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United Way emergency assistance fund to help those hit by coronavirus  

Theresa Regnante, president and CEO of United Way

Theresa Regnante, president and CEO of United Way of Long Island, said money from the fund could be used to help people pay a utility bill or to finance food gift cards. Credit: Barry Sloan

The United Way of Long Island has established an emergency financial assistance fund to help "alleviate the disruptions to family life" wrought by the COVID-19 virus, which has shut down businesses and caused massive changes to daily life, officials announced Thursday.

United Together: A Response Fund for COVID-19 was developed in the past two days, said Theresa A. Regnante, president and chief executive of United Way of Long Island. To create startup funds, the nonprofit agency has reached out to board members, other individual supporters and the business and labor communities, and is seeking contributions from the public.

"Usually what happens in these sorts of catastrophes, " Regnante said, "is an organization like United Way first does a call to action with organizations and individuals we have long-standing relationships with. We talked to the organizations closest to us to try to generate" foundational resources for the fund.

"On or around April 6, we’re hopeful to be operational," she added.

Regnante said the first phase of the aid program is to respond to the needs of low-wage workers and the "newly unemployed," alluding to the massive layoffs at plants, restaurants and other businesses closed because of the public health concern caused by the coronavirus.

Regnante said money from the fund could be used to help people pay a utility bill or to finance food gift cards, "so that would free up cash for them to pay their mortgage or rent."

The agency said in its announcement that it was also planning to "evaluate child care capacity and remove any financial barriers to support the needs of the workforce."

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Through its partnership with the state Department of Labor, Regnante said the United Way will have information "that will tell us who are the people greatly affected," such as directing the agency to businesses that have laid off workers. "We could go to that company's HR department and find out who's affected."

In addition, Regnante said her agency was working with the Labor Department to develop income eligibility guidelines for fund recipients. 

A planned second phase of the project is to provide support to other nonprofit agencies helping Long Islanders, "once we see how successful we are in fundraising," Regnante said.

Individuals can contact United Way of Long Island's 211 information and referral call center for help. Those outside Nassau and Suffolk can dial 888-774-7633.

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