While COVID-19 continues to affect the financial stability of many Chattanooga residents, resources for financial assistance specifically for people affected by the pandemic have dried up, said Kathleen Wright, a case manager for Family Promise of Greater Chattanooga, an organization that helps low-income families and those experiencing homelessness to achieve sustainable independence.
"The funding that we were using for COVID is no longer available," Wright said. "We do have other funding that we can possibly use for COVID victims, but it's not primarily for them."
But the majority of calls she receives now still come from people requesting assistance due to issues related to COVID-19, Wright said.
And with new variants such as omicron circulating, those issues will likely continue to occur for the foreseeable future.
For people faced with unforeseen circumstances that leave them unable to meet their basic needs through no fault of their own, the Neediest Cases Fund provides one-time assistance to help them get back on their feet when no other resources are available.
One of Wright's clients, a single mother of two minor children, tested positive for COVID-19 after being laid off due to the pandemic. She has since returned to her previous job, but she requested help from Neediest Cases to pay her rent since she had fallen behind on payments while she was out of work with COVID-19.
Another local Family Promise case manager, who is no longer with the organization, used Neediest Cases funds to help a client who is a single parent and contracted COVID-19. Once she recovered, her two children were then infected with COVID-19, causing her to be out of work for an extended period and fall behind on her rent payments. Neediest Cases funds helped her catch up. The entire family is now recovered, and she is employed and able to cover their bills.
"We live in a different world right now," said Jessica Bastianelli, director of community programs for United Way of Greater Chattanooga, which administers Neediest Cases funds through its partner agencies such as Family Promise. "COVID has been tough for our people. In general, our people just need some additional support to get themselves through the day."
The Neediest Cases Fund was founded in 1914 by former Chattanooga Times Publisher Adolph Ochs. Fueled by donations from Times Free Press readers, the fund is available only to people who have jobs or are on fixed incomes. Requests are typically for basic needs such as housing, food or utilities, Bastianelli said.
Requests for assistance from the fund increased this year compared to 2020. The fund helped 125 people in 2021, up from 100 in 2020, she said.
As for how Bastianelli expects the Neediest Cases fund to be used in 2022, the hope, she said "is that our community doesn't have to use it, because that means we might be on a true path to stability, but we know there is definitely a lot of work to do still there."
Contact Emily Crisman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6508.