OpEd by Senator John Kane
It’s been a challenging month for working Pennsylvanians: the Supreme Court struck down the federal eviction moratorium; expanded pandemic unemployment benefits are ending; Hurricane Ida devastated our communities. But there are also still an unprecedented number of support programs available to help families get back on their feet. This is what we, as elected officials, should be doing right now: supporting working families as best we can. I wanted to take a few minutes and highlight some of the resources available to Pennsylvanians.
If you’re struggling to afford housing: Pennsylvania currently has hundreds of millions in Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funding still available. Who qualifies for this funding? There’s a good chance that you do – any household where one or more people have qualified for unemployment benefits, had a decrease in income, had increased household costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic; the household is at risk of housing instability; and the household has an income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) qualifies. And ERAP covers more than just next month’s rent – assistance can help pay housing-related expenses for up to 12 months accrued on or after March 13, 2020. ERAP can also cover costs from utilities like electricity, gas, water, sewer, and trash removal, and even other expenses related to housing, like relocation expenses, rental fees, and internet services. You can apply for ERAP at DHS.pa.gov/ERAP.
If you don’t have access to the internet: the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) is a new program to provide this essential utility. EBB is a federally-funded program to make sure everyone can afford internet access during the pandemic. Households that have an income below 135% of the poverty line; has SNAP or Medicaid; receives free or reduced lunch; received a Federal Pell Grant; or experienced a substantial loss of income due to COVID qualifies for these benefits. You can apply for EBB at GetEmergencyBroadband.org.
If you’re struggling with mental health: the pandemic has only exacerbated mental health struggles and the stressors that lead to them. If you’re struggling with mental health, you can always call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach the PA Support and Referral Hotline at 1-855-284-2494, to get information about treatment options near you. Pennsylvania also a free hotline for individuals struggling with drug addiction. Call 1-800-662-HELP for information about recovery options near you.
If you’re in need of food: the Chester County Food Bank has distribution sites and options across Chester County, for individuals in need of food and hot meals. The Delaware County Interfaith Food Assistance Network has a list of daily food distribution sites across the county. Additionally, qualifying individuals should reach out to their local elected official for information about SNAP and WIC benefits.
These programs demonstrate what our government can, and should, do for Pennsylvanians. Many of us are weathering unprecedented financial and personal challenges. We have $5 billion in American Rescue Plan funding still available – that funding could be going back into Pennsylvanians pockets, and help create real, long-term support systems for working families. But right now, if you’re struggling, help is available. I want to make sure everyone can get back on their feet.