$1,200 Grants Provided to Families Impacted by Pandemic, via Harris County’s CARES Fund Administered by Catholic Charities
HOUSTON, TX – The holiday season was a little brighter for over 51,000 families who received aid from the $61.4 million Harris County COVID-19 Emergency Direct Assistance Program, administered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The fund came from the County’s CARES funding and provided a one-time $1,200 payment to 51,167 eligible applicants (one per household).
The County initially designated $40 million for the fund, and another $20 million was allocated in November as the pandemic continued to impact the region. An additional $1.4 million was allocated to the Direct Assistance fund and was earmarked directly for Precinct 2 recipients due to a shortfall of participants in the County’s Small Business Grant Program, bringing the program’s total to $61.4 million.
The fund was entirely need-based, and the money was distributed approximately equally across Harris County’s four precincts (except for the Precinct 2 surplus), including to City of Houston residents inside Harris County. To ensure fairness and given the fact that the applications vastly outweighed the funding, the program was not run on a first-come-first-served basis. Families were selected from the application pool using a random statistical model that ensured no discrimination.
The funds could be used for any type of emergency expense (housing, food, utilities, healthcare, childcare, transportation, etc.), and unlike other aid programs, families could apply on their own without cooperation from a landlord.
Going above and beyond to help the community, Harris County has recently secured private funds to assist non-citizen residents who were unable to obtain CARES money due to federal grant requirements; those monies are currently being distributed.
Additionally, the program injected $2.2 million into the local economy by providing employment for nearly 250 people, many of whom had been laid off from other jobs due to the pandemic.
“Since March, tens of thousands of our most vulnerable residents have endured an unprecedented financial disruption through no fault of their own,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “The county’s COVID relief funds have seen record numbers of applicants, and I’m pleased to see how quickly these payments have been disbursed to more than 50,000 families. We acknowledge a one-time payment is not enough, but it is my hope that at least some of the burden has been lifted for folks hardest-hit by this pandemic. In the new year, we will continue to direct available resources to those in need.”
The payments were distributed in two rounds. The first round assisted families who applied to, but did not receive help from, Harris County’s COVID-19 Relief Fund program conducted this summer. The second round ran November 2–6 and accepted new applications. After that, the new applicants were combined with the first-round applicants who updated their summer applications, and randomly selected households were contacted.
Catholic Charities administered the program and worked diligently to help selected applicants assemble the required paperwork. To meet the eligibility requirements, applicants had to live within Harris County; could not have received prior CARES assistance; had to prove pandemic-related hardship (e.g., unpaid bills); and had to meet the required financial threshold (e.g. one member of the household had to be enrolled in a public assistance program, or the total household income could not exceed 60% of the HUD Area Median Family Income). A detailed list of the criteria and acceptable documentation are still available at CatholicCharitiesHelp.org.
“Catholic Charities is honored and grateful that Harris County selected our team to serve the community in this way. This task was in line with our faith-based mission, which compels us to ensure that every client is treated with respect and dignity,” said Catholic Charities’ President and CEO Cynthia N. Colbert, MSW. “We know the need caused by the pandemic exceeds the funding, so we are committed to continue offering all the services we’ve been providing: meals, financial aid, counseling, immigration legal services, parenting classes, and other support for families in need.”
“Throughout this pandemic, Precinct One’s top priority has been getting assistance to those most in need, and no program has been able to do that more effectively and efficiently than our direct assistance fund. Families in Harris County are dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis all while having to continue to care for their families, pay mortgages or rent, put food on the table, and meet other basic needs like health care and childcare,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “The best way to ensure that those families have what they need is through direct financial assistance. We know we have not been able to reach all of those who need help, but we will continue to push for additional funds to this direct line of relief that goes straight to those who need it.”
“Catholic Charities has been an excellent partner for the more than $60 million in help being dished out via the direct assistance program. Their efficient and speedy work has been nothing short of amazing,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “The phenomenal need members of our community have experienced — with hundreds of thousands of people struggling to stay in their homes, continue to be able to put food on the table, and keep the lights on – made it an easy decision to invest as much in this program as was available. Despite social distancing, local leaders remain closest to the people we serve, but it takes wonderful partner organizations such as Catholic Charities to make our vision become a reality and help the people who need it most.”
“The partnership between Harris County and Catholic Charities to administer over $60 Million in direct assistance to families across our County has been remarkable.,” said newly-elected Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, P.E. “Not only was this program able to provide financial relief to over 50,000 residents, but it also granted an employment opportunity to many others affected by this pandemic. My goal is to build on what Commissioner Radack and the other members of the court have achieved with the distribution of Harris County CARES funds.”
The deadline for allocating CARES funding was December 31, though postal delays from holiday mail may mean some applicants receive checks in January if they did not opt for bank transfer or in-person pick-up.