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Wayne County agency provides COVID-19 relief aid: "People are hurting."

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The head of a Metro Detroit non-profit social services agency that’s in charge of distributing federal stimulus funds says the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people struggling to meet basic needs.

The Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency was allotted $11 million in CARES Act funds to distribute to households in Wayne County. $8 million of that is reserved for the city of Detroit.

Wayne Metro CEO Louis Piszker said that since the agency started taking applications last week, more than 12,000 people have called for help—more than double the usual volume.

“We've taken about 5,000 applications in seven days for Wayne County residents. That’s really high,” Piszker said. “That's showing us that there's just a lot of need.”

Piszker said the highest number of requests have been for utilities assistance, followed by food aid and rent and mortgage assistance. Many also need diapers and formula. Funds are also available to pay water bills, fix plumbing problems, pay property taxes, and for funeral expenses.

There are caps per households in each category except for food assistance, Piszker said, but families can receive assistance in multiple categories. Most are requesting two or three services on average.

Piszker said 60-65% of aid requests come from Detroit. And many people appear to be needing social services for the first time.

“We knew that there would be a lot of people that have not had to access the system, that would be accessing the system for the first time, and didn't have any experience accessing assistance,” Piszker said. “And a lot of people have a lot of pride and they don't want to access the system. So we're trying to break down all of those eligibility barriers.”

Wayne County households using types of government benefits, including unemployment, Head Start, and Medicaid, are automatically eligible for the program, Piszker said. Families that make up to 200% of the poverty level can also qualify. That’s around $52,000 a year for a family of four.

Piszker said Wayne Metro sends the money directly to whomever needs to be paid, such as landlords or water utilities. He said the agency hopes to disburse all the money within four months.

“People are hurting. And this assistance is really needed,” Piszker said.” People, when they're calling, the stories are really heartbreaking. They’re worried about keeping a roof over their head, and they're worried about feeding their families. And so we're trying to do the best we can with the resources that we have to stretch them as much as possible, to try to serve as many people as we can.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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