Help for colonia residents: Assistance for those impacted by COVID-19

Cameron County has announced an assistance program for colonia residents who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the form of reduced wages or job loss.

The Emergency Self Help Program for colonias offers residents help with missed mortgage and utility payments and as well as food assistance following SNAP guidelines, according to Mark Yates of the county’s Department of Economic Development and Community Affairs. The program is an offshoot of the county’s regular Self Help Program that helps with housing reconstruction in certain colonias, he said.

The emergency program, being carried out in conjunction with Willacy County, is targeting the lowest-income households (50 percent or less of Area Median Family Income) of 192 state-identified colonias in Cameron County and 15 or 20 in Willacy County, Yates said. It can provide assistance for up to three months of missed mortgage payments and associated fees and/or three months of delinquent utility bills for electricity, water and sewer, with the money being paid directly to the mortgage lender and utility company, he said.

The maximum amount of assistance per family or household is $2,000, including food assistance, he said, adding the program aims to assist 125-130 families in both counties.

“ There might be some families that get just $1,500, and that additional $500 will go back into the pool to serve more people,” Yates said.

The Emergency Self Help Program is administered by the Texas Department of Agriculture and funded with U.S. Housing and Urban Development dollars through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, with nearly $269,000 being allocated for the program, he said.

“ I hope we dispense the money quickly,” Yates said. “That way I’d petition the state for more money. With our regular program, sometimes when we run out of money, spend it, they find additional money.”

About 55 households from both counties have applied so far, he said, adding that “we’re probably 40 percent there.”

Applications are not available online but must be picked up at precinct offices. When applying, families should present documentation of delinquent utility and/or mortgage payments. The addresses of Cameron County precinct offices and phone numbers can be found below. Applicants can also call (956) 372-1249, (956) 574-8132 or (956) 544-0828 for assistance in getting an application.

>>Precinct 1, 9901 S. Browne Rd., Brownsville, (956) 574-8167

>>Precinct 2, 2100 Gregory Ave., Brownsville, (956) 547-7002

>>Precinct 3, 1390 I-69E Frontage Rd., San Benito, (956) 361-8209

>>Precinct 4, 26623 White Ranch Rd., La Feria, (956) 427-8069