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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The City and County of El Paso have approved $2 million in emergency relief for residents who didn’t qualify for the federal stimulus checks or unemployment benefits.

The funds — $1.5 million from the city and $500,000 from the county — will go to the El Paso Community Foundation. The nonprofit, in turn, will forward the money to a “hands-on” community agency that’ll distribute check cards of up to $1,000 to 1,400 residents. The money originally comes from federal COVID-19 response assistance to local governments.

“We’ve been advocating for three months now for assistance to those who were excluded by the CARES Act,” said Dylan Corbett, executive director for El Paso’s Hope Border Institute. “A lot of people in our community never received the stimulus because of immigration status or because someone in their family was a migrant. We wanted to make sure those folks didn’t get left behind.”

The institute and a host of other immigrant advocacy groups in May asked the city council to spend $12 million in CARES Act funding on 54,000 or so residents left out of stimulus payments.

Volunteers prepare food baskets for needy El Pasoans during the coronavirus pandemic. (KTSM photo)

The city’s agreement with the El Paso Community Foundation doesn’t mention immigration status. Eligibility for assistance includes proof of physical residency in the city or county, proof of economic hardship due to COVID-19, being at 80% of the area median income and proof of identity — which can be in the form of an international passport.

“This gap assistance will go a long way in mitigating the needs of people who are in a vulnerable position, giving them the means to sustain themselves in the coming weeks and months,” said Robert Heyman, policy consultant for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

He said the money would also sustain jobs as recipients put it back into the local economy. The cards can only be used at grocery stores, pharmacies and supermarkets.

The El Paso City Council approved authorizing City Manager Tommy Gonzalez to enter into a $1.5 million Sub-Recipient Grant Agreement with the Community Foundation. The vote was unanimous and followed a lengthy legal explanation from city staff.

Nichole Ferrini, the city’s chief resilience officer, said a lot of “time and energy” went into ensuring the transfer of funds could pass scrutiny. “There is always risk involved in terms of compliance with federal regulations. These are Treasury funds that were given to us with very little guidance,” she told the council this week.

She said the Community Foundation would “be on the hook” for returning the money if for some reason the agreement doesn’t fall within federal regulations. But she said city staff is confident with the terms of the agreement and past dealings with the Foundation, which is also contributing funds from the private sector to the venture.

El Paso Community Foundation President and CEO Eric Pearson said the organization would be channeling the federal funds and money it has raised on its own to Project Bravo Inc., which has a long history of providing utility assistance, housing and community services to low-income El Pasoans.

The funds must be disbursed by Nov. 30, 2020.

“We are grateful for the support of City Council to designate funds to vulnerable families in our community,” said Laura Ponce, executive director of Project Bravo. “We encourage families to apply for Project Bravo services such as our utility assistance program. If households qualify and indicate interest in the program, we will add them to the pool of applicants for this emergency assistance.”

Applicants do not have to be U.S. citizens or documented residents to qualify for the assistance, she said.

Contract highlights

Goal: To provide gap assistance to at least 1,400 individuals and families at or below 80% area median income (“AMI”) in El Paso, Texas, which is agreed to be as established by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Benefit requirements

Proof of identify and residency in El Paso required: i. Valid driver’s license; or ii. Government-issued identification card; or iii. U.S. or international passport or immigration card and current utility bill or cellphone bill with name and address or official government or lending institution correspondence, directly addressed to applicant with applicant’s name and current address; and iv. Proof of current address (if identification does not reflect the current address).

Income guidelines

Household income 30 calendar days prior to application at or below 80% AMI. i. Proof of Public Benefits: SSI/SSDI/Disability/Unemployment monthly award letters; or SSA-1099, TANF, SNAP, Gold Card, other (ex., WIC, CHIP etc.); or ii. Income Documentation from Every Adult in Household: Copy of 2018 or 2019 tax return; or most recent W-2s; or iii. Monthly Wages: Pay stubs 30 calendar days prior to application; or most recent 1099; or letter from employer; or declaration of income statement.

Adverse economic impact from COVID-19

Certification Letter that applicant is suffering from employment interruptions due to COVID-19 business closures, the applicant did not receive stimulus check due to ineligibility and/or did not receive unemployment insurance due to ineligibility or that it will take too long to meet basic needs. Certification Letter will reserve the right to ask for documentation of filed unemployment application, letter of termination, or letter of furlough from employer. Applicant must also include a statement that describes the type of assistance requested.

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