MILL CREEK — Juanita Juarez knew her heart and lungs were vulnerable after a diagnosis in 2018.
But the 47-year-old mom with four children had to keep working through the coronavirus pandemic. They needed almost $2,000 for rent at their Mill Creek apartment, plus money for gas and insurance for her truck to get to work in Redmond and Seattle. And there were groceries and other bills.
Then she caught COVID in September, which further weakened her critical organs. Juarez “almost died” and was hospitalized the second day after she fell ill, she said.
When the coronavirus struck again in January, she said doctors told her she needed heart surgery in March. She got the procedure which kept her from working for weeks.
“Now I have nothing, but I have a whole life to pay for,” Juarez said.
Through partnerships with the hospital, she connected with people at YWCA of Snohomish County. The organization’s Everett region office paid for $2,000 in repairs to her truck and covered a few months of rent.
“It’s definitely hard to be prepared for a life situation,” Juarez said. “Without that help I wouldn’t have been able to continue on.”
She wasn’t alone.
Snohomish County sent $1.8 million of its $160 million federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to family resource hubs. The county gave money to ChildStrive, Cocoon House, Community Resource Center of Stanwood-Camano, North Counties Family Services, Take the Next Step, Volunteers of America Western Washington in Arlington and Sky Valley, and YWCA.
Those agencies helped over 1,700 people with pandemic-related bills as well as employment and social services. To qualify, they had to be at or below 60% of the area’s median income. That equals $5,788 per month for a family of four. Not all of them typically pass out money like this and had to set up the process in response to the pandemic.
Most of the families who received money from the programs earned half of that, according to the county.
When average rents are around $1,800 for a two-bedroom apartment, a family’s monthly income can dwindle quickly after other expenses. It leaves a lot of people without much wiggle room in their bank account for emergencies or losing a job.
“The pandemic has been very challenging for working families across our county, which means the need for supportive services skyrocketed,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said in a news release. “That’s why we’re investing our federal recovery dollars in these youth and family resource hubs. They provide opportunities for families to receive face-to-face, personal assistance from a provider who is focused on helping meet their needs.”
Karla Danson, community resources director for YWCA, said the organization gets “phone call after phone call” asking for help. The YWCA helped pay for car payments and repairs, utility bills and more. Rent was a rarity and had to be directly tied to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The people who were just barely getting by couldn’t get by anymore,” Danson said. “This money is really just pulling people out of a temporary situation they were in, giving them a little bit of a breather.”
The YWCA got $150,000 from the county. Its program also included helping people with their careers, including connecting with education and workforce development programs, as well as resume building.
Redoing her resume worked for Juarez, who got hired at the auto shop where she took her truck for repairs. She started the job doing office work at the end of June and now doesn’t have the commute that took at least an hour each way.
ChildStrive, an Everett-based organization that works with families for children’s success, got about $70,000. All but $15,000 has been spent, and that remainder is pending, director of development and communications Rebecca Mauldin said.
People are using it on adaptive equipment and car seats for children with special needs, car repairs, child care, clearing phone and utility bills, laptops for students, gas, groceries, maternity clothing, transportation and — particularly for people seeking work — phones.
“It’s really difficult to find a job if the job can’t call you,” Mauldin said.
The $70,000 went or is going to 111 households, totaling about 300 people, she said.
Most of those households identified as being Hispanic or Latino. Over a third lived in southwest Everett and its unincorporated areas in the 98204 ZIP Code.
“These are families that are working hard,” Mauldin said. “They don’t want our help. They’re asking for it because they desperately need it.”
Juarez said the money kept her family from homelessness and hopes future programs can continue that assistance for others in situations like hers. She also encouraged people to seek help if bills are stacking.
“I’m definitely not the only person who has experienced what I’m experiencing,” Juarez said. “I’m not unique.”
Call 2-1-1 for rental assistance, 425-388-3880 for utilities bills aid, and visit www.snohomishcountyfoodbankcoalition.org/our-food-bank-members for a list of food banks in Snohomish County.
The county’s energy assistance staff are in training and can return calls and messages after Oct. 3.
Ben Watanabe:425-339-3037; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @benwatanabe.
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