How to Get Financial Assistance in California

by Emma Newbery | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on July 15, 2020

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There's a lot of help available in California if you know where to look.

California has led the way in many aspects of its response to the novel coronavirus. It was the first state to order a lockdown, the first to move homeless people into motels, and the first to provide financial assistance for undocumented workers.

If you have lost your job or your income during the COVID-19 shutdown, here's where you can look for financial assistance in California.

Where to start

The first thing to know is that you are not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, the virus has impacted more than 4 in 10 Americans in a major way. Here are some steps you should take to get back on your feet.

  • Make sure you file for unemployment in California if you have not yet done so.
  • Make a list of all your monthly bills and work out which ones are essential. Be ruthless -- cut back on anything you don't really need. Then speak to your service providers and any creditors to find out what assistance they are able to provide. For example, many banks are helping customers by allowing them to suspend credit card payments, or granting forbearance on loans.
  • Keep looking for work. Unemployment is high, but some companies are still hiring. Even if you have to accept less money than you made before or go outside your comfort zone, any cash you can bring in will help you get by during the crisis.
  • If you already have high-interest debt, try to avoid taking on any more. If you are unable to pay down your credit card debt, see if you can consolidate it with a lower-interest personal loan.

Obviously, if you have emergency cash tucked away in your savings account, now is the time to use it. There may be a second stimulus check in the works and the economy will eventually recover, but in the meantime, this is exactly the type of situation you saved your emergency fund for in the first place.

Getting support in California

California's Education Development Department has a list of resources online, and you'll find more information on the state's COVID-19 site. If you are not sure where to turn, call United Ways by dialing 2-1-1 to find resources on just about everything, from credit counseling to healthcare assistance.

The California Public Utilities Commission has suspended disconnections of water, gas, and electricity until April 2021. It also has a list of affordable internet plans in your area.

If you are an undocumented worker, speak to local NGOs to apply for help from the Resilience Fund.

What to do if you can't afford food in California

California's SNAP program is called CalFresh and is the largest food assistance program in America. It's designed to help low-income households put food on the table, and you can apply online. There's an expedited processing service for those in dire straits, such as households with less than $100 in the bank and less than $150 in monthly income.

It's also worth seeing whether you qualify for Women, Infants, and Children food benefits. And if you have older children, download the CA Meals for Kids app to find nearby lunch programs.

There have been some delays to the state's P-EBT program, which makes payments to parents of children who would otherwise have received school meals. The deadline for applications has been extended to July 15, and the program promises parents will hear back by July 30.

Local authorities have partnered with restaurants to deliver up to three meals a day to at-risk seniors. California's Great Plates Delivered program is scheduled to run until August 9.

The state also has a wide network of food banks to distribute donated food. If you don't qualify or have exhausted your SNAP benefits, these food banks will provide emergency food assistance.

What to do if you can't pay your rent or mortgage in California

California's Governor Newsom has extended the state-wide moratorium on evictions until the end of September, but if you are having trouble paying your rent, don't wait until then. Talk to your landlord and try to prioritize rent payments if you are able.

The Los Angeles City Council recently approved a $100 million rental relief package. You can apply online through July 17, and households with an income at or lower than 80% of the area median can apply.

If you are a homeowner, several major mortgage lenders, including Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, JP Morgan Chase, and Citigroup, have agreed to provide relief to borrowers in California. The lenders agreed to offer mortgage forbearance of up to 90 days and waive certain fees.

Lawmakers are also considering proposals to help homeowners, tenants, and landlords in the aftermath of the crisis. These include extended forbearance periods, long-term payment plans for missed rent, and ways to ensure missed rent payments during COVID-19 do not impact a person's credit score.

If you are homeless or at risk of homelessness, the state's Homekey program may be able to help. Local authorities are able to place those who don't have a roof over their heads in hotels, motels, and vacant apartment buildings.

Find more information on the protections and resources in California for homeowners and renters from the state's housing agency. Make sure you are aware of the national housing assistance resources that are in place as well. If you or your landlord have a federally backed mortgage (such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages), help is available.

California has a number of protections in place, in addition to the nationwide pandemic assistance. Taking advantage of the help you are entitled to may help you weather the storm.

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