United Way unveils COVID-19 economic relief plan

The ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has left tens of thousands of Johnson County residents in economic turmoil.

Between March 15 and April 11, 8,441 county residents made initial unemployment claims, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Suddenly, thousands of families face food shortage, inability to pay bills and the potential of losing their homes.

So, with the help of a $900,000 emergency relief grant from the Lilly Endowment and Indiana United Ways, the United Way of Johnson County is aiming to support and assist people through the pandemic.

The grant will help the United Way provide help to local residents hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis. People will be able to apply for assistance, and if approved for the program, receive case management to help evaluate their needs, assess what other aid they might be able to receive and connect them to resources such as unemployment benefits, food pantries and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Working through the program will allow participants to address financial needs to stabilize their family, keep their current housing situation and maintain employment, said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County.

"It will help individuals and families recover from the impact that COVID-19 has had on them. The whole purpose is to get them back to stability," she said. 

The campaign, dubbed the "Economic Assistance Plan — Navigating COVID-19," has been made possible by the $900,000 grant, formally announced Wednesday. The Economic Relief Initiative grant was made possible by a partnership between Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation, and Indiana United Ways, the statewide organization that the United Way of Johnson County belongs to.

United Ways given the grant have been tasked with using the funding to meet community needs that have stemmed from the pandemic.

Though the United Way only learned it had received the $900,000 grant this week, it has been working to assist those decimated by the coronavirus crisis since mid-March. When the severity of the crisis became clear, the organization started planning on how it could offset the lost income and other damages caused by the disease, Plake said.

Since the pandemic closed businesses amid the statewide stay-at-home order, the United Way’s Helpline has received 139 phone calls from Johnson County residents related to COVID-19.

“Since March 13, United Way of Johnson County has begun planning for the needs of Johnson County citizens who will be affected by COVID-19,” Michele Neumann, president of the board for United Way of Johnson County, said in a statement. “We know there is going to be tremendous needs for individuals who suddenly find themselves trying to make ends meet due to the fact (that) COVID-19 has turned their lives upside down for a variety of reasons.”

Early on, a group of local businesses and organizations pledged $56,000 to seed the fund. Meijer contributed $26,000, while First Financial Foundation, Horizon Bank and Truist provided $10,000 each.

An initial distribution of $13,554.52 to the Salvation Army on March 20 assisted 50 individuals in 15 households who were in crisis, Plake said.

"As we were receiving calls, we were sending them to the Salvation Army. They have spent those dollars already, so those are gone," she said.

The United Way then partnered with Gateway Services to provide them with case management and financial assistance, with referrals starting on April 13. The new grant will allow the United Way to expand its partnership with Gateway Services.

Those in need of help should call the United Way’s Helpline, where they will go through a series of questions designed to determine their greatest needs, and if their situation is related to COVID-19 — a requirement for assistance through this program.

Participants also need to be a resident of Johnson County, and stay in the county for as long as they’re in case management through the program, Plake said.

Case management is an integral part of the program. A key component is "navigation," or providing guidance to people through the social services agencies and offerings that can be confusing if they’ve never applied before, Plake said.

"It’s important to first of all connect people with resources that might be available to them that they might not normally access," Plake said. "For many people, they will have never had to use social services or government assistance, and that can be a complicated process."

The idea is to direct people to existing social services programs that can stabilize their financial situation. Then the United Way can use resources from the grant to assist in ways those services do not.

"We want them to utilize those resources that potentially could help them. Then we can potentially fill in those gaps," Plake said. "The amount of money is considerable, but we’re looking at the number of unemployment claims that are coming through, and that raises concern for us."

Funds from the grant will also allow other local agencies to coordinate through case management in the process to further meet people’s needs. Starting May 5, the United Way of Johnson County will accept applications from local agencies.

"This might be an opportunity for some of those agencies who are struggling to provide services right now and struggling to pay staff because of the shutdown. They could step in and help with those issues," Plake said. "We’re looking for people who can be backups to our Helpline associates."

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Economic Assistance Plan: Navigating COVID-19″ ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: A program for Johnson County residents who are needing assistance will receive case management that will help evaluate their situation, assess what other assistance they might be able to receive and connect them to resources such as unemployment, food pantries and SNAP benefits.

Who: United Way of Johnson County

How is it funded: The United Way received a $900,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment and Indiana United Ways. Local business and organizations have also contributed money.

How to get help

Those affected by COVID-19 will need to call the Helpline at 317-738-4636. Eligibility for the program are the following:

  • Resident of Johnson County at the time of job/income loss
  • Client remains a resident of Johnson County while in case management
  • Job loss or a minimum 50% loss of family income since March 1, 2020 due to COVID-19
  • Job loss could include those due to employer closing or furloughing workers due to COVID-19; due to childcare issues due COVID-19, or due to illness of the individual or household member with COVID-19.
  • Loss of household income because of death of income earner because of COVID-19.
  • Participant agrees to take part in the case management program

Information: uwjc.org