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United Way is here to help people with financial difficulties because of coronavirus | COMMENTARY

Franklyn Baker is president and CEO of United Way of Central Maryland.
Franklyn Baker is president and CEO of United Way of Central Maryland.

In central Maryland and across the state and country, the number of COVID-19-infected citizens continues to rise. The measures mandated by state officials continue to become more stringent. And the situations we all find ourselves in, more precarious.

The way we are living now — in what feels like survival mode, with limited access to resources and uncertainty about the future, has been a way of life for an increasing number of our residents who live paycheck to paycheck or worse, and struggle just to make ends meet.

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As businesses continue to shut down, and people begin to lose jobs that are essential to their survival and our economy, the call to help those already living just one emergency or unexpected expense away from despair and financial crisis becomes even greater. For people in these jobs, working from home is not an option. They are often hourly or tip-based workers who rarely receive health insurance or paid sick days.

These individuals and families face life-altering challenges as we see businesses and schools closed. They are unable to pay all their bills despite their best efforts, which often include working multiple minimum wage jobs. Even a few lost hours in their paycheck can mean making hard choices between things like bills or medicine, food or gas. Imagine what a few lost weeks or more would mean to them.

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I’m talking about those in the service industries, not just health care providers, but also those stocking grocery shelves, those making deliveries, those protecting our families and homes each day and night — the list goes on. Many are folks you wouldn’t think of as poor. But they’re making just enough that they don’t qualify for federal assistance, and not enough to afford life’s basic essentials: food, housing, transportation, health care, child care. According to our 2018 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Report, they represent 38% of Maryland’s population.

United Way’s strength lies in its being able to pivot quickly to address emerging needs and crises in our region. We’re working closely with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to get the latest information. The 211 Maryland United Way Helpline has seen an average of 1,200 calls a day related to COVID-19.

Our 211 staff can answer questions about public benefits and connect those in need of food, health care services, child care, transportation, utility assistance and eviction prevention. Callers also can get information on mental health counseling, job training and substance use recovery. The 211 line also provides us with robust data to quickly identify and address emerging needs. But there is much more to do to tackle the burgeoning need here in Greater Baltimore.

As work schedules are cut and more jobs are eliminated as a result of the virus, we know that people need help covering basic life necessities, like rent or mortgage bills, food and health care. In response, we’ve established the COVID-19 Community Fund to help increase the capacity of the 211 Helpline and ensure people get what’s needed, where it’s needed, right now. Please visit uwcm.org/COVIDHELP to support our neighbors who are in so much need right now.

In this time of isolation, now is the time for us all to unite to support those who are the backbone of our infrastructure and our local economy. We’ve been here for 95 years to motivate and unite our community. Please join us in assisting those residents of Greater Baltimore who need our help now more than ever.

Franklyn Baker (franklyn.baker@uwcm.org) is president and CEO United Way of Central Maryland.

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