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Spanish Helpline Supports Filing Applications For Emergency Assistance

La Línea de Ayuda helps Spanish-speakers across the state. Nayely Hurtado, the program coordinator, said many calls are about rental assistance and COVID-19 vaccine access.
Priscilla Du Preez
La Línea de Ayuda helps Spanish-speakers across the state. Nayely Hurtado, the program coordinator, said many calls are about rental assistance and COVID-19 vaccine access.

The Des Moines-based organization in charge of distributing funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) in Polk County has ceased taking phone applications, but one source of online applications continues to stream in.

La Línea de Ayuda, the Spanish helpline, partnered withIMPACT Community Action Partnership to help people apply for the funds. La Línea was permitted to use the online portal, which is not yet open to the general public.

In an email about the collaboration between the organizations, IMPACT executive director Anne Bacon said "it is so helpful to have partners like the Spanish Helpline to assist families."

IMPACT partnered with advocacy groups and other nonprofits to spread the message about the ERAP to harder-to-reach populations. This includes Spanish-speakers in the area.

La Línea began at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic through the Office of Latino Affairs to help Spanish-speakers with a myriad of topics. Sonia Reyes, the director, said it is important for partners to specifically work with underserved populations because they have different ways of serving their communities.

"The the ways that things are done in the state don't always work for new Iowans," Reyes said. "So IMPACT is trying to bridge that gap by allowing us to be able to provide the services ahead of time. And so we can have access and we can start talking to people."

Nayely Hurtado, the program coordinator for the free helpline, said she noticed a lot of information at the beginning of the pandemic was in English. She explained it is still difficult for Spanish-speakers to access information that is primarily published in English.

“There are a lot of barriers with the knowledge that different groups have with technology use. So maybe immigrants and older Iowans would have a harder time applying on their own," Hurtado said.

She added because the application does not require documentation of U.S. citizenship, it makes it a bit easier not only for her clients, but for her as well.

"Finding resources for people that are undocumented [is] extremely difficult, especially when so much aid might be available," Hurtado explained. "It's extremely difficult to navigate that. And honestly, I do think that it kind of gets to you. Because I just feel like this system isn't designed for a lot of our callers. So you want to help them and you see that they're struggling. And it's not only affecting them financially, but it's affecting their mental health."

The risk of eviction due to stressors from COVID are more prevalent in Hispanic and Black households, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

The reportfound "Black and Hispanic renter households in particular were twice as likely as white renter households to be behind on housing payments and twice as likely to report being at risk of eviction."

The small staff Hurtado answers phones with are trained in a wide spread of different topics and programs to send their clients in the right direction. Reyes said it can take up to eight hours for a case manager to find the right resource for their client in the language they need it.

"We don't only provide phone numbers for people to call, we do those soft handoffs. We make sure that before we're going to refer someone to another agency, that there's someone that will help them, that there's someone that understands what this client's needs are," Reyes said.

Reyes said at least 80 percent of the La Línea's calls are about rental assistance. She explained due to COVID, callers have suffered personal loss, been out on sick leave for an extended amount of time or lost their jobs entirely.

La Línea will be held open indefinitely to continue taking ERAP applications and help with other needs.

IMPACT’s online applications will be open to the general public on or near May 1, according to executive director Bacon.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines