Chances are good that the COVID-19 pandemic has unsettled your health and financial security, whether you have lost your job, experienced a reduction of work hours, assumed child care responsibilities or any combination of the above.
Even before the lockdown, many Coloradans were already feeling the strain of covering the costs of basic needs such as food, housing and health care without assistance, as evidenced by Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s Self-Sufficiency Standard report series. Since the pandemic and the sweeping social distancing measures ravaged Colorado’s economy, it’s safe to say that most Coloradans are feeling less certain about their ability to make ends meet these days.
To alleviate some of this anxiety, Congress provided relief through the federal CARES Act with stimulus payments you might have already received. While the stimulus money may give some piece of mind and financial help for some Coloradans, a $1,200 check won’t pay one month’s rent in much of the state, and the data shows that more and more Coloradans are seeking other forms of assistance.
Nearly 420,000 Coloradans have filed for unemployment claims since mid-March. Under the CARES Act, recipients of unemployment insurance would receive an additional $600 a week for the next four months ending July 31. These kinds of supports may help Coloradans experiencing a substantial loss of income during the public health emergency.
If you find yourself without a job — or if you are struggling to pay the bills even with a job — there are several public assistance programs that could help you and your family keep afloat during these uncertain times. As a program manager at ConnectAurora, a service of the Aurora Mental Health Center, I often encounter people who likely qualify for assistance but they don’t apply because they assume their income is too high, or they are not sure if they can sign up because of their immigration status.
These public benefits are meant to be help people during difficult times such as these. Because any money you save through public benefits can be applied to food, housing, health costs and other necessities, I strongly encourage every Coloradan who is facing hardship to look into the following programs:
Connect for Health Colorado: If you lost your job, you probably lost your health insurance coverage too. And while it might sound tempting to go without health insurance for the short-term, the health and financial risks have never been higher with the coronavirus still spreading. Please look into enrolling for reduced-cost health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado’s website at connectforhealthco.com.
Colorado PEAK’s website: If you can’t afford health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado, you might qualify for premium-free coverage from Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid program). You can apply for Medicaid, Children’s Health Plan Plus (CHP+) and other health plans through Colorado PEAK’s website at coloradopeak.secure.force.com.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Depending on your income level, you might be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and special assistance for Women, Infants and Children. You can learn more about the program using this link and you can apply on-line using the Colorado PEAK’s website at coloradopeak.secure.force.com. Also check out the SNAP Benefit Calculator at gapmap.org/calculator to see if you qualify.
Resources for immigrant families – Regardless of status, immigrant families in Colorado can still access many support services that will make it easier for them to attend to their health and well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak. Check out Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s COVID-19 Resources page at cclponline.org for more details.
The ConnectAurora program at the Aurora Mental Health Center can help you apply for Connect for Health Colorado and PEAK program benefits. Go to ConnectAurora.org to schedule free application help.
When you have sufficient resources to buy food at your local grocery, get services at your local clinic or seek therapy through tele-health or checking in with a pediatrician, you’re also helping local businesses keep their doors open.
Even more importantly, these programs can help you maintain health for you and your family. And if we can’t maintain our health and safety, the social distancing, lockdowns and other sacrifices we are doing to protect ourselves and our neighbors will be for naught.
Of course, it’s critical to mind your mental health in times like these. For information on mental health resources in Aurora, visit the Aurora Mental Health Center’s website at aumhc.org. Please take advantage of these resources to ensure that you, your family and our communities stay safe, secure and healthy.
— Allison Summerton is a program manager at ConnectAurora, a service of the Aurora Mental Health Center