United Way Continues Crisis Response Efforts

Santa Barbara, Ca, June 29, 2022 | For decades, United Way of Santa Barbara County has worked alongside community organizations, philanthropists, and local municipalities to deliver impactful relief and programming to individuals and families throughout Santa Barbara County. In response to recent disasters, the organization has built infrastructure and networks to fill the gap that many residents face in the immediate aftermath of a crisis.  

In total, United Way has raised or managed over $51.4 million in relief funding to support households throughout the community since the start of the pandemic. With support from local municipalities and the philanthropic community, the organization has broadened its scope of disaster response with expanded programming and initiatives which included direct cash assistance for basic needs to individuals, families, and non-profits; supporting students, essential workers and workplaces with learning and childcare services; and assisting the Santa Barbara Public Health Department in meeting critical health needs.

In March of 2020, the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a pressing need for many families throughout the county. Building on existing internal infrastructure for individual assistance grants, United Way quickly stepped in to assist local municipalities in the direct distribution of Emergency Rental Assistance funds to qualifying households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first phases of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, United Way worked alongside the Family Service Agency (FSA) to coordinate case management for applicants throughout the county. United Way program staff worked closely with case workers from FSA to review applications and determine eligibility. Staff from FSA furthered the impact of the program by connecting applicants with additional community services and programs designed for financial and household stability.

“Since the award letter me and my family have been blessed with secured housing.” said one local family who received funding from the program. “[We’re] one step closer to being able to provide the constant stability in all aspects for our goal of self-sufficiency.”

As United Way continued to demonstrate efficiency and speed in the distribution of these funds, the County of Santa Barbara and the Board of Supervisors elected to continue its partnership with the organization to manage additional, restricted federal funding for the county’s rental assistance program. In recognition of their robust infrastructure, United Way was also contracted by the State of California to assist with applications for the Housing is Key program.

Despite limited program staff  and challenges in managing a new emergency federal assistance program , United Way of Santa Barbara County was recognized as one of the fastest distributors of relief funding in the nation in the first months of engagement. On top of its success in speed of distribution, the organization has also activated its network of community resources to expand the program to provide more comprehensive aid to applicants, including utility and temporary relocation assistance.

“It was a daunting task. Our organization has decades of experience in disaster relief, but the effects of the pandemic were on a scale we’ve never seen before” said Steve Ortiz, President and CEO of United Way. “We have received thousands of applications since the start of the program and have worked tirelessly to distribute this funding as quickly as possible. Each member of our program team has been an impressive advocate for our local community, fielding hundreds of calls each day from the large number of those waiting for assistance. I am proud of the work we’ve accomplished so far and look forward to continuing to support our community where they need it most.”

United Way is now entering its third year of recovery efforts in response to the pandemic, managing programs and relief funding to support disaster recovery for individuals, students, and families countywide. Since 2020, over 7,800 households have received individual, rental, relocation, utilities, and general disaster assistance totaling over $34 million as part of United Way crisis response programs.

“The need both locally and across the country, far outweighs available funding,” said Ortiz. “We will continue to assist the County of Santa Barbara in distributing these funds as swiftly as possible. United Way remains committed to supporting long-term solutions for household and financial stability as we phase out of our role in the Emergency Rental Assistance program. As always, United Way will continue to offer its core programming in crisis response, academic achievement, and financial stability that supports more resilient communities.”

United Way continues to adjust program components to remove barriers and challenges for applicants in navigating the detailed application and case management process. The organization recently contracted  with a new account management platform, that allows tenants and landlords simplified access to applications and status updates. United Way looks forward to this and future updates to its process as the program continues to serve those applicants on the waitlist.

On May 24th, 2022, the Board of Supervisors voted on behalf of the County of Santa Barbara to formalize an agreement with United Way of Santa Barbra County to establish the organization’s crisis response programs like the Individual Assistance Grants program and the Critical Needs Fund as key elements of the county’s disaster response planning. Supported by a dedicated network of philanthropic and community partners, United Way continues to analyze and adapt these initiatives to continually meet the changing needs of residents. United Way looks forward to offering its experience in convening stakeholders to efficiently fund and facilitate adaptable infrastructure as a resource to the County of Santa Barbara in future response efforts.

“Over the past several years, the County has had to respond to several major disasters, including the 2017 Thomas Fire, the 1/9 Debris Flow, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, with its disastrous economic impact on low-income households”, observed Santa Barbara County Chair Joan Hartmann.  “United Way of Santa Barbara County has successfully developed trusted relationships across government, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors to develop strategies and respond to community needs in a humane and compassionate way, and we look forward to continued collaboration.”

Though the portal for new applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program closed in March of 2022, United Way will continue to process applications on the waitlist throughout the contract period until funding is exhausted.