Support groups thankful for relief bill

This year, there has been a 56% increase in the needs for the services that First State Community Action Agency provides, said Executive Director Bernice Edwards. That’s helping with utilities, rent, mortgages and food for needy Delawareans.

“We have really seen an uptick in the need, and we provide those services here at First State, and it has been, for us, during these last few months, some real challenge times,” she said.

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion pandemic-relief package, including individual payments of $600, unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, funding for vaccines and more.

Aside from the direct $600 checks to most Americans, one portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $300, through March 14 — as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It also extends eviction protections, adding a new rental-assistance fund.

The COVID-19 package draws from and expands on an earlier effort from Washington, the largest of its kind. It offers billions of dollars for vaccine purchases and distribution, as well as for virus contact tracing, public health departments, schools, universities, farmers, food pantry programs and other institutions and groups facing hardship in the pandemic.

The relief package will help First State Community Action Agency — and other community organizations — continue to help close the gaps during a year that has seen record unemployment and increasing needs for services.

“I think with this packet that was just signed, it’s going to allow First State to continue to help those families,” said Carolyn Collie, director of client-based services for First State.

On Monday, she talked with a woman who has been unemployed since July and hasn’t received unemployment benefits. She’s behind on rent, she needs food, and the wintertime means she needs both heat and electric.

“We are helping families to stay above the water and keeping them, not necessarily all the way stable, but they’re moving away from the crisis, getting to stability,” Ms. Collie said. “So those programs that we have are now helping to keep her above water. We’ll be able to help her stay in her apartment.”

Other portions of the relief package are helpful, too.

“The standalone piece of legislation that protects water and wastewater is something that’s critical,” said Jaime Sayler, director of housing and community development and Latino services for First State. “Keeping a family in a house and warm is great, (but) if they don’t have water. … So the fact that it had a standalone provision for water and wastewater is pretty great.”

“Especially, as we look down here at Sussex County, the most rural areas that we serve,” Ms. Collie added.

For Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing, the goal is to enable “homeless people to get out and work again and live stable lives,” said Chairwoman Jeanine Kleimo.

“The number of employment opportunities have dried up, or there have been fewer jobs available during this pandemic,” she said. “And some of the residents of our housing off-site from the shelter have lost their jobs or had their hours cut because they work in the hospitality industry or whatever. And so we’ve been trying to work with them, so that they still have a place to live, but we can still pay the bills. So that’s a huge impact, and one that we’re just grappling with every day.”

While Ms. Kleimo said that Dover Interfaith Mission has been able to provide some short motel stays for people who have been displaced, relief hasn’t been “very forward-looking.” Despite that, the packages have helped expand aid.

The previous stimulus package in the spring helped pay for additional staffing when needed at the mission, so gaps can be covered if someone is out.

“We just didn’t have the capacity to provide 24-hour coverage in all cases before, and so now, we’ve been able to,” she said.

But she was also thankful for the community that has continued to make donations and bring food.

“Really, that has not slowed down,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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