TEXAS – While his circumstances haven’t necessarily gotten any worse since the beginning of the pandemic, things haven’t got all that much better for Timothy Minter – and that worries him.
Minter is still living in the same studio efficiency apartment he was in back in July, when Austin-based nonprofit Family Eldercare provided him with a fan from its Summer Fan Drive. The agency was also assisting Minter apply for financial aid from the government for the very first time.
“I’ve never collected unemployment; I’ve never asked for assistance. I’m 56 years old, I’m a Navy veteran, and I’ve run out of resources, and it’s getting a little scary out there for us,” said Minter. “Not knowing where you’re going to live is a tough one.”
Minter’s case manager, Dylan Lowery, has met with him every month to make sure the out-of-work stagehand has been able to stay afloat. To Lowery’s surprise, Minter’s emergency rental assistance from the City of Austin hadn’t come in yet, although Minter had qualified and was picked to receive the funding.
“I have no idea where I stand on rent – and I’ll be honest with you, I was quite shocked to find out I have a $1,600 bill for rent,” Minter told Lowery. “I was under the impression every month was being taken care of.”
The two discovered paperwork that needed to be submitted by Minter’s landlord to the city hadn’t been sent in yet. Following a visit from Lowery and Spectrum News 1, those documents are now with the city and Minter’s rental assistance is now on the way. Minter also received a new lease for a lower amount. He’d previously been renting on a month-to-month basis.
Despite now being out of the woods when it comes to his rent, that assistance doesn’t help with his other bills. The unemployment benefits Minter had been receiving were cut significantly when the federal government stopped supplementing an extra $600 a week for state unemployment benefits.
“That doesn’t even cover my child support,” bemoaned Minter. “And for me, I’d rather be out on the streets than not pay child support.”
Minter’s fridge is mostly bare - some stuff to make sandwiches and a few boxes of cereal. The veteran was hopeful Congress would pass another stimulus package to help him and the millions of other Americans like him to stay afloat, but now he worries that won’t happen.
“We saw [Minter’s] situation with food and we are fortunate at this agency to have H-E-B cards that we can give to our clients for financial assistance,” said Lowery, pulling out a box of gift cards.
Lowery distributed several hundred dollars in grocery store gift cards last month, but he says his clients needed more.
Minter isn’t the only veteran Lowery is working with - he’s one of 20 Lowery’s helping access financial assistance.
“First of all, you have to have the computer to do it and the internet connection,” said Lowery. "And you have to have some skill to make sure that you're submitting all the right documentation, to dot all the I's, cross all the T's, and certify that you're eligible for this program."
Many of Lowery’s clients find themselves in a worse position than Minter – some owing upwards of $10,000 in back rent. Lowery said it’s often a piecemeal effort to combine different grants and services to help make ends meet.
When grants and assistance are exhausted, there are options for payment plans but Lowery points out that if you can’t afford your rent, you can’t afford an extra payment on top of it.
“There are times when you know, you’ve had to talk to people and say, ‘Look, if you have to leave this and start over, how would that look for you?’” Lowery lamented.
It’s a question he has to ask because an eviction on their records would only make matters worse. Lowery explains if you’re evicted you still owe back rent, but it may make it nearly impossible to find a new home; landlords typically won’t rent to someone with a formal eviction on their record.
Minter doesn’t know how he would answer that question, and he frankly doesn’t want to know.
“I thought for sure we’d have gotten back to work by now,” said Minter.