CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report contained an incorrect dollar amount in relation to total federal aid available to United Way of Saginaw County. The correct amount is $ 12 million. The correct sum is now reflected in history.
SAGINAW, MI – On Tuesday, Audra Davis’ challenge was to alert hundreds of Saginaw residents at risk of losing water utilities that their nonprofit has $ 3.2 million in federal aid that theirs solve the predicament.
On Wednesday morning, the challenge for the President of the United Way of Saginaw County grew:
At the time, her nonprofit had $ 12 million in federal aid that could help resolve these predicaments.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Davis. “I opened my e-mail for this message in the morning.”
This news could be good for the people who live in hundreds of Saginaw homes that are threatened with water supplies because of overdue bills.
The $ 12 million fund is particularly designed to help people in arrears, including water utilities.
However, officials remain concerned about the relative lack of response from affected Saginaw residents, who may not know that there is a solution to their problem.
In some cases, the silence emanating from affected homes could have a simple explanation: maybe no one is home.
In early June, water was turned off in 236 homes before a two-week lockdown began on Monday, June 28. In total, service was restored to 155 of these 236 homes after residents there paid their bills and established a payment schedule with the city, or began the process of seeking financial assistance elsewhere.
As of Wednesday, 81 houses were without a water supply. Officials say 13 citizens living in these apartments are in contact with city officials. They couldn’t reach anyone who lived in the other 68 dry houses.
“Many of the accounts that haven’t contacted us are most likely empty,” said Lori Brown, Saginaw’s finance director. “I see a lot of accounts with zero (water usage) for several months, e-mails sent back, and bad phone numbers on file.”
More than 500 homes remain on the list of homes at risk of water closures in the coming weeks and months.
While other homes in this group may be empty, officials believe many people may avoid contact for reasons including embarrassment over the accumulated debt. The lack of communication can result in residents missing the help available.
“We warned people about it,” said Brenda Moore, the mayor of Saginaw. “It is so sad that we only react at the witching hour. The residents have to understand that if we come out of our silos and unite, we can move this city forward. “
Officials say employees started emailing notifications in January 2021, calling the numbers listed on the 750 accounts at the time.
Employees warned local residents of the end of a pandemic moratorium on shutting down water utilities and informed them about supportive organizations such as United Way of Saginaw County.
The federal moratorium ended in March; Saginaw extended his moratorium until June 15.
“If we don’t spend it, someone else will”
Now that the two-week suspension of the water lock has effectively extended the moratorium, Davis hopes the borrowed time will allow affected residents to finally get in touch with funding.
“We currently have an abundance of funds to help people with homelessness, utility bills, or other issues,” she said of United Way of Saginaw County’s resources. “We want to make people aware of these programs so that they are not underused.”
While other funds are available, the largest pool of financial support for the nonprofit comes from a program called CERA (short for Covid Emergency Rental Assistance). Saginaw County’s $ 12 million in CERA funds are provided by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority through the U.S. pandemic-related CARES bill totaling $ 2.2 trillion.
Davis said $ 3.2 million in CERA funding was available for the county earlier this week, but that number rose significantly through Wednesday, June 30, when state officials told her organization they were now Could distribute $ 12 million to qualified residents.
CERA guidelines dictate that United Way of Saginaw County must distribute the $ 12 million by the end of 2022, she said.
“We urge landlords and tenants to seek help,” said Davis. “If we don’t spend it, someone else will.”
A campaign to educate these residents about resources kicked off this week.
The mayor was among the members of the Saginaw city council, staff and representatives of local non-profit organizations who are available to help affected residents. The three-day information campaign began on Wednesday.
About 20 residents came to the water supply.
The group is expected to be available again on Thursday and Friday, July 1 and 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first floor of City Hall, 1315 S. Washington.
Residents are encouraged to bring ID, a copy of their water bill, and proof of income.
Nonprofits expected at the sessions include the First Ward Community Service and the Saginaw Community Action Center.
Davis said United Way of Saginaw County officials will also be in attendance. She attended the Wednesday meeting in the town hall.
Start the process
For residents interested in CERA funding, Davis recommended calling first the Northeast Michigan Chapter of 2-1-1, a nonprofit that acts as a gateway to resources available from organizations such as United Way of Saginaw County.
To connect to the service, individuals must dial 2-1-1 on their phones. The operators can be reached every full hour every day, including public holidays.
In some cases, residents may be better suited to resources other than CERA funds, Davis said. Operators with 2-1-1 can make this decision.
“It’s just more efficient when people call the process with 2-1-1,” she said.
For residents affiliated with United Way of Saginaw County, staff there determine the viability of each applicant by assessing factors such as annual income and family size. For example, a single resident must earn less than $ 36,000 a year to qualify; a four-person household must earn less than $ 51,600 a year in total.
These dollar numbers represent 80% of the median median income in the region; a percentage set under the CERA program. David said most grant programs use math, which requires residents to earn less than 50% of the median median income.
“The fact that we can get 80% or less is great,” she said. “During the pandemic, it was recognized that more people needed help. This means that more people can seek help. “
Residents across the county have already used the program, Davis said.
When CERA funds were available for distribution by United Way of Saginaw County in March 2021, the amount available was $ 5.6 million. In the three months since then, citizens have been allocated $ 2.4 million.
Of that money spent, $ 1.9 million was provided to Saginaw County residents seeking rental assistance, $ 469,849 for customers requiring assistance with water or electricity bills, and $ 28,500 for Internet service costs for the residents.
“In our community, many people struggle to make ends meet,” said Davis. “It’s hard to imagine what it’s like to live without water and electricity, but there is a real need. We want to make sure that we meet this need. “
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