According to a report for the United Way of Pennsylvania, 44 percent of those residing in Indiana County live at or below the minimum household survival budget, including 13 percent who are at or below the poverty level.
They live from paycheck to paycheck — and any disruption to those paychecks can cause an unprecedented financial hardship.
“One crisis alone puts them over the edge,” said Jane Lockard-Clawson, executive director of the United Way of Indiana County.
Amid what has been an economic hardship as well as a health disaster, the COVID-19 crisis, four Indiana County agencies have begun a collaborative “Emergency Health Fund” initiative.
It involves Indiana County Community Action Program, the county Emergency Management Agency’s Health and Human Services Subcommittee, the county Department of Human Services and the United Way.
“We are in the process of reaching out, eliciting community support and corporate support,” Lockard-Clawson said. “The United Way has $53,000 to start this fund.”
It is an effort born from another crisis, multiple floods in 2017 and 2018.
ICCAP Executive Director Michelle Faught said the various agencies were approached about how people could help the flood victims.
“We’ve had some conversations since then,” Lockard-Clawson said. “Surrounding counties were proactive in setting up similar funds.”
In Indiana County, the United Way was designated to be the fiscal agency handling the fund.
“We received one donation already,” Lockard-Clawson said. “We’ve had people asking us, ‘how do we make a donation?’ Various people have come to me. The word is kind of out there.”
It will be part of a new website being developed by the United Way.
The four agencies said funds raised will provide assistance to those seeking help with food, rent/mortgage, utilities, medical/prescriptions expenses, child care and other needs.
Applications for support will open on Monday, online at www.uwindianacounty.org or by calling ICCAP at (724) 465-2657. Due to potential large call volume, organizers are encouraging use of the online application.
The fund will be open to individuals and families of all income levels who have lost employment due to COVID-19, are age 18 and older, and residents of Indiana County.
Those needing additional community resources can go to PA211, either by texting your ZIP code to 898-211, or by dialing 211 or (888) 553-5778, or by visiting PA211sw.org.
The fund is separate from the annual United Way campaign that normally runs between a kickoff event in August and a closing breakfast in February — and 100 percent of the donations will be distributed to those in need.
Organizers have a suggestion for those who may get federal stimulus or (as authorities say they are correctly known) economic impact payments in the mail.
“If people are getting a stimulus check, and it is not something they need for day-to-day living, they may consider contributing to a fund like this,” Lockard-Clawson said.
Those wishing to make a contribution can do so at www.uwindianacounty.org/donate and designate a donation to the Emergency Relief Fund. Checks can also be made out to United Way of Indiana County, with “Emergency Relief Fund” in the memo, and sent to 655 Church St., Suite 114, Indiana, PA 15701.
As for the annual campaign, the United Way director said, “we just don’t know what is going to happen with the 2020 campaign.”
Lockard-Clawson thought the United Way may have to get creative, dealing among other things with a post-COVID-19 reality that “people are still going to be leery about gathering in large crowds.”
She added, “We take it one step at a time, that is all we can do. Hopefully, people will see the need is still there after we get through this crisis.”