TELLURIDE, Colo. (December 2, 2020) – The need of families and individuals for critical basic necessities due to COVID, such as rent, utilities, food, and medicine, has increased dramatically since the late summer. Due to continued high unemployment or under-employment and the demands on households with young families trying to balance work and online school, many cannot pay their rent, afford food, or provide the basic care their families need.
While employment rates have rebounded to nearly pre-COVID levels for high-wage workers, they remain significantly lower for low-wage workers. Locally, government sales and real estate transfer tax collection are at an all-time high. Projections indicate that the Town of Telluride 2020 sales tax will be equal to 2019 and real estate transfer tax will be at an all-time high, up 200% over last year. However, the financial need for many of our community members continues to be severe and on-going. We anticipate this financial instability will continue through the summer of 2021.
Federal and state benefit programs helped many get by over the summer, but some residents were not eligible, and, moreover, these programs will be expiring on December 31, 2020. According to the New York Times, a study found that over 7 million workers will lose their benefits with the end of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides coverage for gig workers, the self-employed, and independent contractors. An additional 4.6 million will be cut off from Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which kicks in when state employment benefits run out.
The Telluride Foundation’s Good Neighbor financial assistance program, in partnership with Tri-County Health Network, has distributed over $800,000 across 3 counties since March. Rent payments are the primary Good Neighbor assistance request, with 78% of funds paid for this essential need. For example, over $53,000 has been paid to the Town of Telluride for rent at the Town’s Shandoka and other housing properties for qualified residents unable to make rent due to lack of work or underemployment.
“Many in our community continue to be devastated by the economic impacts of COVID,” said Paul Major, President & CEO of the Telluride Foundation, “This is an invisible group of people out of view of main street. Local governments are collecting record amounts in real estate transfer taxes, which stands in stark contrast to the most vulnerable in our community who are truly suffering.”
In Colorado, the wages of workers making $60,000 and more annually have only decreased by 1.4% since January 2020; however, the wages of those making $27,000 and less are down over 18%. The Telluride region is no different. While government sales tax is up and real estate transfer tax collections are at an all-time high, many families and workers, especially lower-wage service workers, are in deep financial stress. This fact is not only seen in the rise of Good Neighbor requests, but also in the number of individuals and families served by regional food banks, which can be more than four times the number served prior to the pandemic. Most food banks report that over 50% of their current clients have never accessed a food bank prior to this year. Due to state mandates, housing evictions are on hold, however without continued state or federal mandates, evictions are projected to explode, particularly for low income families. Some households are reported to be paying their rent with credit cards.
Through the Telluride Foundation’s Good Neighbor financial assistance program, Tri-County Heath Network’s bilingual/bicultural staff assist clients with not only Good Neighbor hardship grants but also in navigating additional government relief sources and community resources. The program provides grants of up to $1,500 for urgent needs, including rent, utilities, transportation, medical expenses, and/or food.
Although the majority of Good Neighbor grants are made to people who live and work in Telluride, grants have also been made to individuals living in Rico, Norwood, the west ends of San Miguel and Montrose counties, and Ouray and Ridgway through the Ouray County Response Fund. Good Neighbor recipients vary, from long-term locals to newer residents and from seniors to immigrants. However, a common story among many is the fact that this is the first time they have ever needed or received financial assistance, and they are extremely grateful.
Tri-County Health Network and its team of in-take staff have worked closely with county social service departments and other organizations to help recipients leverage all avenues of funding and available resources. Also, through the Good Neighbor assistance program, San Miguel County provides targeted grants for mental health services, and the Town of Telluride provided rent assistance for town-owned properties.
The Telluride Foundation established the COVID-19 Response Fund in March 2020 and has raised over $1,150,000 from private donors and grants to date. In addition to providing money for Good Neighbor assistance, the Response Fund distributed $320,000 in emergency grants to healthcare, food assistance and food banks, volunteer organizing, and internet access organizations.
For more on how to donate or information about resources, please visit the Telluride Foundation’s website: the Regional Response Fund donation page at https://telluridefoundation.org/responsefund/; community resources and how to apply, https://telluridefoundation.org/covid-19-community-resources/; or for more information about the Ouray County Response Fund, https://telluridefoundation.org/ouray-county-response-fund/.
The Telluride Foundation exists to create a stronger Telluride and regional community through the promotion and support of philanthropy. 2020 marks 20 years of making more possible through the Telluride Foundation’s commitment to enrich the quality of life of the residents, visitors, and workforce of the Telluride region. The Telluride Foundation is a nonprofit, apolitical community foundation that makes grants to nonprofits, owns, and operates programs that meet emerging and unmet community needs, and makes investments. The Foundation approaches this work through the lens of its core values of inclusion, self-reliance, and innovation. Its work is funded through the generous support of individual donors as well as grants from state and national foundations. The Foundation hopes the community will join it in celebrating its 20th anniversary as it honors the nonprofits, donors, and community members who have all partnered together to achieve a significant positive impact on the region. For more information click on www.telluridefoundation.org.