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United Way uses CARES Act funds to support Charlottesville residents impacted by COVID-19
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United Way uses CARES Act funds to support Charlottesville residents impacted by COVID-19

United Way learning centers

Among other initiatives, the United Way of Greater Charlottesville has been supporting virtual learning centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Way of Greater Charlottesville has been providing resources and financial support to families who are financially impacted or otherwise experiencing inequities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including through the Pathways Program, which is partially supported by funds allocated by the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

The City Council initially allocated $400,000 from Human Services to the Pathways Program fund in May 2020. According to the local United Way, the city has contributed an additional $850,000 to the Pathways fund since the beginning of the fiscal year starting in July 2020.

Last month, the council gave an additional $150,000 allocated from CARES Act funds received by the city. The money initially had been allocated to police and public safety but was moved to emergency assistance funds.

According to the United Way, Albemarle’s Board of Supervisors has allocated approximately $2.4 million to the Pathways Program during the current fiscal year, most recently approving an additional $150,000 allocation this month.

Ravi Respeto, president of the local United Way, said the organization has helped to provide financial support to more than 3,300 people in Charlottesville and Albemarle through the Pathways Program.

Families and individuals can call the Pathways hotline and speak to an intake operator who goes through a series of questions with the caller to assess how they have been impacted by COVID-19.

“We consider it pretty low barrier,” Respeto said. “There’s really no additional documentation required.”

Respeto said qualifying households typically are experiencing the loss of a job or reduced hours. Usually, they are asking for emergency money to cover rent or mortgage payments, utilities and transportation costs.

Currently, households can receive up to $1,000. In some cases, they will receive a direct check, but in most cases, the United Way disperses the funds to landlords, property owners and utility companies directly. Respeto said it depends on the situation and the need.

Depending on funding, the United Way provides around $200,000 total in assistance weekly to city and county residents through the Pathways Program. It has provided more than $3.5 million in total support, with more than $1 million going to city residents, with funding coming from City Council and the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation, as well as other donors.

Another initiative the United Way worked on in response to the pandemic was setting up centers to give children ages 3 to 12 with limited or no internet access a place to complete their online schoolwork.

“Virginia Early Education Foundation provided grant funding through Ready Regions to help set up virtual learning centers in our community. We work with over 15 different partners that were able to set up what they call a Virtual Learning Center for children to come to that location, and have a safe place to learn and make sure there’s desks and computers and internet,” Respeto said.

The grant also provided $525 bonuses to teachers who worked at the centers.

Respeto said the United Way is continuing to apply for funding from the Virginia Early Education Foundation to keep the centers running into the summer months and potentially the fall, depending on whether students will be back in the classroom or not.

“We know that a lot of children did fall behind this year, because they were learning virtually and didn’t necessarily have access to the tools they need to keep up. So our goal right now is that if anyone has a need [for resources] while learning over the internet, we make sure that we help provide a spot for them,” Respeto said.

These programs are part of the United Way’s Five Year Strategic Vision.

“By 2026, our goal is to help 1,800 families scale out of poverty, specifically focused on Black families. So our goal is to increase the annual income of a family to above the survival income, which is a threshold of $45,000,” Respeto said.

“We have a second goal, which is our school readiness goal, which is that by 2026 we would increase the number of economically disadvantaged kindergarteners who pass literacy benchmarks by 10%,” Respeto said.

Respeto said the United Way has noticed patterns of inequity in the community.

“The people that are low income, that are disproportionately Black and brown families in our community, were the first ones to be impacted economically by the impacts of COVID,” Respeto said. “And so, if we look at the demographics — for example, by and large, 47% of individuals that have received funding are African American. In Charlottesville specifically, it’s 68%. Those numbers tell you pretty clearly who’s been impacted.”

Respeto said the United Way does not provide funds, but rather disperses funds that have been allocated through grants, the City Council, the Board of Supervisors and city and county staff.

“We don’t make decisions about what funding will be provided to the Pathways Program,” Respeto said. “United Way itself doesn’t get involved in any of that. Our task is simply dispersing funds to the families that have been approved.”

The City Council allocated $150,000 from CARES Act funds to the program following a presentation from Respeto about the program. Mayor Nikuyah Walker encouraged providing additional funding to the program after she learned how many people needed assistance and how low the funds were.

Respeto said that due to the immense need from residents, the United Way already has dispersed the majority of the funds it received through the City Council from the additional CARES Act allocation, so the organization is hoping to receive additional support from American Rescue Plan funds that the city will receive.

“Any family that’s eligible, we serve. But it’s going to be funding-contingent. We’ve just about spent all of the money from the CARES Act funding and so it will be contingent on whether there’s new allocations of funding,” Respeto said.

Because most of the funds have been dispersed, Respeto said the United Way is primarily using the remaining money to provide rent and utility payment assistance, considering that the top priority.

According to the National League of Cities, Charlottesville is slated to receive approximately $19.6 million in American Rescue Plan funds. City Manager Chip Boyles said the city is expected to receive half of the funds this month and the other half in May 2022.

The city has not received the American Rescue Plan funds yet and has not announced a full plan for using the anticipated funds, but councilors and city staff have discussed directing some of the money to the Pathways Program but have not named an exact amount. The council also has proposed allocating at least $117,000 of the funds to provide legal counsel to tenants in eviction proceedings through the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Families who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are seeking assistance can call the Pathways Program hotline at (434) 326-0950 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. A Spanish-speaking hotline is available at (434) 373-0930 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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