of American workers have already received a stimulus payment through direct deposit, Smith is among the millions of people without traditional bank accounts who must wait weeks to receive paper checks.

When checks finally arrive, this disproportionately black and Hispanic population often has no choice but to use costly check cashing services to access money.

“I live check by check, and now I need more groceries,” Smith, 35, told The Associated Press while standing at Payomatic, a small check cashing store in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn.

In the six weeks since the pandemic shut down much of the American economy, more than 30 million American workers have applied for unemployment insurance. Congress approved a $ 2.2 billion economic rescue package.

In April, the government began sending $ 1,200 for each individual, $ 2,400 for each married couple, and another $ 500 for each dependent child to poor and middle-class families across the United States. Wealthier families get little or no pay depending on their income.

To help facilitate the delivery of payments, the government launched an online portal for people to provide their bank information for direct deposit. But that system offered nothing to people without savings or checking accounts.

Many taxpayers have already received the expected deposit, and others wonder if new aid will come.

A memo from the House Ways and Means Committee obtained by the AP estimated that approximately 5 million checks will be issued per week, meaning that those most in need could wait many weeks for their payments.

In Houston, Ta’Mar Bethune, a 41-year-old mother of four adult children raising a grandchild, is likely to wait a bit. As a younger woman, she struggled for years to pay the bank account fees until it was closed. In the 1990s, she was also a victim of identity theft and never fully recovered.

More than 20 years later, Bethune still can’t pass a standard background check to open a checking account because the banking system considers it too risky, she said. To survive, she transfers the money she makes as a professional hairdresser and babysitter to a non-bank debit card.

“They charge you an arm and a leg,” he said, citing a monthly fee and a charge for each withdrawal. “You never get your full money. It’s bad, but I have no choice. “

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Approximately 8.4 million American households were considered “unbanked” in 2017, which means that no one in the household had an account, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Another 24.2 million households were “banked,” meaning they could have a bank account, but household members also used an alternative financial service for money orders, check cashing, international remittances, payday loans, and home loans. endeavor, often at high costs.

Approximately 17% of black households and 14% of Hispanic households did not have a bank account in 2017, compared to just 3% of white households and 2.5% of Asian American households, the FDIC said.

In Nevada, nearly 300,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits in the past month, a record.