San Benito offers residents rent, mortgage, utilities help during pandemic

An line forms outside the San Benito Food Pantry this week. Courtesy photo

SAN BENITO — For more than six months, Forrest Walker has been watching the food lines getting longer as residents lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the pandemic’s March outbreak, she’s been feeding about 650 residents a week, up from about 400 to 500, Walker, president of the San Benito Food Pantry, said Tuesday.

“They’ve lost their jobs and they’ve got children at home,” she said. “They want food and they want food now.”

In one of the poorest cities in Texas, San Benito’s 13.1-percent jobless rate appears to be getting higher.

“There has been an increase in unemployment in the city,” Rebeca Castillo, executive director of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said.

Now, city officials have launched a program to help residents impacted by the pandemic pay their rent, mortgage and utilities.

Earlier this month, city commissioners approved a plan to dip into their federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES, account to fund the new SBCARES program, offering $180,000 to help residents.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused financial hardship for several people including people in our community and SBCARES is a program that will provide some financial relief to the citizens of San Benito who need help paying their utility bills and their rent or mortgage,” David Favila, the city’s spokesman, stated.

So far, the city has received $271,000 of a total of $1.3 million earmarked in CARES funding, of which $41,000 has been set aside to fund administrative costs and COVID-19 testing, he stated.

How it works

Under the SB CARES program, qualifying residents can receive up to $500 to make utility payments including water, sewer and trash pick-up bills for up to a three-month period.

Meanwhile, homeowners and renters can receive up to $1,000 for as long as three months to pay their mortgages and rent.

To qualify for the program aimed at covering accounts overdue during the period of March 1 to Dec. 30, 2020, city residents’ household incomes must fall below 120 percent of the area median income while they “must demonstrate a financial hardship due to loss of income from employment due to COVID-19 and provide documentation that renders the household unable to pay rent, mortgage or utilities,” city officials stated.

To qualify for mortgage and rent assistance, city residents must “be the primary lease or mortgage holder in a single-family home in the city limits” and “may only apply for rent, mortgage or utility assistance related to one primary property,” officials stated.

The program is not open to residents receiving federal housing subsidies or living in federally subsidized housing or housing paid through federally insured mortgages.

Applications available on the city’s website will be accepted from Thursday to Jan. 29, 2021.

EDC assistance aimed at businesses

Meanwhile, the city’s EDC is offering a total of $200,000 to help businesses impacted by the pandemic.

As part of the program, the agency has set aside $100,000 to fund zero-interest loans to qualifying businesses while earmarking $100,000 to fund lease assistance packages to help businesses pay their rent.

Under the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Loan Program, the EDC is offering qualifying businesses zero-interest loans of up to $10,000, deferring payment for 12 months while allowing three years to pay back the money.

Castillo said eight businesses are applying for loans as part of the program whose application period ends Dec. 31 or at the time funds are depleted.

Now, officials are reviewing 10 applications for rent subsidies, Castillo said of the program whose application period ends today.

The COVID-19 Emergency Rent Subsidy Program is offering qualifying businesses up to $5,000 for up to six months’ rent reimbursed at 100 percent, with the remaining three months reimbursed at 50 percent.