Coronavirus Relief Aid Available For Athens Residents< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The city of Athens has close to $100,000 in emergency relief funds to help residents pay their utility bills or their rent or mortgage payments.
Because of federal restrictions, in order to receive this aid applicants must demonstrate a direct link between their hardships and the coronavirus pandemic. That may be a challenge for some.
The city created a $25,000 fund in August for rent and mortgage assistance. A $75,000 fund was established last week to help with the city utility bills that cover water, sewer and garbage service.
Residents can apply for up to $1,000 in assistance under each program.
The rent and mortgage program has received just three applications since it started more than three weeks ago.
The two programs are being administered by Hocking Athens Perry Community Action, or HAPCAP, based in Glouster, which also offers year-round assistance to families that need help paying their utility bills.
HAPCAP public relations manager Claire Gysegem said there’s no question that people are struggling to pay the bills in the southeast Ohio region, where poverty is a chronic problem.
“We know that there was a crisis before the crisis,” she said. “A huge part of that crisis was water access, and the number of people applying for assistance from our water bill program has skyrocketed.
“When your water gets shut off, that’s kind of like the end of the road. It’s a sign I think that things are really dangerous and really bad.”
The need is even greater now because of layoffs, pay cuts and other hardships caused by the pandemic, Gysegem said.
“We’re busier than most years because people who have never had to worry about making ends meet like this and keeping their lights on, they find themselves needing assistance now.”
She said her organization, because of the obvious need, expected a lot more applications than it has received so far for the Athens rent and mortgage program.
“We’re kind of scratching our heads right now because we really thought that we were going to be completely overwhelmed with people needing assistance.”
The surprisingly low number of applicants so far for the Athens rent and mortgage program, and for a similar program in Chauncey that has received just two applications, may have to do with the strict eligibility requirements attached by the federal government to the funding for these programs.
Applicants must establish a direct link between their financial need and the coronavirus pandemic.
“If you’re living on a fixed income you might not have that documentation,” Gysegem said. “You could still be feeling the effects of COVID-19 on the economy for sure but maybe you don’t have the paperwork to prove that.”
She suggested it’s also possible that people are letting other bills go while using the money they have to pay the rent or mortgage because they’re focused on keeping a roof over their heads.
There’s something about the culture here in southeast Ohio that could be having an effect on the numbers, Gysegem said.
“There are people who are afraid to apply because they think that if they apply and they receive the funding that means that someone else who needs it…isn’t going to get it.
“We get that all the time and…we can’t say enough that that’s not the case. If you apply for the funding and you’re eligible and you receive it that means that you needed it.”
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said people might assume that unless they lost their job or had their pay cut they are not eligible for aid under the new programs. He emphasized that there are many different ways people can demonstrate a financial hardship related to COVID-19.
For some, it could be an additional expense they’ve incurred.
“If somebody could show I have to pay for someone to come into my home and watch my child and it’s costing me ‘X’ and it’s just not penciling out, then that’s something that they can certainly use to demonstrate that COVID-19 has impacted them because this would not be the case under any nonpandemic time,” Patterson said.
It remains to be seen how many residents will apply for aid under the new utility assistance fund.
Patterson said that as of last Thursday, 381 Athens residents were at least five days behind on their utility payments. Many of them were 15 days or more behind, which during normal times could lead to a disconnection in water service.
But that’s not happening now, Patterson said.
“We’re not doing any disconnection…under the pandemic because that’s just not the right thing to do.”
Applications for the Athens utility and rent and mortgage programs will be accepted until the end of November or until the funds run out of money. Applications are available through HAPCAP’s website at www.hapcap.org or by calling the organization at 740-767-4500.