Financial Wellness Partnership Update
March 2021
United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona is moving forward with a monthly newsletter focused on financial wellness topics. In this edition, read the latest about the economic impact of the pandemic, emergency aid and tax assistance, benefits enrollment support, and more.
Updates and Research
March roughly marks a full year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic. But in Southern Arizona, March also marks one year of an immense, collaborative community response. Here, we saw nonprofits, schools, and child care providers adjust operations on a dime to maintain services for people in need. Local health care workers logged innumerable hours, community advocates formed innovative mutual aid networks, and our local government set up systems to distribute loans, grants, and emergency assistance to thousands of people. Locally, community members also donated millions of dollars to our philanthropic organizations, who helped funding reach every corner of the county.
These incredible efforts helped thousands of people stay safe, healthy, and housed in the face of crisis. But even one year later, the effects of the pandemic continue– especially for our most vulnerable community members. Arizona saw 4,943 new unemployment insurance claims during the last week of February, 40% higher than that same week in 2020 (University of Arizona EBRC). As of March 8th, the Community Investment Corporation (CIC) reports a waitlist of 3,300 people requesting help to catch up on rent and utility bills in Pima County. And at United Way, we have been fulfilling more requests for assistance now than during the early months of the pandemic. Compared to last spring, rental assistance requests from our partners are up 45%, and requests for utility assistance are currently almost three times as high. It’s clear that many households are not out of the woods yet. We hope the resources in this newsletter can assist all of you in your ongoing efforts to help.
Tax Refunds and Stimulus Checks
Confused about how to file, when to file, or what to do if you are missing a stimulus check? You aren’t alone – and while many late-breaking IRS tax law changes will help people get larger refunds this year, it can be difficult to keep up with all of them. Luckily, VITA tax volunteers are monitoring these IRS changes and are available to work with community members, 1-on-1, on returns for free.

To start working with them and hear their recommendations for your situation, visit GetYourRefund.org/uwtsa and select ‘File with the help of an expert.’ Once you upload IRS-required IDs and answer questions about your tax situation, you will be put in touch with local tax experts from United Way. These VITA volunteers can help anyone in households making $66,000 or less navigate the system to get their refunds, stimulus checks, and more.

The recent IRS changes are making it difficult to issue blanket recommendations and guidance. In spite of those challenges, here are some broad notes from the UWTSA tax team:
  • Stimulus Checks: For most people missing a stimulus check, filing sooner rather later is recommended.

  • People with Major Life Changes: If you were married, divorced, lost a spouse, or had a child in 2020, it is probably beneficial for you to file your taxes sooner rather than later. For people with children, filing now should ensure your ability to start receiving Child Tax Credit monthly payments in the summer.

  • Unemployment Income and Premium Tax Credit: The American Rescue Bill's impact on returns for people with unemployment income is still in flux as the IRS works on official guidance. People who received an excess of the Premium Tax Credit or 2020 unemployment income may want to wait until at least the beginning of April to reduce their tax burden and avoid needing to amend their return later.
United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona has teamed up with GetYourRefund.org/uwtsa to help community members file taxes online with the help of certified VITA volunteers.
Emergency Rent and Utility Relief Program
Congress recently passed a stimulus bill that allocates additional rental assistance funding for those who affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to provide the most efficient and effective process, the City of Tucson and Pima County are in the final stages of approving funding distribution, and it is anticipated that the Community Investment Corporation (CIC) will administer funding. Once approved by Mayor and Council and the Board of Supervisors, CIC will be working directly with local social service agencies to qualify tenants and landlords for this program.

If you have participants in need and likely to qualify, we strongly encourage them to add their names to the waitlist. Case processing and funding distribution is anticipated to start in mid-March. Anyone on the waitlist should watch for emails and texts from CIC about 'Eviction Prevention' and follow up quickly if contacted. Find more information about the program here: Tucson and Pima County Eviction Prevention/ Emergency Rent and Utility Relief Program
One eligibility requirement is that total renter household income is at/or below eighty-percent (80%) Area Median Income (“AMI”) as established by US Housing & Urban Development Department. See full eligibility requirements at the CIC website by clicking above.
Save the Date for the Financial Wellness Partnership Forum!

Thursday, April 22 – 1:00-2:30pm

How do you move millions of dollars to people in need during a global pandemic and economic shutdown? Join us for a virtual forum focused on the innovative Eviction Prevention Program. This joint effort between the Community Investment Corporation, Pima County, and the City of Tucson reached nearly 1,000 households in 2020 and is set to distribute an additional $27 million this spring. Our Forum conversation will focus on this project as a large-scale case study, diving into what made collaboration possible, how teams navigated challenges, and which aspects show the most promise for future efforts. Register to attend: April 2021 Forum
Policy Efforts
A range of policy efforts to increase supports for people in need and mitigate long-term consequences of the pandemic are moving through legislative chambers. Here are some helpful overviews about proposals with direct ties to financial wellness:
  • Child Tax Credit - In this 20 minute podcast from The Daily (The New York Times), learn about how $300 monthly payments to families with children ended up in the most recent COVID bill and how experts expect it to unfold.

