Garfield County extends cash assistance program for rent, food during COVID-19
Garfield County has funded and expanded an existing cash relief program to provide aid to local residents affected by COVID-19.
County commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to approve a transfer of $500,000 of emergency funds to the Department of Human Services for Garfield County’s Emergency General Assistance program, which can cover rent, utilities, transportation, food and some personal needs.
The program has been around for years, but typically only has about $10,000 budgeted each year. Far less than the budgeted amount for the General Assistance program was actually paid out in 2018.
This year, commission chair John Martin expects that the program will take more than the half a million dollars currently allocated.
“This program will last until we don’t have the pandemic and we’re able to get the economy back on its feet,” Martin said.
“I think it’s important to note that this is not the only pot of money that we are utilizing to assist our families,” said Sharon Longhurst-Pritt, director of the county Department of Human Services.
While the general assistance funding adds significantly to the county’s program, human services also recommend people apply for assistance through other national and state programs.
Those include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), unemployment insurance, Medicaid emergency benefits and others.
While the county asks people to apply for unemployment, food assistance or other programs if eligible, Human Services won’t disqualify a family from receiving the county’s general assistance funding while they are waiting for other assistance.
Paper applications for the financial assistance can be found at ten partner locations around the county, but must be either mailed or dropped off at count buildings in Rifle or Glenwood Springs.
The county also accepts applications over the phone.
To be eligible for the general assistance payments, a person must be a resident of Garfield County, and have a household income of less than $75,000.
A person may be eligible for up to $1,500 in rent assistance, depending on where he or she lives in the county, since Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have higher rent prices, on average.
A household could be eligible to receive a maximum of $3,000 from the county’s program.
Human Services also requires information about the applicant’s available savings before making payouts of emergency assistance.
The applicant must also have a legal presence in the U.S. to be receiving payouts from the county’s taxpayer-supported program.
Human Services does work with families of undocumented persons to see if perhaps there is an adult child with U.S. citizenship in the home that could receive general assistance funds, Longhurst said.
“We’re trying to work with people whose status is undocumented, as best we can, but at the end of the day, we do have to have some documented individual in the home,” Longhurst said.
It’s a legal issue, not about restricting access to undocumented individuals, Martin said.
Human Services refer undocumented people in need to the Human Services Commission, which is in a better position to help, he added.
“We help the Human Services Commission both in grants and discretionary grants to make sure they have money to take care of these folks,” Martin said.
The final eligibility requirement is that a household must be experiencing hardship due to COVID-19.
Many in the county are already facing financial difficulty because of the pandemic.
In the past few weeks, an unprecedented number of people have sought assistance from Human Services, Longhurst said.
“We’re seeing a population that we’ve never seen before. Working people that have never needed assistance in the past now need assistance because they haven’t been able to work in the past month,” she said.
Calls have increased by at least 30%, Longhurst said.
The county had 813 total applications for SNAP assistance in the first three months of 2019.
For the same period this year, Human Services received more than 1,300 applications for SNAP.
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