Millions of dollars are now available for residents who have lost wages due to the new coronavirus from an emergency fund that was cobbled together in recent weeks by local companies and public agencies trying to stave off homelessness and displacement.
On Monday, a coalition of nonprofits and major employers in Santa Clara County announced a $11 million fund to cover rent and other basic needs for low-income families who have lost income as a result of the coronavirus, either due to health care costs or lost work. Santa Clara County, the city of San Jose and Cisco are the largest contributors, pitching in $2 million each.
County supervisors approved the $2 million contribution in a 5-0 vote Tuesday, citing a need to move fast so families who are unable to work under orders to stay home can stay housed and pay for basic necessities. Board President Cindy Chavez said many families need the stopgap measure after they saw paychecks drastically reduced or dry up completely, while Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said now is not to the time to be frugal with the funds.
"Our financial future is uncertain at this moment, but the urgency of the moment, I believe, demands decisive action," Ellenberg said. "People are hurting right now."
At the same time, the city of Mountain View is launching its own smaller-scale relief fund specifically for renters who have lost income, with an eye towards middle-income residents who may not qualify for regional programs. At the federal level, early details are emerging Wednesday morning about a $2 trillion stimulus package that allocates $250 billion for payments to families and $350 billion in unemployment benefits.
Though local unemployment figures have yet to show the true impact of the spread of coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in an announcement Wednesday that more than 1 million Californians have applied for unemployment benefits so far this month.
The big challenge facing city and county officials is making sure people actually receive the help as soon as possible, with Chavez encouraging county staff and her colleagues to go on an information blitz to ensure struggling residents get the help they need.
County funding and how to apply
•Total funding: $11 million
•Assistance per household: Up to $4,000/month
•Eligibility: 80% of the Area Media Income (AMI), resident of Santa Clara County
•Best contact: Community Services Agency (CSA) of Mountain View and Los Altos, 650-968-0836 or RentHelp@csacares.org
The $11 million fund at the county level, dubbed the COVID-19 financial assistance program, is being run by the organization Destination: Home, which is currently directing interested residents to Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose.
While Sacred Heart is the main point of contact and is spearheading the effort, individual nonprofits that make up the county's Emergency Assistance Network will still be able to tap into the funds on behalf of needy families. That includes the Community Services Agency (CSA) in Mountain View, said Tom Myers, CSA's executive director.
Anyone interested in the financial support must be a resident of Santa Clara County to qualify, and must have a household income of less than 80% of the area's median income to qualify -- roughly $104,000 for a family of four. They must also show proof of loss of income as a result of the coronavirus.
Each household can receive up to $4,000 per month in direct financial assistance.
As of Wednesday morning, Sacred Heart had been inundated with phone calls and emails from residents seeking to apply for emergency aid, overloading the nonprofit's voicemail system and crashing its website. Demone Carter of Sacred Heart told the Voice that they had received 1,600 phone calls since Tuesday and have four staff members dedicated to going through the requests, but it has been difficult to keep up.
"We have an $11 million fund that our public and private partners cobbled together and that's great, that's something," Carter said. "But the need is so much greater than that, and us as a local nonprofit, we're doing the best we can infrastructure-wise to accommodate that."
Online submissions have since been disabled with plans to upgrade the system and bring it back online on Thursday, March 26. While residents interested in receiving aid can call the designated phone number at 408-780-9134, Carter said the best bet is to email email@example.com until further notice.
Alternatively, Mountain View residents can call CSA at 650-968-0836, which is accepting requests for county assistance through an automated voicemail system. Anyone with difficulty leaving a voicemail can also email RentHelp@csacares.org.
Interested applicants are being asked to gather proof of income prior to March 1, 2020, including up to three pay stubs for those with fluctuating work hours, as well as more recent documentation showing the financial impact of COVID-19. This could include employer notices of termination or reduced work hours, a letter from schools or child care facilities or a doctor's letter that shows someone has been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19. Identification for all adults in the household will be requested as well.
Mountain View funds available for renters
•Total funding: $500,000
•Assistance per household: Up to $3,000/month
•Eligibility: 120% of the Area Media Income (AMI), resident of Mountain View
•Best contact: Community Services Agency (CSA) of Mountain View and Los Altos 650-968-0836 or RentHelp@csacares.org.
Separate from the county efforts, Mountain View is launching its own renter relief program this week, tailored for city residents struggling to pay rental housing costs due to the coronavirus.
The renter relief program is more flexible, granting emergency funding for middle-income families making up to 120% of the area's median income, or $157,700 for a family of four. Though the program technically doesn't roll out until Thursday -- CSA has yet to receive the funds from the city -- there has already been a surge in interest and even some early recipients.
Myers said that CSA is preparing for a big spike in requests for rental assistance and is already receiving about 50 to 70 calls per day, and had to quickly triple the number of nonprofit staff members trained to help clients with rental assistance.
Unlike the county's financial support, Mountain View's rental assistance program program is intended to be more flexible in terms of proof of income documentation, evidence of financial hardship and proof of residency. CSA's case managers will collect whatever information each person can provide and make a judgment call on a case-by-case basis, with an eye towards supporting gig economy workers, people who rent rooms and others that may not have the documents needed to get help from the county.
Myers praised the city for working with CSA to eliminate those barriers and help Mountain View residents who may otherwise fall through the cracks, particularly people who are subletting or renting a room.
"I understand the need to prevent fraud, and that's very important, especially when you're dealing with the public's money," he said. "But if you can't help the renter who's renting from the little old lady down the street, you're missing a large subset of people."
As of this week, the plan is to provide rental assistance for up to two months of future rent, and cannot be used to offset the cost of past, unpaid rent. The worry right now, Myers said, is that the $500,000 may not last very long.