TAMPA — It what it described as a “heart-wrenching decision,” one of Tampa Bay’s biggest nonprofit groups said Tuesday it can no longer deal with an overwhelming demand for financial help from families caught in the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Metropolitan Ministries will stop accepting new financial assistance applications until April 15 or later as it deals with more than 1,700 requests from people struggling to pay rent and utilities.
Most are asking for about $1,000 each to avoid defaulting on their rent. Picking up the entire tab would cost about $1.5 million, the group said. The requests reflect a sharp spike in unemployment as businesses close or reduce their workforce. Florida reported 226,999 unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 — more than triple the previous week.
The true jobless number may be higher still as an overwhelmed state website has prevented laid-off workers from filing unemployment claims.
“We have faced devastating hurricanes and recessions in the past, but nothing like this in our 48-year history,” Tim Marks, chief executive officer and president of Metropolitan Ministries, said in a news release.
About 75 percent of the requests are for help with rent payments. The nonprofit pitches in to keep people from becoming homeless while they try to get back on their feet. But in the past few weeks, case managers have been inundated. Of more than 1,700 applications received since businesses starting closing down, some 450 still are pending.
“Our dedicated outreach and case management teams are working tirelessly to keep up — that’s 36 individuals handling 6 times their normal caseloads,” Marks said.
While it works to clear the backlog, Metropolitan Ministries will be helping people in other ways.
The group will continue to serve 3,000 meals a day, shelter and care for 140 families and over 300 children, and provide case management for 150 at-risk families. Emergency food boxes will be given to needy families on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while supplies last.
Metropolitan Ministries also has a team serving the homeless at Hillsborough Hope in Tampa, a new emergency shelter run by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
The coronavirus is also straining the resources of other Tampa Bay nonprofits. Feeding Tampa Bay, the region’s largest food rescue and distribution organization, is facing a 40 percent increase in demand as newly unemployed people turn to food banks for help feeding their families.
Meanwhile, some food banks have run out of many food items after panic buying resulted in a drop in donations of unsold food from supermarkets.
Want to help?
Donate to Metropolitan Ministries emergency impact fund at metromin.org.
• • •
Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 and Tampa Bay, six days a week
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
UNEMPLOYMENT Q&A: We answer your questions about Florida unemployment benefits
CONTRIBUTE TO THE SCRAPBOOK: Help us tell the story of life under coronavirus
MEET THE HELPERS: Highlighting Tampa Bay’s everyday heroes in this crisis
LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters
HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.