116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Almost 2,600 people applied for assistance through Johnson County’s direct assistance program.
A total of 2,596 applications were received before applications closed Friday. People were able to apply from April 25 to May 27 after the county’s extended deadline.
Between 2,300 and 2,400 residents will be selected at random to receive a one-time $1,400 check.
The checks are going to low-income residents and to residents excluded from the pandemic relief checks most Americans received early in the pandemic.
Escucha Mi Voz, which represents immigrants and refugee applicants, is calling on the county to send checks to all the applicants.
For now, the county is working with applicants to fix any errors on their applications and also on a timeline for mailing the checks.
The $3.5 million for the direct assistance checks comes from federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars awarded Johnson County and the city of Iowa City. The county contributed $2 million and Iowa City $1.5 million.
Administering the program was an “ambitious undertaking,” said Donna Brooks, the county’s grants coordinator. An application system had to be created, staff trained, and application materials translated into five languages.
“We did a lot of things that we've never done before as a county in terms of operation and public service delivery,” Brooks said.
The county also had an email and phone hot line to help applicants. The phone “rang pretty much nonstop for five weeks,” Brooks said.
Brooks said lessons learned can be used in the future.
“I think that one of the calls of the American Rescue Plan Act, in general, was to provide local governments with resources to be more resilient in the future,” Brooks said.
The program, she said, was the first of its type and the first completely paperless application the county has had.
“I think we anticipated there would be technological barriers, but I don't think we anticipated the extent to which the online application was going to be prohibitive for certain residents of Johnson County,” Brooks said.
Johnson County held three application clinics to help residents apply and address technology issues. Brooks said about 300 residents were helped during those clinics.
Common issues, Brooks said, included applicants not having a computer at home or having challenges uploading their paper documents to the online application.
Members of Escucha Mi Voz and the Iowa City Catholic Worker House held clinics to help immigrant and refugee workers apply for the program, noting they worry the lottery system will once again exclude needy people from the pandemic assistance.
The two groups helped 631 immigrant and refugee residents apply for the program, said Ninoska Campos, a leader with Escucha Mi Voz.
Around 400 people were not able to apply because they lacked the required documentation, she said.
Campos said some immigrant workers — such as those in roofing and construction — couldn’t prove their income because they are self-employed and paid in cash or their employer did not want to sign documentation.
Escucha Mi Voz is calling on the county to fund all of the submitted applications, she said.
Miriam Alarcón Avila, also with Escucha Mi Voz, said she was able to see the many needs county residents are facing. While a $1,400 check won’t cover everything, it will help residents pay bills they might be behind on, she said.
“It would be fair for all these people to receive their money, and it would be sad to see them excluded once again,” Campos said.
Of the 2,596 applications, about 1,800 — or 70 percent — were from Iowa City residents, according to the county.
About 425 applications came from Coralville residents, 240 from North Liberty, 50 from Tiffin, 20 from Oxford and 15 from Solon. These numbers are preliminary and reflect self-reported mailing addresses, Brooks said.
Brooks said the county is looking at a partnership with the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center, which is interested in doing additional research on the impacts on the program and economic recovery from the pandemic.
Once county staff has reviewed all applications, a message will be sent to applicants letting them know if their application is eligible or ineligible, Brooks said.
Applicants with ineligible applications will have the opportunity to appeal. For example, if someone attached the wrong documentation, they will have the opportunity to resubmit their application with the correct documents.
Brooks estimated residents will have 10 days to correct their application. The county, she said, will likely hold appeal clinics to provide additional support to residents who need to correct applications.
Information on the appeal process and future clinics will be communicated by the county on social media and online at johnsoncountyiowa.gov/direct-assistance-program.
Comments: (319) 339-3155; firstname.lastname@example.org