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Iowa City to contribute $1.5 million to Johnson County’s direct assistance program
Money will increase number of residents who receive one-time payments of $1,400
IOWA CITY — The Iowa City Council agreed to contribute $1.5 million of the city’s pandemic relief funds to Johnson County’s direct assistance program, raising the program’s total amount to $3.5 million.
Johnson County is in the process of developing its direct assistance program intended to help low-income residents affected by COVID-19 or previously excluded from pandemic relief payments. Throughout various work sessions, the Board of Supervisors decided the one-time payments will be $1,400 checks mailed to eligible applicants who will be selected by a lottery-based system.
While details still need to be worked out and formally approved, the intent is for the city’s funds to be used on Iowa City residents selected for the program to increase the total number of individuals who would benefit.
Without Iowa City’s contribution, the total funding available for the program was $2 million, which would provide payments to just over 1,400 residents. The city’s contribution increases how many residents can be helped by about a 1,000, for a total of 2,500 residents.
Ray Forsythe, the county’s special projects manager, said the city also will be able to help with getting the word out.
“We're looking at having (application) workshops and sessions, but having the additional support from Iowa City could broaden that outreach,” Forsythe said.
The main eligibility qualifier for the county’s program will be having an income that is 65 percent or more below the area median income — less than $45,370 a year for an individual. The threshold was increased from 60 percent to 65 percent due to new guidance for use of pandemic relief funds released earlier this month by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Once income is established, additional eligibility markers can include food or housing insecurity, unemployment or exclusion from previous federal stimulus payments.
Several council members during the work session Tuesday appeared to be under the impression that the Johnson County program is only for people who were excluded from previous pandemic relief.
County staff members, who were present at the City Council work session, clarified how not receiving previous stimulus is one of the eligibility requirements, but there are other ways individuals can be eligible for assistance. The Board of Supervisors discussed eligibility metrics at a December work session.
Donna Brooks, the county’s grants coordinator, said the broader eligibility ensures the program is compliant with federal rules and helps more people in need.
Council members discussed increasing the one-time payment for Iowa City residents to $2,000 but ultimately came to the conclusion that keeping the payment the same will help more people.
“The way to get the most help to the biggest number of people who haven't gotten any help yet up to this point is to go with a lower number but in the broader pool,” council member Shawn Harmsen said. “That wasn't really what I was hoping we'd end up at, but if that's the mechanism that we can get those people who haven't gotten help, the help they need.”
The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition has been organizing and advocating for direct payments in Iowa City and Johnson County since last April. In a statement Wednesday, the group advocated for excluded workers being prioritized in the lottery selection process.
To be eligible for the one-time $1,400 payment, individuals must be 18 or older and have lived in Johnson County since March 1, 2020.
The application period is slated to begin in early March and run through April 15, according to a draft memo the county shared last month. Once the application period ends, the county will randomly select applications through a lottery system.
Approved applicants will receive the $1,400 check in the mail. The county expects it to take six to eight weeks after the application period closes for applications to be reviewed. Residents with fully completed applications may receive their checks sooner.
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