Several programs will assist North Carolinians who fell behind on bills because of the pandemic. (image via Getty Pjhoto) Getting help with your bills.
Several programs will assist North Carolinians who fell behind on bills because of the pandemic. (image via Getty Pjhoto)

Federal COVID-19 relief funds are helping people get food on tables and pay rent and utility bills.

The last year has been brutal for many, with the pandemic sending many home without work, or pay, for months.

Help came in for some but there’s many still struggling. In March, nearly three in 10 North Carolinians had trouble paying their household bills, according to March surveys by the US Census to see how people are faring during the pandemic.

And 12% of renters said they weren’t caught up on their rent, while 9% of adults with kids in their homes said they couldn’t afford enough food to feed their children. 

But there’s ways to get help staying afloat. The American Rescue Plan, the Biden Administration’s broad COVID-19 relief package passed earlier this year, created pipelines meant to help with rent, utilities, food assistance and more.  

Here’s where to go in North Carolina if you need help.

Rent Aid for up to a Year

Some of the state’s poorest residents could get help paying rent and utilities for up to a year, including paying off past due amounts, if they lost income or were unemployed in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NC HOPE (Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions) Program is taking applications, using federal money to stave off evictions. The program is operating in 88 of the state’s 100 counties. (The remaining 12 counties and five Native American tribes are running their own programs with the federal aid money.)

You have to be making less than half of your county’s median income to be eligible. (In Pitt County, for example, you’d have to have a household income of less than $31,700).

You can apply here for help or call 1-888-927-5467.

North Carolina 2-1-1 keeps a list of other NC counties, cities, and Native American tribes offering temporary help with rent or mortgages.  

There are also federal and state residential eviction moratoriums in place through the end of June, meaning that landlords should not be able kick you out for lack of payment.

If you’re unsure of your rights, Legal Aid of North Carolina is offering assistance.

Extra Funds for Groceries

The financial fallout from the pandemic has left many struggling to feed themselves.

That meant a big expansion of food assistance programs in North Carolina, with those with school-aged and younger children also getting expanded benefits.

Starting this month, people who receive food assistance are getting even more of a boost in their monthly aid if they have kids under the age of 6. The NC Department of Health and Human Services expanded its emergency food assistance for school children to also include younger children.

Need help? You can apply online for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), with NC DHHS’ ePASS or apply in person at your county social services office.   

There will also be free meals distributed this summer for children in areas around the state. You can search this map to find out what’s available near you or text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877.

Get Health Care Coverage

If you lost your job and are now without health insurance, there are ways to still get coverage. 

First, you can look for a new healthcare plan on the federal marketplace. Normally, you cannot sign up for a plan mid-year or without a change in circumstances, but the federal rules were changed to allow people to sign up for new insurance through Aug. 15.

Then, those who were laid off may be able to get up to six months of free COBRA coverage, the temporary health insurance offering that is available after losing health insurance from a job. COBRA coverage allows you to keep your health insurance but, in normal times, you’d have to pay to do that.

he American Rescue Plan included coverage of COBRA for those who involuntarily lost their jobs.

Keep Connected with Internet Bill Help

You may be able to get some help with your internet bills as well if you’ve faced financial pressures. 

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is giving up to $50 a month ($75 a month if you live on qualified tribal lands) and up to $100 to buy a laptop, desktop computer. 

The temporary program set up during this pandemic has a limited amount of funds and will give grants to those who qualify until the money runs out.  

Some scenarios that you can qualify with: 

👉  You make less than $17,388 as a single person ($35,775 for a family of four).

👉  Someone in your household is on Medicaid. 

👉   Someone in your house is signed up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. That includes the extra help families got for school kids over the last year.

👉  You’ve had a significant loss of income from job loss or another situation over the last year.  

You can go here to see if you qualify or apply here .