Out of work, business thanks to COVID-19? Here’s help

by Cristin Parker cristin@thecherokeean.com

Sure, we get by with a little help from our friends, but state and national entities are stepping in, too, to help citizens who are out of work or whose business has closed because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

At the state level, Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) have taken initial action to provide tenant-based rental assistance for Texans experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.

Abbott waived statutes relating to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) HOME Investments Partnership program which would allow Texas greater flexibility to use program funds to help certain Texans pay their rent.

“The state of Texas is committed to supporting Texans who are enduring significant economic hardship due to the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “Suspending these state statutes is a crucial first step to help many Texans receive the financial assistance they need to pay their rent, and I urge HUD to grant the federal waiver requests.”

In addition, TDHCA has sent a letter to HUD requesting federal waivers to allow greater flexibility to Texas to reprogram these funds for that purpose. If these waivers are granted, Texas will reprogram these funds to provide financial housing assistance to certain Texans enduring economic hardships related to COVID-19.

Other federal and state programs to help struggling families can be found at the website, benefits.gov, which compiles information on more than 1,000 federal and state benefits and “aims to increase the ease of access to assistance programs for people in need,” the website states.

The site features information on assistance programs available for eligible individuals, spanning from food stamps, unemployment benefits, healthcare benefits, emergency business loans and more.

Texans in need of COVID-19 information and referrals to community resources can call the 2-1-1 (877-541-7905) Texas hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week and select option 6.

2-1-1 can provide information and referrals to COVID-19 social services, including testing, community clinics, unemployment benefits and local community resources such as financial assistance for utilities or rent, food pantries, housing assistance, crisis counseling, utility payment assistance and senior services.

Resources for Businesses in Need

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) granted Texas’ Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) assistance declaration, making loans available statewide to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations to help alleviate economic injury caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Small businesses who believe they may be eligible for an SBA EIDL, should visit the SBA’s website where they can directly apply for assistance. The online application is the fastest method to receive a decision about loan eligibility.

CARES Act Update: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress on March 27. The programs and initiatives in the Act are intended to assist business owners and nonprofits with cur-rent needs due to the COVID-19 crisis. Due to the CARES Act, small businesses and non-profits can get up to a $10,000 advance on an EIDL, even if a previous application was declined or still pending. The CARES Act also established a $349 billion SBA-backed Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to provide immediate access to capital for small businesses who have been impacted by COVID-19. For more information, download the CARES Act and PPP Loan Overview.

All forms and application details are available on the SBA Disaster Loan website, sba.gov/disaster. Click on the Coronavirus link at the top of the page.

Resources for Families in Need

• The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program can help provide financial assistance and related support.

• The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) serves millions of people annually, ensuring that they and their families have access to nutritious food options. The SNAP for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides for the special dietary needs of nursing and pregnant women, infants, and children under 5.

• The Texas Health and Human Services Commission launched a 24/7 mental health support line for Texans experiencing emotional challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Call the toll-free COVID-19 Mental Health Support Line, (833) 986-1919.

• The Greater East Texas Community Action Program is offering energy assistance through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Families may qualify for assistance with paying their electric or gas bills – for multiple months depending on eligibility.

“There are many who are experiencing reduced hours or layoffs due to COVID-19,” local case manager Linda Lewis said. “We are making a special effort to reach people who have never applied. Community Action is very concerned for people in our area.”
The program targets the elderly, disabled and the working poor in Cherokee County and surrounding counties. Eligibility is based on household income, citizenship and circumstances. Individuals may apply by mail, at GET-CAP, PO Box 631938, Nacogdoches, TX 75963; or online at get-cap.org.
The Community Action offices are currently not seeing individuals face to face. When the information is mailed or completed online, that individual will be contacted by telephone and the case is completed. A face-to-face appointment is not required.
“Individuals do not have to come back once they qualify,” Executive Director Karen Swenson explained. “Many qualify for help every month to the end of the year. We have always targeted elderly and disabled and will continue to do so.

“The application process is the minimum required by guidelines. Proof of income for the previous 30 days and evidence of citizenship is required. For those in financial distress, keeping the lights on is critical.”

• The Chaparral Center and the Alto Food Pantryare offering emergency food assistance to residents in the Alto ISD area.

“With so many of us unable to work and disaster assistance checks probably weeks away, things are going to get tight for some of us,” the organizations posted in a joint Facebook statement. “The Alto Food Pantry would like to remind everyone that we are here to help. A good number of the people we serve are facing a temporary, situational crisis and only need assistance for a short time. Whether its job loss or transition, illness, an unexpected repair bill, or a global pandemic, life’s little surprises have a way of popping up at the most inopportune of times.”

The Chaparral Center is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday, 176 W. San Antonio St., Alto. The Alto Food Pantry distributes food boxes every third Tuesday of the month. Additional dates will be announced as they are scheduled. Call (936) 465-9797 -- if no answer, leave a message and someone will get back to you.

• Rusk’s Good Samaritan has announced its new food distribution schedule -- 9-11:30 a.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 190 W. Second St., in Rusk until further notice. Food boxes will be distributed the same time produce is available. Food boxes are available to clients who have signed up previously and to new clients who qualify. The free produce is available to everyone. Upcoming distribution days are April 15; May 6, and May 20.

“New clients can get registered for pantry food on distribution day,” Good Sam officials stated. “A volunteer will take your information while you wait in your vehicle. All food will be distributed via drive through.”

• The Clothes Closet & More in Jacksonville supplies sack lunch meals to Jacksonville-area elderly and children on Fridays and Saturdays, to help tide them over on the weekends. The organization is located at 314 S. Main St. in Jacksonville and can be reached at (903) 586-0204. Closet officials recently put out a call for help from its community.

“We are running very low on several items because they are not available in the quantity we require, if at all,” Director Mickey Gear posted on the Closet’s Facebook page on March 29. “Please help us get the supplies we need. It takes 20 loaves of bread; eight pounds of cold cuts; two large jars of peanut butter; two jars of jellies; one jar of mayonnaise; 10 bags of chips (divided into servings); and four packages of cookies (also divided into servings), per week.

“Please consider donating what you can get of these items because the limits are keeping us from getting what we need. We have enough sandwich bags and brown bags for now.”

While Jacksonville residents showed their support in a big way, the need is still great as reports indicate the organization hands out an average of 75 meals a day.

“It has been only a week since I began asking for help to feed our sweet clients and I am overwhelmed by the loving response from our community,” Gear posted. “I am so proud to say you are my neighbors and brothers and sisters in Christ, you provided everything we needed last week and most of what we need this week, plus “special treats,” such as fruit and other goodies. Know that in my prayers I am thanking God for you and asking for special blessings and protection of each of you and your families. I love Jacksonville people and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. I don't know how long this shortage will last but I have confidence that the Lord will provide our every need.”

• Wells Interfaith Pantry is still holding its monthly pantry and produce days. Watch the organization’s Facebook page for announcements of upcoming distribution events. The pantry is located at 77 Homer Road in Wells, beside the water tower. Distributions usually take place at The River Church and behind Wells City Hall.