Harlingen may help residents with bills

HARLINGEN — Soon, help might be on the way for residents who lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. On Thursday, city commissioners are set to consider launching a program that would offer federal money to help residents who’ve lost jobs pay their utility bills, along with their rent and mortgage payments.

“There is a need for assistance,” Assistant City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said Monday. “We would be able to provide some assistance for those families. We don’t know what percentage of the population would need help.” As part of a proposal,Loaves and Fishes would operate the program.

The program would be funded through the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, a federal funding package which has earmarked $3.7 million to the city to cover COVID-19-related expenses, Gonzalez said.

“The city wishes to create a program that will assist Harlingen residents who have experienced financial hardship resulting directly from the temporary or permanent loss of employment income from the coronavirus pandemic,” Gonzalez wrote commissioners in the program’s executive summary.

LOAVES AND FISHES TO RUN PROGRAM

As part of the program, the city would earmark $225,000 to Loaves and Fishes to administer funding. “They’re proposing funding to help us help people who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 who lost their job or something of that matter,” Bill Reagan, Loaves and Fishes’ executive director, said.

Of the program’s total funding, the city would set aside money aimed at Loaves and Fishes, including $2,000 for the purchase of computer equipment and a printer and up to $35,000 to cover personnel costs, Gonzalez’s executive summary states. The city would earmark the program’s remaining $188,000 to fund eligible residents’ assistance payments. If that money becomes depleted, the program would allow City Manager Dan Serna to authorize an additional $50,000.

HOW IT WOULD WORK

The program would offer eligible Harlingen residents rental and mortgage assistance for a threemonth period, or up to $1,500 per month, during the period from March 1 to December 30, 2020.

Eligible residents would also qualify for assistance in paying water, sewer, gas or propane bills for up to three months during the period from March 1 to December 30, 2020. The city would make its assistance payments directly to utility companies, landlords and property managers and mortgage companies.