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Where to find resources during the pandemic

Many of us are feeling the squeeze of the pandemic. So many offers for help can be schemes. Where can you really get assistance?

SAN ANTONIO — RESOURCES FOR THE COMMUNITY – FOOD 

Food budgets are the first to see cuts for many of us. The San Antonio Food Bank is the place to turn for help with meals. It serves 16 counties in southwest Texas, but you must register before receiving food. 

You can call to get registered to receive food at (210)337-3663 or go online. Once that's done, you'll be directed to the food distribution site closest to you. Each family typically gets about two weeks' worth of groceries.

“We want to make sure that San Antonio is nourished. We want to make sure that no one goes hungry in this time of crisis. So please, if you’re in need, reach out to us,” said Eric Cooper, CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank.

Back in March, there were long lines of cars in San Antonio as people waited for food, but the food bank said you shouldn't let that stop you. Those lines have since been greatly reduced with more pickup pantries added throughout the city. The food bank will also help eligible people register for public benefits.

The food can even come to you through organizations like Meals on Wheels. For a list of pantries in the area, the Mini Pantry Movement allows those in need of food assistance to search their area. Call before going and ask if they have any requirements for assistance, and what their process is. Athough most do not require it, you should also ask if you need to bring any documentation.

In some circumstances, the food bank can even bring the food to you.

“We really want this reserved for seniors and people with disabilities, but we do have volunteers that are delivering thousands of boxes to people that are shut in and that can’t make it out to one of the distributions,” Cooper said.

If you are unsure how to seek for assistance through the state of Texas, the Your Texas Benefits portal includes how to apply for SNAP food benefits. You will also find how to apply for WIC food benefits, TANF cash help for families with children 18 and younger for basic needs, health care assistance, and support services that include mental health and those who need caregivers.

RESOURCES FOR THE COMMUNITY – UTILITIES 

People will do without utilities when money is tight. CPS Energy said there is no need not to have electricity. Disconnections are currently suspended, an initiative announced in March. The electric company is even reaching out to people and small businesses who are behind on their bills. We always say if a utility call you, it is probably a scheme. Not this time. Pick up the phone if you get a call from CPS.

“We put together a really robust inventory of all the assistance available in our community. Even if it’s not just from the electric bill assistance. We have our residential energy assistance that can help customers with some assistance,” said Rudy Garza, interim chief customer engagement officer with CPS Energy.

It is possible the utility can waive late fees or develop a payment plan. On CPS Energy’s website you can find links to programs – like the Residential Energy Assistance Program (REAP) – with other resources for the City of San Antonio, Bexar County and SAWS. Energy advisors are always on hand to answer your phone calls and discuss what options you have by contacting them at (210)353-2222.

If you do not live in San Antonio, there is still assistance you can get through Bexar County. Call the county at (210)355-3666, or email ClientServices@Bexar.org. If you do not live in San Antonio or Bexar County, the State of Texas has information for Texas utility consumers. There are several restrictions, but for more information contact (866) 454-8387, or enroll online at TXCovid19ERP.org.

RESOURCES FOR THE COMMUNITY - HOUSING

Many of us are also finding that, for the first time, we need help with housing. The City of San Antonio is offering help with rent and mortgage payments for those who call (210)207-5910, but much more comes with that money.

“Really a package of rental and mortgage assistance as well as utility assistance. We package that in order to keep people in homes; obviously the first priority is to ensure that they are not evicted, or they’re not foreclosed upon,” said Edward Gonzales, assistant director of the City of San Antonio's Emergency Housing Assistance Program.

The program will help with electric, water and internet bills as part of the package. Note the assistance comes as a package and items like electricity, water or internet cannot be split out from it.

Individuals are encouraged to apply for the emergency housing program early, even before they have missed a payment.

“Let’s say you’ve already paid your August payment, but you know for a fact you’re going to have some troubles paying your September payment. Then this is the time to apply,” Gonzales said. 

Qualifications for the program include being under 100% of the area's medium income, which means a family of four would make less than $72,000. You must have also lost your job or have reduced wages because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gonzales advised not to worry about the math.

“If you feel like you’re over income, don’t make that determination on your own,” he said. “Let us make that determination.”

Fourth, if you do find yourself evicted, the courts are working to provide tenants and landlords with resources. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently declared landlords shall not evict people from any residential property for failure to pay rent through the end of 2020.

Still, renters must meet four criteria to not be evicted including:

  • They must have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filling jointly, or $99,000 for single filers.
  • They must demonstrate that they have sought government assistance to make rental payments.
  • The must affirmatevly declare they are unable to pay rent because of the coronavirus pandemic
  • They must affirm they are likely to become homeless if evicted.

The order does not mean qualified individuals no longer need to pay rent. Fees, penalties and interest on unpaid rent may still apply.

But local courts have a plan to work with those that ultimately go through the eviction process.

“We did have actual representatives from the city and county who were administering rental assistance funding actually present during our court proceedings,” said Justice of the Peace Rogelio Lopez.

You must show up at an eviction hearing if you find yourself in the process of leaving your home, but you do not have to be physically present.

“You can appear by Zoom. Or you can even appear by telephone. So as long as you call the court, do not miss your court date, because if you missed your court date, you will be evicted,” Lopez said.

If you do not live in Bexar County, the State of Texas has some housing assistance through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. You can email Info@TDHCA.State.TX.US for more information. 

For San Antonio residents, the city also provides several programs for minor repairs, and even down payment assistance for purchasing a home. The Under 1 Roof program is on a first come, first serviced basis, but helps with worn and damaged roofs. For minor repairs, the city also provided a Minor Repairs Program, but there is a waiting list. For more extensive repairs, the Owner Occupied Rehabilitation Program accepts applications beginning in the Fall, and there are a variety of requirements before assistance is provided.

RESOURCES FOR THE COMMUNITY – GENERAL

Call 311, if you are in the City of San Antonio. Tell operators your situation and they can connect you with these resources and more.

All agencies say it is important you reach out and ask for help so they can assist you.

“So many customers were eligible for these program that they didn’t even know existed because they’ve never called to talk to us before,” said Garza.

DONATING

Area organizations also ask that those who are able to donate please do so. Many organizations’ resources are stretched thin and they are unable to fundraise because of the pandemic. Both the San Antonio Food Bank and CPS Energy take donations for their programs.