Harris County Issues New $40 Million COVID-19 Relief Fund, To Be Administered by Catholic Charities

Fund Will Provide $1200 Payments to 33,000+ Families; Open Enrollment for Harris County Residents November 2-6 (Not a first-come, first-served program)

A new $40 million COVID-19 relief fund, issued by Harris County, opens Monday, November 2, and will accept applications through Friday, November 6. The Harris County COVID-19 Emergency Direct Assistance Fund will be administered by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and will provide one-time payments of $1200 to up to 33,333 families struggling with financial hardship related to COVID-19. These funds can be used for any type of emergency expense (housing, food, utilities, healthcare, childcare, transportation, etc.), and families can apply on their own without cooperation from a landlord or anyone else.

“Thousands of families across Harris County have struggled to overcome the financial damage from COVID-19,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “While this relief will not reach everyone who needs it, we must do everything in our power to help those who are vulnerable pull through.”

The fund is entirely need-based, and the money will be distributed equally across Harris County’s four precincts. Harris County residents living inside the City of Houston will not be excluded. To ensure fairness, households are being selected from the larger pool of applicants using a random statistical model that ensures no discrimination.

The payments will be distributed in two rounds. The first round is already underway and is assisting families who applied to, but did not receive help from the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund program conducted earlier this summer. These households are asked to update their previous application in order to be considered for the new funding program. The second (“public”) round begins on November 2, when anyone who has not applied before can submit a

request for financial assistance. The second round will randomly select households from the combined pool of new applicants and first-round applicants who chose to update their applications.

The application period for the public round will last five days (November 2–6). Harris County residents who have not received other COVID-19 related assistance from the County are welcome to apply during the public round.

Catholic Charities will administer both rounds and will work with selected applicants to assemble the required paperwork. Applicants must be able to prove pandemic-related hardship (e.g., unpaid bills); and must meet the required financial threshold (e.g. one member of their household must be enrolled in a public assistance program, or the total household income must be less than 60% of the HUD Area Median Family Income). A detailed list of the criteria and acceptable documentation are available at CatholicCharitiesHelp.org.

“Our community has never seen a prolonged medical or economic crisis like COVID-19, so Catholic Charities is humbled and gratified to partner with Harris County in providing emergency funds to families who are struggling as a result of the pandemic,” said Catholic Charities’ President and CEO Cynthia N. Colbert, MSW. “This project perfectly resonates with our mission in providing help and hope to the most poor and vulnerable, guided by the precepts of our faith to help all people in need, no matter their faith or creed.”

“Harris County continues to help those hardest hit by this pandemic. Although we cannot help everyone, I am proud that we are increasing our reach to more households with this Direct Assistance Fund,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “We know that direct assistance to low-income families can help reduce poverty rates, inject money into the local economy, and most importantly, help families afford their basic needs like housing, food, and health care.”

“My colleagues and I on Harris County Commissioners Court know people are hurting. That’s why we continue to utilize our CARES money to get help directly to those who need it most,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “This assistance will keep thousands of families from having to choose from paying their water bill or putting food on the table. We are excited to have Catholic Charities manage this program, and I am completely confident that they will do an outstanding job for our communities.”

“Although relatively few of us have had to face the medical heartbreak of COVID-19, many of our friends and neighbors have had to face its insidious economic impact,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle. “Harris County is using money from the federal CARES Act to try to minimize that impact as much as possible. I strongly urge eligible residents to apply for this assistance.”

Applicants may apply online at CatholicCharitiesHelp.org during the public application period (November 2-6). Since the application process requires applicants to upload documents, all applications must be submitted online, but applicants who want help or who have questions may call the hotline at 832-990-1318, Monday-Saturday, 9am-8pm. Applicants are encouraged to check their spam folder and to promptly respond to calls/texts about assistance from Harris County, to ensure they do not miss out on the opportunity for aid.

What is the program?

Harris County appointed Catholic Charities to serve as the administrator for $40 million in additional emergency financial assistance to help Harris County residents who are experiencing financial distress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This funding is above and beyond the money previously set aside by the County.

How much money will people get?

Each eligible household that is approved will receive a one-time payment of $1,200.

