Self Help, Inc. Executive Director Maura Taylor with Self Help mascot Sam during a recent visit to the Los Alamos Daily Post. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough for everyone, but its effects are most felt by those already living on the edge–low-income families, undocumented workers, single parents, the elderly, and people with health risks.
Self Help, Inc. provides a vital safety net to help those most impacted. Self Help, Inc. helps with immediate financial needs and helps clients navigate the confusing array of government and private programs that can help them meet their needs.
Self Help, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting those in need in northern New Mexico and one of its major sponsors is Enterprise Bank & Trust. The bank has been partnering with Self Help for more than 20 years to help them serve the community.
“We’re so grateful for Enterprise’s support, especially now when it’s needed the most,” Self Help, Inc. Executive Director Taylor said. “It’s awesome to have a business like this in Los Alamos who cares so much about the community.”
Self Help, Inc. provides consultation and advocacy, emergency financial assistance and seed money grants to residents of Los Alamos, northern Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Taos counties. Taylor and Program Coordinator Megan Fox evaluate each case.
“They do such spectacular work helping people in need,” said Los Alamos Region President and Director of Community Engagement Liddie Martinez. “The way Self Help, Inc. helps their clients is so customized and unique. They have the ability to move fast when a crisis hits. It’s an honor to work with Maura and her board, and it’s a pleasure to see the organization mature and grow. I’m impressed with their degree of organization.”
Self Help, Inc. has been helping people get past bumps in the road since 1969, but this year the number of people needing help skyrocketed.
“Some months, the number of calls was nearly double the previous year,” Taylor said.
The pandemic was a major factor in 39 percent of cases in 2020. Issues such as loss of work, loss of childcare, illness or death caused hurdles for clients, she said. Job-related issues accounted for 32 percent of cases. This is typical, but this year, many of these were also connected to the pandemic, but more indirectly. For example, the client lost their job for non-pandemic reasons, but had trouble getting a new one due to the pandemic, she said.
The other top two causes were benefit gaps (disabled people awaiting approval for Social Security income, benefit lapses due to administrative issues, etc.) which account for 12 percent, and unexpected expenses such as car repair or a broken furnace made up 17 percent of cases in 2020.
“The biggest benefits issue was the unemployment system,” Taylor said. “It was really hard for people to navigate. We had people who should have been eligible but could not get their benefits. Getting stimulus checks to people was a problem also. Staff at the offices of Senators Heinrich and Lujan have really helped us get these things sorted out. Low-income people often don’t have a computer or can’t leave work to visit an agency during the day, so that’s an issue.”
Since the federal eviction moratorium expired and an interim plan is in place, Self Help is working to respond to an ever-changing landscape. New Mexico provides rental assistance, but many people don’t know about it or don’t qualify, Taylor said.
“With any aid program, there will be people who fall through the cracks,” she said.
Self Help assists the clients in prioritizing their needs. The first thing is food, Taylor said. Self Help partners with food pantries and can provide a grocery voucher in emergencies. Next, housing needs are the most pressing.
“Our clients are forced to prioritize vital needs,” she said. “They may be forced to choose between food and paying the rent. Luckily, a lot of times it’s a simple fix. If we can step in early, a lot of things can be solved.”
Self Help couldn’t serve up to 60 clients each day if it weren’t for its volunteers, Taylor said. Volunteers work remotely to process phone calls Self Help receives and get clients set up to use Self Help’s services and answer questions.
“The clients say the volunteers make it easy to ask for help, which is a difficult thing,” Taylor said. “We’re always looking for more volunteers.”
To learn more about Self Help, Inc. or to contribute or volunteer, visit https://selfhelpla.org.