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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

Emergency Rent Assistance Deadline Extended

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This week, Governor Pritzker and the IDHA announced that the deadline to apply for rental assistance has been extended by one week to August 28th.

The decision comes after an inland hurricane swept through much of northern Illinois and left some 750,000 Illinoisans without power. Kristin Faust, IHDA Executive Director says ,”it’s important we provide additional time to file and complete application for assistance.” She continued, "I am pleased to extend the deadline as there were many renters and landlords without power for nearly a week, which negatively impacted their ability to apply to the Emergency Rental Assistance program.”

The state of Illinois launched the largest rent assistance program in the country. It sets aside 150 million dollars to help 30,000 households throughout the state. Sarah Brinkmann, the Executive Director at Home Start Rockford, said there are requirements to apply, and some won’t qualify. "It's specifically targeted, though, to help people with COVID related loss of income," she said. "So it's not for people who were struggling with their rent before COVID hit."

Additionaly, the eligibility for the programs is restricted to indivuals that earn 80% of the area median income or lower. 

Renters are encouraged to notify landlords that they have applied for emergency rental assistance and to expect an email from IHDA to fill out with additional information. For an application to be considered eligible, landlords must submit the additional documentation before their application period closes on August 30th.

A third party software will randomize all eligible applications submitted between August 10 and 28 to select which are funded. The rent assistance can be used to help families catch up on rent payment and, in some cases, cover upcoming payments. 

Apply online at era.ihda.org.

  • Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco is a 2020 corps member for Report for Americaan initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.