United Way solidifies COVID-19 relief efforts

Nearly three months after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Johnson County, the disease continues to take a toll on local residents’ health.

At the same time, with stay-at-home orders and business closures in place, a significant number of residents are also hurting economically.

More than 12,900 people have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15. Food pantries are busier than ever. Local nonprofits have already fielded hundreds of calls for help.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of local residents jobless and struggling, the United Way of Johnson County continues to provide assistance and aid through its economic relief fund. Increased structure has been put in place to handle calls for help as well as the case management to guide them through available resources.

With more capabilities to support struggling individuals and families in the coming months, organizers want to be sure people know where they can turn, said Nancy Lohr Plake, executive director of the United Way of Johnson County.

“Once we have all of this in place, we’re continuing to send out the information into the community,” she said. “We need people to know where to go if they need help.”

In late April, the United Way unveiled a program called Economic Assistance Plan — Navigating COVID-19. People were 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.

The campaign was made possible by a $900,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation, and Indiana United Ways, the statewide organization that the United Way of Johnson County belongs to.

Even though the grant was only announced at the end of April, the United Way had been working to aid those impacted by the pandemic well before that. In March, 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 Trust 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. Since then, the United Way has partnered with Gateway Services, the official coordinator of the economic assistance plan.

People who call the United Way’s Helpline who have been directly impacted by COVID-19 are referred to Gateway Services, which provides case management and the services to get them the resources they need.

So far, the United Way has paid Gateway Services $16,000 for the case management work they’ve done. The organization is preparing to provide more funds.

Since March 16, the Helpline has received 199 coronavirus-related calls; 40 of those calls resulted in people being referred to the Salvation Army for help, and 34 cases were referred to Gateway Services.

The United Way also made efforts to ensure the Helpline isn’t overwhelmed.

“The Helpline is the entry point. The concern is that it will start blowing up, so we wanted to have some backup,” Plake said.

The organization enlisted a group of local agencies to help answer Helpline calls. Those agencies include the Boys and Girls Club of Johnson County, Girls Inc. of Johnson County, Turning Point and Reach for Youth, in addition to Gateway Services.

On specific days, Helpline calls will go directly to those groups’ phone lines. The United Way is providing funding for the service.

“This will help those agencies that have lost income, maybe help them a little bit with staffing and other costs,” Plake said.

The United Way is also working with the Johnson County Community Foundation to assist agencies in getting personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and other essential items so they can safely reopen.

Agencies that need help can fill out applications that were sent out in mid-May. Another round of applications are slated for distribution in mid-June.

Many nonprofits work with extremely tight budgets, and no one had put aside money to buy this equipment, said Gail Richards, CEO and executive director of the community foundation.

“We’re trying to work together to get the nonprofits some of the equipment they need. If we have to do this for 12 more months or 18 months, the money they have for these things isn’t going to last,” she said. “They’re not budgeted for this.”

[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