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Numerous free resources to help Texans impacted by COVID-19

(The Center Square) – There are numerous free resources available to help Texans weather the economic fallout caused by the state’s stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Information about most resources is available online or through a toll-free number.

Food assistance: Feeding Texas, feedingtexas.org, lists 21 member food banks that provide free groceries and a place to sign up for SNAP benefits.

Free Little Pantries, littlefreepantry.org, also provides a map of local pantries searchable by zip code.

Texans can also call 211, a free, anonymous social service hotline, to receive more information about resources available in their community.

IRS stimulus money: the U.S. Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) created two online tools to find out more about the CARES Act stimulus payments of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples. The “Get My Payment” link at irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments helps citizens find out when they will receive their payment.

For those who don’t normally file a tax return, like the elderly, low-income earners or those reporting no income, the IRS launched an online tool.

It is specifically designed for individuals who did not file a 2018 or 2019 federal income tax return because their reported gross income was under $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples). To use the tool, users can go to IRS.gov, and “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here” and input basic information.

Legal assistance: The State Bar of Texas’ hotline, 800-504-7030, helps connect Texans with legal service providers who might be able to help with bankruptcy and debt-collection issues, unemployment applications and other civil legal problems.

Mental health: The Texas Health and Human Services Commission created a 24/7 statewide toll-free phone number, 833-986-1919, to provide COVID-19-related mental health support.

Mortgage assistance: Roughly $454 million was allocated in the CARES Act to help cover loan forbearance of loans backed by Ginnie Mae, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have rolled out new mortgage-payment deferral options for homeowners facing financial trouble and Ginnie Mae created a lending facility to help people impacted by COVID-19.

Mortgage forbearance allows borrowers to temporarily pay a lower rate or pause payments; it is not loan forgiveness, meaning the loan must still be paid.

According to Bankrate.com, some lenders are offering loan forbearance programs. Ally Bank is deferring payments for up to 120 days for homeowners who are facing financial hardship due to an interruption in income.

Bank of America is offering Home Loans Special Payment Forbearance and auto loan extensions to assist clients. Quicken Loans says it is following the guidelines outlined by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Ginnie Mae to provide forbearance relief to clients impacted by COVID-19.

TD Bank financial relief options are available upon request and include fee waivers, early access to Certificates of Deposit and payment extensions. Wells Fargo is making specialists available to discuss options for their consumer lending, small business and deposit products.

Rental Assistance and help paying other bills

Roughly $11.3 million in additional federal grant money through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is being made available to local community organizations in Texas, which will distribute the money to applicants impacted by COVID-19. The money is not immediately available, but in the next few weeks, rental assistance providers like nonprofits, housing authorities and local governments will be able to apply for the funds to in turn help applicants.

CARES Act funding is available, however. In Houston, for example, the Gulf Coast Community Services Association already is providing COVID-19 assistance through CARES Act funding, as are other groups like the Houston Apartment Association (HAA), which donated $100,000 to the Alliance of Community Assistance Ministries’ HAA Renter Assistance Fund. The HHA also provides answers to questions for tenants who can’t pay their rent or may not be able to do so in the future because they are experiencing an income reduction.

Help for Texans through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs offers help for individuals and families looking for reduced rental apartments, long-term rent payment help, emergency and homeless services, tenant help, disaster relief resources, home repair, utility bill payment help, weatherization, and homebuyer education and counseling, among other services.

Other websites, like Aunt Bertha and NeedHelpPayingBills.com, list resources to help with paying utility bills, free support services, food banks, health care services, among others, searchable by zip code.

Charter Communications has provided free Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband to students without a subscription through at least May 16. Students can enroll by calling 844-488-8395.

Small business loans for Texans: Goldman Sachs and the LiftFund, along with other community development financial institutions (CDFIs), have made available $50 million in loans to small businesses in Texas impacted by COVID-19. The loans, part of the Goldman Sachs’ multi-state program “10,000 Small Businesses,” may be partially or wholly forgiven. Business owners can apply for a PPP loan and find more information at LiftFund.com.

Unemployment: Applicants are encouraged to file online during the hours of 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.; all other hours the site is down.

Roughly 400,000 more people filed for unemployment in the week ending April 24, bringing the total unemployed in Texas to 1,698,638. The week began with unemployment claims at 1.2 million. As a result of the volume, it is nearly impossible to reach anyone through the toll free number at the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).

To respond to the demand, the TWC hired 300 more people to process unemployment claims, and has plans to hire more staff. They are working seven days a week to process claims.

Despite 10 percent of the state’s workforce losing their jobs in one month, Gov. Greg Abbott said there are nearly 481,000 job openings available.

While many of these resources will help millions of people, they come at a cost of more than $2 trillion added to the national debt. The CARES Act was widely criticized for including spending on programs that have nothing to do with coronavirus-related economic relief.

Out of 29 million people living in Texas, as of April 24, there have been 22,806 confirmed COVID-19 cases, or .0007 percent of the population, meaning seven out of 10,000 people.

The 593 COVID-19-related deaths in Texas represent .00002 percent of the population, or 2 out of 100,000 people.