Community Advocate Available To Help Navigate Coronavirus Assistance Programs

By: Tim Wood

Monomoy Community Services. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – The recently passed federal CARES legislation provides $2 trillion in financial relief for businesses and individuals impacted by COVID-19. But its complex mix of loans, grants and other programs can be difficult to navigate. Add to that all the other state and federal programs available to those who need help during the emergency, and a person can easily drown in paperwork and a confusion of acronyms.

To assist local residents make sense of this, Monomoy Community Services has set up a community resource advocate to help navigate through the bureaucratic shoals.

“This is for anybody who needs it,” said MCS Executive Director Theresa Malone. Many local residents were thrown out of work by the crisis and don't know where to start to get help. “Most of these people have never filled out an unemployment claim,” she said. Likewise, many local small businesses, including shops and restaurants, have seen revenues plummet and struggle to pay bills and employees.

With recent donations—some made to make up for the cancellation of MCS's “Tools of the Trade” fundraiser—Malone hired Morgan Eldredge, a Chatham native and a navigator with the nonprofit Fishing Partnership, for which she does similar work for members of the commercial fishing industry.

“She asked me if I could use my knowledge and help Chatham families navigating some of the challenges of what is happening for people that are unemployed or self-employed,” Eldredge said. Quite a few local residents are self employed, and for the first time are eligible for unemployment payments or loans under the CARES act and other programs instituted during the emergency though the Small Business Administration and other agencies.

“Understanding all of that is a challenge,” Eldredge said, “knowing what the different pieces are. Understanding what the best option may be for a family is very confusing.”

Eldredge is available to connect with residents and business owners by phone or video conferencing Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 to 9 a.m. and Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. She can be reached at 508-945-1117 or 774-722-0737. Language translation services are available upon request.

Eldredge can help identify the best fit out of all of the assistance now available including unemployment claims, small business forgivable loans and self-employment claims. She can help get together the paperwork needed to apply or access federal and/or state funds, documenting business loss and financial need, and connect with local service providers, including food assistance.

“If I don't have an answer, I'll get one,” she said.

For many local residents, including shellfishermen, restaurant and shop workers, the impact of the coronavirus was quick; many found themselves with reduced hours or laid off after Governor Charlie Baker's March 10 emergency order and subsequent closing of all businesses other than those deemed essential.

“It definitely happened quick on the Cape, as far as the financial impact,” said Eldredge, who was laid off from a part-time job at the YMCA in Plymouth, where she lives.

Eldredge is well acquainted with the way the local economy works. She grew up in a fishing family (her parents are Selectman Shareen Davis and weir fisherman Ernie Eldredge) and has worked in the fishing industry. She was in town last week helping her father and sister, who runs the family business, get ready for the fishing season. She said she expects many local families will come under more and more stress as the crisis continues. Worrying about paying bills “can be debilitating for people,” and her job, as a community advocate, is to “try to reach out and figure out where the help is and who can help,” which can be hard “when you're under stress.”

As a navigator for the Fishing Partnership for the past half dozen years, she helps fishing families, and sometimes other community members, with health insurance and financial issues. The CARES act will overlap her navigator job and the new community resource advocate work to some extent, she said.

“Some of it's going to be a learning process,” she said, “but for the most part this is entirely the kind of thing that's in my wheelhouse.”

“Morgan's good at what she does,” Malone said. “She's had a reputation for years with the Fishing Partnership for doing the same thing. We've recommended non-fishing families to her in the past and she's helped.”

Malone said she's seen instances of families helping their neighbors, especially older residents, during recent weeks. “I'm really proud of the families in this town,” she said. “There's a genuine concern for seniors in this town.”

Some of the provisions of the CARES act, such as paycheck protection for the self-employed, don't kick in until this week. But Eldredge urged residents and business owners who have questions about that and other government resources and services to contact her.

“We'll work through this together,” she said.

“It's a start,” Malone said. “It's a tiny piece, but if it helps even just a couple of people, it will be worth it.”