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California Assistance Programs for COVID-19: Are They Enough to Truly Help?

By sbanderas | September 8 2020

Are you a Californian who is struggling during the pandemic? If so, you may be wondering about the programs available. 

California assistance programs include unemployment benefits, homeless benefits, and meal delivery benefits for seniors. There are also some restrictions on evictions and foreclosures.

However, there’s no strong directive forbidding evictions and foreclosures in the state. In addition, officials have failed to deliver emergency money for many unemployed people. 

This article will provide greater insight into assistant programs if you need help. Let’s explore. 

Unemployment Insurance

If you need help with money, you can file for unemployment benefits. For the most part, government assistance in CA will come in the form of unemployment aid. Over six million people have filed for unemployment benefits in California.

Also, more people are eligible to receive unemployment benefits due to the CARES Act. The CARES Act allows self-employed people and independent contractors to file. 

You may face delays as the Employment Development Department (EDD) processes a high number of jobless claims. Governor Gavin Newsom has extended EDD operating hours from 8 am to 8 pm. Additionally, the organization has remained open for seven days a week.

With that, many people are unable to file claims because the system cannot handle the large volume of applications.

Like many state governments, California doesn’t have the resources and manpower to process the overwhelming number of claims. The unemployment system is underfunded, and the processing systems are out of date.  

Many applicants must call numerous times during the day (i.e. 60 times a day) to reach someone. Many applicants must wait for months to receive benefits, and some cannot file at all. However, the EDD can process a high number of applications in a short timespan.

  • Example: The EDD received over 50 million applications between March and May. Of the 50 million, roughly 1.88 million people failed to receive their benefits months later.

Despite the best efforts of the agency, many Californians are falling through the cracks. 

Housing for the Homeless

When it comes to housing, Governor Newsom debuted a program known as Project Roomkey. It’s a federally-funded program that leases 15,000 hotel rooms for homeless people who either test positive or have been exposed to the virus. 

The program also helps local hotel owners as they struggle during the pandemic. Roomkey is the first of its kind in the nation. In terms of effectiveness, Roomkey breaks down as follows:

  • The program will house roughly a tenth of California’s homeless. 
  • The program hasn’t reached its goal of 15,000, even though there are roughly 150,000 homeless people in California.
  • The program has received criticism for its slow move-in process.

Despite the shortfalls, California officials hope Project Roomkey will provide short-term relief during the crisis. They also hope the program will create a long-term solution that tackles the state’s homeless problem. 

Senior Meal Program

In another ambitious move, Governor Newsom announced a program that delivers restaurant meals to seniors. Known as Great Plates Delivered, the federal-supported program helps seniors who cannot leave their homes due to lockdown orders.

Great Plates Delivered will also help disabled seniors, including seniors who don’t have access to caregivers during the public health crisis.

Great Plates also supports the struggling restaurant industry. State officials slowly debuted the program throughout various counties. Over 32,000 seniors benefited from the program. 

The gains aside, there are some notable issues:

  • Low-income seniors don’t qualify.
  • Seniors who are on state assistance (i.e. food stamps) don’t qualify.
  • Some counties have opted out of the program.

The program’s most prominent fault is the exclusion of low-income seniors. It excludes seniors who are below the 200% federal poverty threshold. 

  • Example: In Los Angeles, officials told program workers to disqualify seniors who make less than $25,000 a year.

Supporters of the low-income rule argue that the poorest seniors can receive other forms of aid, such as Meals on Wheels. However, many seniors don’t qualify for such programs. Also, the programs available to low-income seniors don’t provide much relief. 

Assistance for Renters, Homeowners, and Landlords

The Tenant, Homeowner, and Small Landlord Relief and Stabilization Act of 2020 protect those who cannot afford to pay rent. Tenants may receive an extension if they couldn’t pay rent between March 4, 2020 and January 31, 2021.

Moreover, tenants cannot face a COVD-related eviction until February 1, 2021. Also, the tenant must pay back rent to the landlord when postponement expires. 

To qualify, the hardship must pertain to the COVID fallout. Moreover, there are certain requirements:

  • Example: If you’re a renter, you must pay at least 25% of the balance owed. 

For landlords, they are protected from foreclosure if they own between 1-4 units. Landlords can also obtain relief whether units are owner-occupied or not. 

When it comes to mortgage relief, the CARES Act has an eviction moratorium for federally-backed loans through December 31, 2020. Neither the CARES Act nor the Stabilization Act protects homeowners who have non-federal mortgages. The state encourages landlords and homeowners to contact their lender and request a forbearance. 

Are California Assistance Programs Worth It?

California assistance programs are a step in the right direction. However, the programs leave far too many people behind. Many people are unable to obtain unemployment benefits.

State programs such as Project Roomkey and Great Plates Delivered help the most vulnerable people in California. However, the programs don’t go far enough.

Seniors remain vulnerable, especially low-income seniors. The state also hasn’t done enough to protect California’s homeless problem during the pandemic. In many cases, the effectiveness of the assistance programs depends on county directives. 

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