Somerville Cares Fund lends support to those in need

Photo by Jess Benjamin.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, in partnership with United Way of Massachusetts Bay and the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS), launched the Somerville Cares Fund to provide financial resources to those heavily impacted by the pandemic on April 15. 

Officials were inspired by the work of the organization United Way and Merrimack Valley’s actions to support those affected by the coronavirus in Lynn, Newton, and Chelsea.

“We were hearing from our partners that families they served and worked with were approaching them with the need,” says Gail Sokoloff, United Way’s vice president of strategic partnerships and foundation relations. “We all knew that people were losing jobs and losing income. The stimulus money is limited. We were made aware of many situations where there was great food insecurity. People were not able to meet their basic needs and pay their monthly bills, including rent and car payments.  …This was really an emergency response effort.”

After CAAS and United Way decided to collaborate to create the Somerville Cares Fund, United Way was able to provide the website and backend infrastructure for the program, says Sokoloff. The initiative paralleled systems in other towns and cities by raising funds before going live with the application site.

All money for the fund has been coming from donations, says CAAS Executive Director David Gibbs. Anyone who lives or works in Somerville, or who has children in the Somerville public school system, is eligible for support. To apply for funding, applicants will be asked for documentation such as pay stubs, bank account statements, or layoff notices. 

The process will be “highly individualized,” says Gibbs, as there are differences in the specific documents that applicants are asked to provide. Essentially, applicants must demonstrate that they have lost income due to COVID-19 and that they have costs that they cannot handle at the moment.  

“We will see a lot of need for food and housing,” says Gibbs. “Where there’s housing need, there’s often utility need. I wouldn’t be surprised to see prescription drug needs, medical needs related to COVID-19. Unfortunately, I think we’re probably going to see people asking for help with funeral costs.”

There is no formal income limit to who can apply, says Gibbs. For food and household expenses, individuals are allowed to receive up to $250 per person and up to $1000 per household. For other expenses, such as housing or utility builds, the program will have to “play it by ear” and be more flexible.  

As of now, the Somerville Cares Fund currently has $167,000 and over 500 donors.  

Sokoloff says that she anticipates several particularly vulnerable sectors will be hard hit by the virus and apply for funding, including undocumented immigrants, gig workers, like Lyft or Uber drivers, childcare workers, and retail workers. The fund aims to support those with the greatest need, such as those who have lost their jobs and are struggling with essentials like food, rent, or childcare.

The application form for the Somerville Cares Fund is currently available in five different languages, including Spanish and Portuguese. Gibbs emphasizes that the fund will be accessible to Somerville’s diverse immigrant communities. The form will not ask applicants to supply a social security number or any immigration information, as part of an effort to make funds available to all those in need. 

The program is attempting to address the issue of economic injustice by securing relief for everyone, regardless of their citizenship status.

“Somerville is a sanctuary city,” says Gibbs. “We wholeheartedly support treating every human being within the city equally, regardless of their immigration status.”

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