Programs available to help people with bills, rent, and Christmas gifts during pandemic

Programs available to help people with bills, rent, and Christmas gifts during pandemic

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Millions in Michigan are struggling during the pandemic.

They’ve lost their jobs, they can’t afford Christmas presents, and some are having a hard time paying bills.


“The journey just hasn’t been rough on me, I know it’s been rough on them,” said single mom Jescia Rutledge of Grand Rapids.

She’s raising her two sons; Gregory who’s 12 and Tayshaun who’s 11.

Rutledge says the family ended up homeless for three years, staying in a shelter and with family or friends.

“And it’s really rough for my kids,” she says. “We just need stuff – everyday things – and it’s hard to maintain and get this stuff when we, you know, have no money for it.”

Rutledge says she lost her cleaning job during the pandemic and being a single mom she’s had to stay home with the boys since their school is shut down.

“What’s a home when you don’t got dish washing liquid or washing detergent to wash your clothes that you’ve been using every day?” she said.

She was getting some money from the unemployment insurance agency, roughly $320 a week. Barely anything left for bills, let alone Christmas gifts.

“Every time I call it’s hard for me to get through,” she said about the UIA phone system.

There’s now a ‘stop payment indicator’ on at least six weeks of benefits.

“And when I call it’s ‘oh it’s in review’, well how long does the review take and they’re like, ‘oh we can’t tell you there’s no time limit,” she said.

Thousands are still waiting on that manager review hoping to get their back pay that even the governor promised would be coming.

Now, they’re reaching out for help, unable to make ends meet.


“We do look at the eligibility criteria for each program and then try to make sure that we get them the best resources to meet their needs,” said United Way 211 Engagement Specialist Jessie Verville.

Jessie Verville is the engagement specialist with United Way’s 211. A service that’s getting several calls from people because their furnaces are not working.

They do provide resources for those types of home repairs, along with high utility bills, rent payments, mortgages, and food to those who are eligible.

“I want everyone to know that 211 is available 24/7. We don’t shut down even on the holidays so please make sure to reach out to us,” said Verville.


Things were so rough last month in West Michigan, the local United Way saw a 70% increase in need.

In November, there were nearly 7,000 calls for help. That’s up about 3,000 from the same month in 2019.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is also seeing a greater need this year.

There are more than 1.2 million Michiganders getting food assistance. That’s about 70,000 more than before the pandemic and 100,000 more than last October.

More than 1.8 million are on Medicaid; up 130,000 from last year and 120,000 since February.

The number of people on the Healthy Michigan Plan (expanded Medicaid) is nearly 825,000. That’s up from 685,000 just eight months earlier.

Rutledge knows she’s not alone in her struggles this holiday season but she feels there’s nowhere left to turn.

“And I’m not trying to scam. I’m not trying to get over, I’m just trying to survive and take care of my kids,” she said.


If the United Way cannot help someone, it will share their information with other agencies to meet those specific needs.

From 211, to the local food banks, Salvation Army and Toys for Tots, there are several options out there.

You can also try your local church as some of them have been known to help people in need.

Here are the other local resources:

Salvation Army

Salvation Army Angel Tree

Kent County Toys for Tots

United Way 211

Published at Thu, 17 Dec 2020 00:00:00 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos


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