Harris County has established the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund to provide much-needed relief to Harris County residents most impacted by the global pandemic. The $30 million fund, which will be administered by Greater Houston Community Foundation, aims to strategically serve a large number of the most vulnerable people, in particular county residents who may not be eligible for other COVID-related funding and/or who cannot afford to wait for assistance. The Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund is expected to assist about 20,000 households to provide support with housing, electricity, food, childcare, and other essential needs.
“Harris County on its own can’t unilaterally turn around the economic fallout from COVID-19, but we are committed to running the most impactful, targeted program to support the hardest-hit families in our community,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “If we want the entire community to get through this, it means helping the most vulnerable among us.”
Funds will be disbursed in two ways to help ensure equitable distribution. First, the Fund will partner with trusted, high performing community-based organizations that are already actively supporting the community and have deep relationships and understanding of families with emergency needs. These organizations will work with eligible individuals and families to complete a simple application, verify eligibility, and provide financial assistance. The first round of grants to these organizations is estimated to disburse in June.
“The Coronavirus pandemic has created both a health and financial crisis in our region,” Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis said. “Our communities are hurting. And it is our duty as public servants to make sure that our most vulnerable residents, who were already living paycheck to paycheck, do not lose everything in the midst of this crisis. Advancing a relief fund with enough resources – and structure to ensure those resources reach the most vulnerable in our community – was a key priority for our County.”
Second, the Fund will invite all eligible low-income Harris County residents to complete an application through a multilingual call center and/or website to participate in a fair, randomized process. Given the incredible need, Harris County knows resources will be insufficient. That is why a randomized process will be used to select eligible households to received financial assistance. Eligible individuals will be matched with a community-based organization to understand their needs, verify eligibility, and provide assistance. The public will be given a minimum of one week’s notice for when this process will be opened.
“Right now, the focus of our work is to get the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund up and running as quickly as possible. Much like previous relief efforts, such as the Harris County Small Business Loan program, our goal is to expedite the process and get money into the hands of our most vulnerable residents fast while also making sure it’s done right,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “I have total confidence that our partners at Greater Houston Community Foundation will be successful in this endeavor. The Foundation is a recognized leader in disaster recovery efforts, and their performance managing the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund as well as the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund proves they are the right organization for the job.”
The Fund is open to Harris County low-income residents, including those excluded by the CARES Act or immigrant households, adults listed as dependents, and people who may receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance but cannot afford to wait for months. Eligibility and disbursement guidelines for the Fund include:
- Those who have experienced adverse economic impact related to COVID-19; AND are:
- Households below 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), or are accessing public benefits that already confirm they are very low-income; or
- Survivors of domestic violence, or
- Youth aged out of foster care, or
- Those in homeless shelters.
- Applicants cannot have received benefits from any City of Houston or other Harris County program administered for the same purpose.
- Prioritized consideration for:
- Applicants ineligible for unemployment insurance or have applied and will take too long to receive assistance to meet basic needs.
- Applicants ineligible for CARES Economic Impact Payments, or have not yet received a payment and cannot wait for the assistance to meet basic needs.
“Our biggest priority is to get money and assistance to those who need it the most as quickly as possible,” said Stephen Maislin, President and CEO of Greater Houston Community Foundation. “We know people need help and we are committed to working closely with Houston-area community-based organizations through a data-driven process to quickly and effectively deploy these funds to as many people in need as possible. We are honored to work with Harris County to support these critical efforts.”
Those in need of immediate assistance are encouraged to call 211 Texas/United Way helpline to find an organization in your geographic region that can serve you.