What expenses can people pay for with the money?

These funds are not limited to rent. Recipients may use the money for any emergency expenses, such as, but not limited to, healthcare, rent or mortgage, utilities, food, internet, transportation, and childcare.

How can people find out if they live in Harris County?

They can check the Harris County Commissioner Precincts Map at https://www.hctax.net/images/Jurisdiction/CountyCommissioner_all.pdf) or enter their address at http://www2.harriscountytx.gov/itc/gis/ais/DisplayGISData.aspx.

How do people apply?

People must apply through CatholicCharitiesHelp.org. They can call 832-990-1318 if they have questions about the application.

How are people selected?

  • Household must be within Harris County.
  • Household must not have received other COVID-19 related assistance from Harris County.
  • Household must have at least one member enrolled in a public assistance program, or total household income must be less than 60% of the HUD Area Median Family Income.
  • Households must demonstrate impact on income due to COVID.
  • One payment per address.

How will people receive the money?

After applicants are approved, they can opt to receive the funds by bank transfer, by certified mail, or in-person pick-up.

How will the program work? When will people get money?

Funds will be distributed in two rounds.

Round 1:

  • Since September 29, families have been randomly selected from the pool of applicants who applied to, but did not receive help from, the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund (HCCRF) direct assistance program conducted earlier this summer. Those original applicants are asked to update their applications in order to move forward in the process.
  • Catholic Charities is reviewing applications for eligibility, working with applicants to get the proper documentation, and processing payment for those that are approved.

Round 2:

  • From November 2 through November 6, any eligible Harris County household may apply online.
  • After the five-day window, new applications will be combined with the pool of HCCRF applicants who updated their applications for this new program (Harris County COVID-19 Emergency Direct Assistance Program).
  • All applicants will receive a message that their application was received, and another message informing them whether or not their application has been randomly selected for review.
  • Catholic Charities will review applications for eligibility, work with applicants to get the proper documentation, and process payment for approved applicants by no later than December 30.
  • Unfortunately, the need is so great that not even $40 million can help everyone who applies for funds.

In both rounds, applicants who meet the criteria will be randomly selected using a statistical method that ensures no discrimination.

What sort of paperwork will people need for the application?

The application process will require the applicant’s contact info, valid ID, proof of adverse economic impact due to COVID-19 (i.e., discharge/lay-off letter, TWC letter), and documentation that at least one member of the household is receiving public assistance or that the household income is at or below 60% HUD Area Median Family Income (HAMFI) at time of application. (For context: 60% below HAMFI for a family of 4 is $47,288.) Selected applicants must also demonstrate their need for assistance via documentation, i.e., unpaid rent/mortgage or utility bill. A complete list of allowable documentation is available on CatholicCharitiesHelp.org.

What can people do if they are not selected?

The United Way 2-1-1 help line is open 24 hours a day and a list of other resources is on CatholicCharitiesHelp.org. In addition to administering this program for Harris County, Catholic Charities is running several programs to help during this crisis. To date, almost 3 million pounds of food and over $1.6 million in emergency funds have been provided to families in need.

What is Catholic Charities’ role?

Catholic Charities is reviewing applications, verifying eligibility, working with applicants on gathering their paperwork, and processing payment. We have proven expertise in emergency response during times of disaster such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and our staff of social service providers is highly experienced in helping people in crisis.

Is faith a consideration in the application process?

All people meeting the criteria are encouraged to apply. Catholic Charities is managing the program on behalf of the County; the funding is 100% need-based. Also, Catholic Charities is a nonprofit, United Way agency that serves people of all faiths and backgrounds. We have a history of integrity in managing private funds and government assistance programs. We assist more than 100,000 people each year.

What kind of oversight or data security will there be?

Catholic Charities adheres to established protocols regarding client privacy and data protection. This program will have double security: Catholic Charities’ own Quality Control team, as well as supervision from County officials. The website and all the records will be safeguarded with appropriate data security standards.

What if people have questions?

People with questions can consult CatholicCharitiesHelp.org or call our call center, which is open Monday thru Saturday, 9am-8pm. The phone number is 832-990-1318.