  • Evictions and Credit - Arizona Representative Greg Stanton recently introduced legislation to reduce the impact of evictions on credit. H.R. 1594, the COVID-19 Eviction Consumer Report Fairness Act, would require all Credit Reporting Agencies to exclude evictions, any information related to evictions, or any proceedings seeking evictions, from consumer reports between March 13, 2020 through 120 days after the date the President terminates the national emergency.

  • Unemployment Income - This primer from CNBC answers some of the most common questions about how the American Rescue Plan Act will affect tax refunds for people with unemployment last year.
Meet a Financial Wellness Partner
Arizona Serve/AmeriCorps State
Red Jessup, Benefits Enrollment Specialist
The mission of Arizona Serve is to connect passionate people with transformative community projects to fight poverty. The organization has a vision that communities and the individuals who serve them thrive when every person contributes to a sustainable and just existence.

United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona is working with Arizona Serve and AmeriCorps to increase understanding of and enrollment in benefits programs among local Opportunity Youth. Red Jessup is the lead for the project, and they are available for in-person and zoom appointments and group presentations with young people. Learn more about how to work with Red in the 'Benefits Enrollment' section of our webpage: United Way Financial Wellness
Red Jessup
How did you end up working at your current AmeriCorps program at United Way?
I was fortunate to find this project while looking for service opportunities with AmeriCorps. I’ve served with youth in my community before and really enjoy building connections.
 
What are your responsibilities with your program?
I serve Opportunity Youth in my community helping to connect them with/apply for benefits such as AHCCCS, FAFSA, SNAP, and VITA. I also work with community partners to promote and educate about those programs.
What has been the most inspiring thing you have seen or learned in your work?
So far it’s been the resilience of our community during this pandemic. It’s inspiring to see community partners come together to support youth in achieving their dreams.
 
What is your favorite thing about living in Southern Arizona?
I have to say our local radio station KXCI 91.3 FM. It connects me further to my Tucson community and brings the healing power of music to me daily.
 
Anything else to add?
I also manage a farmer’s market on Saturdays in Oro Valley (where we Double Up SNAP benefits!). 
Resource Corner
A Million Stories
United Way is excited to announce a new partnership with Million Stories Media, "entertainment that’s right on the money." MillionStories.com is a free digital content platform filled with original programming all aimed at educating and sharing the realities of and tips for financial wellness, particularly for young people. Million Stories is a project of the Singleton Foundation that highlights familiar faces and real people coping with financial hardship, how they raise children, how they earn their money, how they find work and how they learn to succeed.
Here are a few videos that might be especially helpful for financial coaches and educators working with young people:

Woman peeks over a book in a library surrounded by books
Reading List
Resources and Opportunities
Arizona Complete Health Community Giving Webinars - Learn more about this year's application process with virtual sessions on 3/17, 3/23, and 3/26

Arizona Evaluation Network 2021 Conference: Registration open for sessions 3/31 – 4/2; Full schedule available on website

Achieving Your Career Goals in Nonprofit Leadership: Applications open for this series from the Center for Healthy Nonprofits at CFSA, designed for leaders who report to nonprofit EDs/CEOs or interested in those roles

AARP Community Challenge Grants: Applications accepted through April 14th from 501c3s and government entities for projects to make communities more livable for people of all ages

Connect Home Tucson - City of Tucson, 3/25/21, 9am

Shifting the Scales of Wealth and Power - Asset Funders Network webinar, 3/26/21, 10:30am

The Future of Worker Financial Security: The Nexus of Work and Benefits - Aspen Institute FInancial Security Program, 4/28/21, 10:00am
Additional Information

What Tenants Need to Know During COVID-19 – Robust list including rental assistance, eviction protection/moratorium, and legal assistance resources compiled by Pima County

Eviction Prevention Resources - CIC is working to release additional funds from the City of Tucson and Pima County soon. Tenants are encouraged to sign up for the waitlist in order to be considered.

2-1-1 Eviction Assistance App - Answer a series of questions in approximately two minutes and receive detailed, individual, step-by-step guidance to about housing assistance and resources

AZ Eviction Help - Information about eviction processes, tenant rights, and resources for rental assistance, utility assistance, legal assistance compiled by the Arizona Bar Association

VaccineFinder - VaccineFinder is a free, online service where users can search for locations that offer vaccinations. They work with partners such as clinics, pharmacies, and health departments to provide accurate and up-to-date information about vaccination services.

AZDHS COVID-19 Website – Latest updates, closure and re-opening announcements, and data dashboard
The Financial Wellness Partnership seeks to improve the financial wellness of individuals and families by increasing accessibility to effective services, resources, and opportunities, and by influencing policy to
develop equitable, people-centered systems that support financial wellness.

View past newsletters and learn more about our programs here: United Way Financial Wellness

If you have questions or suggestions for future newsletters, please contact Lisa Floran, Senior Director of Financial Wellness Initiatives at United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona: lfloran@unitedwaytucson.org