NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk is stepping up efforts to help people hard hit by the pandemic, via a bus at the SoNo Branch Library, where Connecticut residents can apply for rental and electricity payment assistance through the UniteCT program.
“Nobody bargained for this pandemic, nobody knew what it was going to be. It has no manual, how to handle something like this. So we’ve been kind of learning as we go along,” Mayor Harry Rilling said Wednesday. “But one thing we did learn is that this pandemic has affected so many people in so many different ways. And people have lost their jobs, people were not able to pay their mortgages, to pay their rent, to buy the kinds of food that they might need to support their family, to pay their utility bills. And this program is going to help people who need the help.”
UniteCT is a $235 million program offering rental and electricity payment assistance to qualified Connecticut households financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of helping to stabilize Connecticut’s rental housing market. The UniteCT Mobile Bus will be here Monday through Thursday next week. Residents will be able to use its technology to complete their applications for assistance.
The bus didn’t make it to the Wednesday morning press event due to mechanical problems. Technological help with filing applications for assistance is also available at the Norwalk Public Library on Belden Avenue, via an appointment made by calling 203-899-2780.
“The state and the federal government have provided this resource, but it’s only as good as people can access it. So the UnitedCT bus is making sure that people have access to these resources that are going to be life changing for them,” said Nancy Coughlin, Person-to-Person Chief Executive Officer.
“I’m excited to say that we have partnered with some amazing and trusted community partner organizations here in Norwalk, the Alliance for Community Empowerment, Person-to-Person. And also then Connecticut Urban League, to bring the UnitedCT program funding program here to the residents of Norwalk,” Norwalk Director of Human Services Maria Escalera said.
“This is the vision that we all have to get our community back to pre-pandemic times. And what it takes is all of us together to do,” Monette Ferguson, Executive Director of the Alliance for Community Empowerment, said.
“Even before the pandemic, you know, as many as 40% of area residents were struggling to make ends meet,” Nancy Coughlin, Person-to-Person Chief Executive Officer, said. “And the pandemic obviously did not make that any easier for the people that we serve and that the Alliance serves and that the City serves.”
“There’s so many different ways that people are needing help,” Val Gilpin, Vice President of the Urban League of Southern Connecticut, said. “We’re just grateful that we’re able to do a little bit that we can try to help people.”
The Urban League is in Stamford but will be in Norwalk soon, he said.
Residents seeking help with a utility bill need to bring the bill and all applicants need to prove COVID-19 hardship, he said. Renters need identification including Social Security numbers for all occupants of the dwelling, but lack of a Social Security number is “not a deterrent, they are still able to apply.” Proof of income is needed as well as proof of past due rent.
Turnaround time for applicants is “going to be a lot quicker than it was maybe originally,” he said.
“I think over 100 people have been hired to work on this program to speed the process up because it had been gone a little slower than originally that we wanted to,” Gilpin said. “But I think now they really have, because it’s new. We’re all new to this situation. There’s a learning curve.”
Updated 2:43 p.m.: Additional information.