The Roanoke County Department of Social Services has paid more than $135,000 in unpaid and overdue bills for those experiencing job losses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Roanoke County, Vinton and Salem contributed a combined $600,000 of their Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding to the assistance program, which began in mid-July. The federal CARES Act is intended to assist local and state governments with expenses that arose due to the pandemic and mandated closures.
Joanna Spar, the assistant director of benefits, said the department has received 177 applications. Some people who applied were not eligible, but she said a large number of people have been approved.
Citizens in the three localities are eligible to apply if they lost their job, had their hours cut, were furloughed, or had an increase in expenses as a direct result of COVID-19.
Spar said that even if someone makes a salary that would make them ineligible for the usual social services benefits programs, they could still be eligible for this assistance program.
“We have quite a bit of money left,” Spar said. “People may not know about the program or think they’re ineligible because they are for our other services. But this is all based on a loss to COVID.”
The program can help pay utility bills, car payments, car insurance costs or internet bills that people were unable to pay due to loss of income. The money is sent directly to the vendors, so the bills must be due or past due. People cannot be reimbursed directly. And according to the rules of the CARES Act, the bills must be due after March 1 and before Dec. 31 to be eligible for the program.