By Abi Cole
Madison County – The Madison County Commissioners approached a group of local business owners and philanthropists to start a financial-assistance program for Madison residents during the coronavirus. Established last month, the Madison Friendship Fund (MFF) is is the first of its kind in the county. Since May 14, eight committee members are seeking to lend a hand during a tumultuous time of financial hardship.
Anna Tuziw serves as chairman of MFF, which acts as a financial resource to Madison County residents impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. A CARES Act grant of seventy-five-thousand dollars has been issued to the fund, as well as private donations. Tuziw’s own FATE foundation donated three-thousand and Walnut Presbyterian Church donated one-thousand dollars.
“That’s what this is all about, helping the community as much as we can because we know there’s a lot of need out there,” says Tuziw. She is also the founding director of the FATE Foundation, which supplies dozens of college scholarships to Madison County students.
Jobs lost and hours cut have left many Madison residents unable to pay rent or electric bills. North Carolina has not permitted evictions or electricity shut-off during the crisis, but that does not mean that they won’t go unpaid. Bills pile up monthly and residents must pay the mounting fees when the pandemic ends. Madison Friendship Fund aims to relieve this stressor from families.
“People have lost their jobs and can’t pay their electric bill so they’re getting behind. The governor has put a moratorium on shutting off of electricity, but that doesn’t mean that the bills aren’t accumulating. All it does is stop them from shutting it off at this point. They still owe the bill from whenever the moratorium goes away,” says Tuziw.
If an applicant qualifies for and receives financial assistance, MFF will directly pay landlords, power companies, or any bill issuer to alleviate surmounting debt.
“What we want to avoid is having households that are buried and can’t even figure out how to get out from under an electric bill that they haven’t been able to pay since March 15. That could be three or four months’ worth.” Tuziw notes that this can devastate a family’s financial situation, “If you get your electricity cut off, it’s a domino effect. Pretty soon you have to move because you can’t live in a house with no power. Then you’re looking for a new place to live and it’s just a growing problem.”
The MFF website went live on June 10th and will be open until July 31st. Applications available on the MFF website and are fulfilled on a first-come, first-serve basis until funds are exhausted. One application can be made per household. If additional funds are needed, they can resubmit and be assessed given that funding is still available.
A screening process by Madison County Department of Social Services will assess whether the applicant meets requirements, including proof of income decrease from March 15, the date that North Carolina closed public schools. The household income must also not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level. Applicants can receive up to five-hundred dollars, which are paid directly to their bill issuer. This fund is strictly monetary help but based on the needs demonstrated in the application DSS will refer applicants to other county resources available.
The economic fallout during the coronavirus pandemic reminds Tuziw of another time of adversity in which Americans had to support each other.
“I’ve always been very passionate about trying to help people. I think it’s something instilled in me by my parents. They both grew up during the Great Depression out in the Midwest and that whole attitude of you need to help each other through the rough times. Everyone on the committee is driven by that same goal, they know there’s a need out there and if you don’t step up then who will. Let’s step up and help our neighbors.”
Donations can be made at the MFF website. For any additional information, go to madisonfriendshipfund.com.