New United Way of Bay County program offers financial help to quarantined families of young students

When COVID-19 forces a child out of the classroom and into quarantine, parents have to choose between going to work and helping with school. For low-income families, missing a day of work can be devastating.

That’s why the United Way of Bay County created a Quarantined Student Assistance program for the families of students in Pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade.

The program targets families that fall into the ALICE population. ALICE households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, yet not enough to cover the basic costs of living for the county where they live. ALICE households must make difficult choices such as deciding between rent or groceries, childcare or bills. Families in the ALICE population often live paycheck to paycheck without the ability to save funds for unexpected expenditures.

According to the United for ALICE’s 2017 Michigan State Overview, Bay County has 29% of households in the ALICE threshold and 16% of those households are at the poverty level.

The United Way of Bay County is stepping up to help ALICE families throughout the remainder of the school year through the Quarantined Student Assistance.

Throughout the pandemic, multiple schools in Bay County have closed face-to-face learning and switched to virtual learning for extended periods of time. Through the CARES Act, working parents may keep their jobs while staying home with their quarantined children to help with virtual education. However, employers do not have to pay parents during that time. Employers can require workers to use paid time off or vacation pay during the quarantine.

Financial help is available for parents who have to miss work when COVID-19 forces a young child into virtual learning.

“ALICE families that are working paycheck to paycheck without that one or two weeks of income can put them behind on a bill, and that can then have a snowball effect,” says Nicole Luczak, associate director of the United Way of Bay County. “You get late fees, and your next month is skipped, and so on.”

The Quarantined Student Assistance program, part of United for ALICE, intends to financially assist ALICE families who have quarantined children for up to two weeks. Eligible families will receive $250 per week, or a total of $500.

 “If their child is quarantined for two weeks, they can have that $500 all at once, or they can choose to split that up,” Luczak adds. “If there’s multiple quarantines throughout the school year, then they can do one week at a time as well.”

The United Way is prioritizing getting this information out to Bay County schools. The program is currently available to schools with face-to-face learning. Schools that are in remote learning now will be eligible for the program when they go back to face-to-face learning.

“We understand that families who are forced into remote learning for this length of time are affected as well, but for this program it was built to serve the temporarily quarantined students,” Luczak says.

Luczak also mentions families can get help with remote learning sites such as the Dow Bay Area Family YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club for long-term needs to give students a place to go and activities to do. Currently in Bay County, remote learners are set to return to in-person learning in January. 

The United Way of Bay County's Quarantined Student Assistance program offers families up to $500 when parents have to miss work to help with virtual learning.The Quarantined Student Assistance program is unique to Bay County and is funded through the Bay Area Community Foundation. A Covid Coalition has been formed that meets with community leaders to identify needs and gaps.

“We look at what the federal poverty limit is because we want to reach those families who are making too much to qualify for federal assistance, and then we capped that out at what the ALICE threshold is for our community,” Luczak says.

If they are not eligible for this program, they are encouraged to reach out to 211 to find other forms of assistance.

Between the early fall and now, all school districts in Bay County varied with time spent in-person or remote learning.

“The amount of quarantines were outrageous,” Luczak says. “There were some schools that had classes that only had five kids left in them.”

Luczak adds the need for this program is huge given the number of ALICE families in Bay County.

To meet the requirements, families must have a child in a Bay County school between Pre-Kindergarten and 6th grade. They also need a letter from the school or health department stating they are in quarantine and verification from the parent’s employer. Families also must meet ALICE income guidelines.

“We are just trying to help,” Luczak says. “They can spend the funding on whatever they want. They are unique in that is it helping and targeting the ALICE population.”

The program intends to run throughout the duration of the school year. If funding runs out before then, the program will seek additional funding. “If this is still an issue with next year, then potentially we could have it go on past that,” Luczak says.

To apply for the Quarantined Student Assistance program, click here. For a full list of assistance programs from the United Way of Bay County, click here.