Applications will open Monday for Johnson County’s Direct Assistance Program, offering $1,400 pandemic relief checks to thousands of eligible low-income residents, county staff said at a Wednesday meeting of the Board of Supervisors.
Donna Brooks, the Johnson County grants coordinator, told the Supervisors that the long-discussed program will open at noon Monday and close four weeks later at noon May 23. She said the county is preparing to be “all engines firing” to communicate the program and its details to the public with the help of social service agencies and nonprofits.
“(We are) really preparing for four straight weeks of very, very intensive work, 100% on the Direct Assistance Program, basically,” Brooks said.
The Supervisors voted 3-2 in February to create the program using $3.5 million from the county’s and Iowa City’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to send the $1,400 stimulus payments in a lottery-style system where recipients are randomly selected from eligible applicants.
ARPA is a federal law passed in March 2021. Johnson County received $29.3 million from the massive $1.9 trillion package and has plans to allocate the money to a number of programs benefitting infrastructure and addressing negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Iowa City Council approved a $1.5 million allocation to the program from its own ARPA funds on Tuesday, officially expanding the program to a total of $3.5 million. Brooks said the county held off on opening the program until the agreement with Iowa City was finalized.
The county’s website for the program is available to be translated to Spanish and the application will be available in English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Swahili.
Here’s how to apply and who is eligible to get a chance to receive a one-time $1,400 payment.
More:From sewers to golf courses, cities see green with new federal COVID-19 relief dollars
How to apply to the Direct Assistance program
When it goes live Monday, applicants will be able to click on a link on the Direct Assistance Program website directing them to fill out a form. The link is: https://johnsoncountyiowa.gov/direct-assistance-program
The online application takes roughly 15 minutes to complete, according to county staff, and applicants should be prepared with documentation before opening the application to make the process easier.
“The most difficult part of the application is getting your documentation together,” Johnson County grants assistant Allison Wells said.
Applicants have to create an account with an email address and submit the application through the online portal. Supporting materials that prove eligibility must be uploaded through the web portal.
There is a template letter on the website to fill out in case applicants do not have formal documentation from employers verifying income.
Each resident can only submit one application. The county website says intentionally submitting more than one application may disqualify an individual from eligibility. If an error is made, applicants are encouraged to contact county staff at [email protected]
Brooks said Johnson County will also hold a series of application clinics, the first starting May 5 in room 203B/C at the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building, 855 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City.
Escucha Mi Voz Iowa and Iowa City Catholic Worker House organized a meeting with the Mexican Consulate from Omaha on Saturday at the Iowa City Public Library that doubled as a vaccine clinic.
A news release from the Catholic Worker House said the purpose of the mobile Mexican consulate was to provide Mexican immigrants with documentation services and information about health, education and finances ahead of the opening of the direct assistance program.
The Catholic Worker House will also hold application clinics on Friday, April 29, and on Sunday, May 1, at St. Patrick Church from 5-9 p.m. both nights.
More:Mazahir Salih helps Center for Worker Justice push for housing and labor reforms in Johnson County
Who is eligible for direct payments?
To be eligible, applicants must demonstrate identity, residency, income, impact from COVID-19 and participation in one of several programs. A list of the required documentation is available on the county’s website.
To be eligible, applicants must demonstrate the following criteria with documentation:
- Residency in Johnson County since March 1, 2020.
- Household annual income (2020 or 2021) at or below:
- $45,370 for a household of one;
- $51,870 for a household of two;
- $58,370 for a household of three;
- $64,805 for a household of four;
- $70,005 for a household of five;
- $75,205 for a household of six;
- $80,405 for a household of seven;
- $85,605 for a household of eight.
- One or more of the following COVID-19 impacts:
- Food insecurity;
- Housing insecurity;
- Exclusion from federal stimulus programs.
- Qualification for one of the following programs:
- Childcare subsidies through the Child Care Development Fund Program or State Child Care Assistance
- Family Investment Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
- Free- and Reduced-Price Lunch and/or School Breakfast programs
- Head Start and/or Early Head Start
- Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa or Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Johnson County General Assistance
- Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
- Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidies
- Pell Grants
- Section 8 Vouchers or HUD Subsidized Housing
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
- Supplemental Security Income
More:Iowa City metro property tax rates are changing. Here’s how much you will be paying to own land
How and when will payments be distributed?
Once the direct assistance program randomly chooses who will receive payments from the pool of qualified applicants, the Johnson County Auditor’s Office will get to work on cutting checks for those who are chosen.
Brooks told the Supervisors that the auditor’s office can only process about 500 checks a week. She said the county will have to send the checks out in batches.
“We’re trying to do our best to be as clear and realistic as possible, and we ask for the public’s grace and patience as we launch the direct assistance program,” she said.
The county website says all applicants will receive email notification of application determination. Applicants deemed ineligible will have a week to appeal. Staff will randomly select from eligible applications and will issue payments until funds are exhausted.
Selected applicants will receive the $1,400 check in the mail at their Johnson County residence.
More:New documentary features North Liberty residents in effort to highlight mobile home park injustices
Could more money be made available?
Since the Direct Assistance Program does not have enough money allocated to it, it can serve roughly 2,500 people. There’s a high chance that some applicants won’t receive any money.
While Johnson County and Iowa City are using the rest of their ARPA funds for other purposes, other cities are still working through how to spend their ARPA allocations.
Coralville and North Liberty have yet to finalize where they will be spending their ARPA funds, but Coralville Mayor Meghann Foster did float the idea of giving $30,000 to the county program during an April 12 work session.
Foster said this proposal would be a “small drop in the bucket,” but a contribution she still wishes to make to the program. The $30,000 would cover roughly 21 more $1,400 payments.
The main force of Coralville’s $3.3 million is going toward shoring up the city’s revenue, which experienced heavy losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to less money from the city’s hotel/motel tax. Coralville decided to spend $2.7 million on lost revenue and will debate the remaining $600,000 on the Direct Assistance Program and several nonprofits such as the Center for Worker Justice and the Coralville Food Pantry.
The Excluded Workers coalition originally called on Johnson County and Iowa City to use its full $29.3 million to fund a direct payment program, but was ultimately rebuffed in favor of the county focusing $2 million on this project.
There are other options for aid in Johnson County, including the county General Assistance Program, which also got an influx of funds from ARPA. The GA recently reduced barriers to allow for undocumented immigrants who qualify to apply for aid.
More:Iowa City reached its 2030 carbon emission goals early. What comes next for city’s climate plan?