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Sending money home now a struggle for some Hispanic immigrants as jobs vanish

“My greatest satisfaction was knowing that I was helping my family in Guatemala,” Beatriz Rodríguez said. Now, she wonders how she’ll continue.
Beatriz Rodríguez was able to send $ 200 every Friday to her parents, who live in the town of Mataquescuintla in southwestern Guatemala.
Beatriz Rodríguez was able to send $ 200 every Friday to her parents, who live in the town of Mataquescuintla in southwestern Guatemala. [ JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times ]
Published Apr. 20, 2020
Updated Apr. 20, 2020

TAMPA — Since she came to the United States from Guatemala in 2007, Beatriz Rodríguez never stopped doing two things: cleaning houses for wealthy Tampa families and sending money back home.

Rodríguez was in charge of cleaning 16 homes and earning almost $3,000 a month. She started to file paperwork to open an office cleaning service and was considering hiring people to help with her daily tasks.

And every Friday, she was able to send $200 to her parents in Guatemala. Every Sunday, in the quiet of her small apartment with a cup of tea, Rodriguez felt the work was worth it.

“My greatest satisfaction was knowing that I was helping my family in Guatemala,” said Rodríguez, 49. “But now I wonder: where is the money going to come from if I don’t have a job?”

With the impact of the coronavirus and a recession, Rodríguez lost her cleaning contracts. She is spending her savings to cover bills for herself and a 13-year-old niece who recently arrived from Guatemala.

And the remittances for her family?

“Now it is impossible,” Rodríguez said.

For troubled Latin American economies, remittances have long been a fundamental help to support low-income families where there is high unemployment, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. In countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, remittances reach more than 50 percent of households. They also support almost 90 percent of the retail market and allow tens of thousands of people to be employed.

A recent analysis by the Migration, Remittances and Development Program at the Inter-American Dialogue, a nonprofit and research center in Washington D.C., found that remittances from the U.S. in times of coronavirus will decline by seven percent — from $76 billion in 2019 to $70 billion in 2020.

“With the coming decline, at least one million households will be affected. The countries that are more remittance dependent or with lower economic performance will be most hurt. Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras are likely to be the most hit by this recession,” said the report.

The money Rodríguez sent through electronic transfers has been a lifeline for family members who do not have government help or supplemental income. The amount was used to cover most of the dialysis that her father, Timoteo Rodríguez, 73, needs at least three times a week. The rest bought medicines for her 75-year-old mother.

In countries where the economy has been in a downward spiral for years or finances depend largely on a single resource — such as oil in Venezuela — remittances are a strong link for low-income families.

Ruben Barboza, 44, originally from Venezuela, came to Tampa 14 months ago with his wife and two daughters. He started working at the Hotel Renaissance as a waiter making about $350 a week.

“It wasn’t too much but we were getting ahead as a family,” said Barboza.

Ruben Barboza was laid-off by the hotel where he worked. Unemployment has put his family on the brink of bankruptcy and has stopped the money transfer he made to help his mother in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
Ruben Barboza was laid-off by the hotel where he worked. Unemployment has put his family on the brink of bankruptcy and has stopped the money transfer he made to help his mother in Maracaibo, Venezuela. [ JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times ]

In March, Barboza was laid off. He has stopped weekly money transfers of $40 to $60 to his mother Gladys, 73. “It is a desperate situation because she’s my mother and I’m really the only one who can help her with a few American dollars,” said Barboza.

“You want to go out to work but there is nothing to do because there are no conditions and there is no job,” he said.

Armando Santos, 37, lost his job as a dishwasher and his ability to send money to relatives in Cuba. Santos said he normally sends $100 every month or two to help his younger sister and two nieces.

He said a lot of Cubans had problems before the coronavirus because in October, the government limited remittances to $1,000 per person per quarter.

“It was quite a difficult situation for us, but now it’s no longer a political or governmental barrier,” Santos said. “It’s a global issue.”