Nearly three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Ned Lamont designated $2.5 million to help families and individuals ineligible for federal CARES funding to help pay rent.
The funding was approved by the legislature in 2019 in a line item for homelessness and rental assistance.
“Housing is the single largest expense for most families in Connecticut,” said Seila Mosquera-Bruno, the Connecticut Housing Commissioner. “By providing rental support for families who are most in need and least able to access other forms of assistance, we can help them to stretch tight family budgets to afford other expenses including food, transportation to jobs, and other necessities.”
The $2.5 million will be able to provide $1,000 grants given directly to landlords of 2,500 individuals or families who were not eligible for a federal stimulus check. The priority population the Governor and Commissioner said they will be targeting is undocumented immigrants. It is estimated that 120,000 undocumented immigrants currently live in the state and make up 4.9 percent of the workforce.
“We are going to make sure we can provide these grants to help people pay their rent,” Governor Ned Lamont said. “My daughter Emily has been reminding me that this is a population that doesn’t get any federal benefits and needs our attention.”
Unlike grants for small businesses or unemployment benefits distributed by the CARES act, no one will be able to apply for these grants. Instead, Mosquera-Bruno said her department will be partnering with local organizations – such as Make the Road Connecticut — that work directly in immigrant communities to identify families that need assistance.
“It has been two and a half months that our undocumented and mix-status families have gone without paychecks, no unemployment, no monetary support,” said Barbara Lopez, the director of Make the Road Connecticut. “They are struggling with should they buy food or should they pay the bills. I want you to understand the cost of no paycheck for two and a half months.”
Lopez said she is urging the Governor to look at this $2.5 million as just a first phase of funding.
“We want a commitment for a second step,” she said.
The Governor made no commitment that additional funding would be available as Connecticut faces a multi-million-dollar deficit due in part to increased spending for COVID-19 and reduced revenue through sales and income tax.
With the need in mind, however, several private organizations and public legislators are working to make other funding available to all those suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown.
The nonprofit 4CT pledged $1 million specifically to those that were ineligible for federal aid. The funding will be distributed at local health centers – such as Community Health Center of New London – in the form of $200 or $400 debit cards. The debit cards along with a free COVID-19 test and the offer of an appointment with a physician will be offered to all those in need without question of documentation.
“4-CT is pleased to provide this support to those most impacted by the COVID crisis,” said Ted Yang, co-founder and CEO of 4-CT. “We hope, through this program, to offer a bridge from crisis to a more stable footing. I ask other funders to partner with us to expand this program to other vulnerable populations, such as the families of essential workers, to help your fellow Connecticut residents in need.”
On the federal level, Senator Richard Blumenthal said he is working toward expanding SNAP benefits in order to relieve pressure on food pantries and food banks.
“I have urged the USDA to grant state waivers to allow students that typically do not qualify for SNAP to enroll at this time,” Blumenthal said at a discussion led by End Hunger CT.
As of now, however, the federal government has denied all state applications to allow waivers for SNAP eligibility for college students and those employed less than 20 hours per week.
On the state level, Agriculture Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt has made efforts toward expanding access to SNAP this week by allowing online ordering with SNAP benefits for the first time and working to obtain a grant from 4-CT to help food pantries purchase more foods to help the growing numbers in need.
“I applaud Governor Lamont and 4-CT for their work to make resources available to those most in need. While this is a step in the right direction, more is needed,” said Kica Matos, director of the Vera Institute of Justice. “That Connecticut is stepping up to reverse the injustice of the federal government denying support to these residents of our state – is an important step. We hope and expect that the governor and 4-CT will continue to raise money to support the desperate needs of immigrant families.”