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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.

Winnebago County Renters and Landlords Eligible For Assistance

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Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
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Winnebago County residents can now apply for financial help due to hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Winnebago County officials announced on Monday that the money is available through a federally-funded $8.3 million Emergency Rental Assistance Grant for housing stability for renters and landlords.

Anqunette Parham is with the city of Rockford’s Human Services Department. She says the city and county have already given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency rent assistance. 

"So we do know that the need is great," Parham said. "We also anticipate that many folks may not have sought out assistance at the moment because they knew that there was a moratorium on evictions and they had other resources kind of in place that might have delayed them actually seeking help who may need it."

According to the county's news release, you can access the application online at https://renthelp.wincoil.us.  Both tenants and landlords can apply and applications must be submitted online. The initial application period runs through April 15.  A new application window is expected to open May 1.  Those without access to a computer or smartphone can call 815.972.RENT for assistance.

  • Anyone renting housing in Winnebago County and making less than 80% of the median household income is eligible to apply for funding. For a family of four, the necessary household income level would be $55,700 or less. For a one-person household, that income level would be $39,000 or less.  An income chart is available on the website link above.
  • Winnebago County renters can also apply for coverage to pay up to 12 months of past due utility bills including electric, gas, water, wastewater or sewer, trash removal and internet services.
  • Application requirements include having a household member qualify for unemployment or have experienced a loss in household income since April of 2020. Money received must be used to pay past due rent that accumulated on or after April 1, 2020, and landlords can apply on behalf of their tenants.  Winnebago County will issue checks directly to the landlords.
  • At the conclusion of the initial application period on April 15, applications will be reviewed, funding distributed and if grant money remains, the County will open a second application period from May 1-15. All applicants will receive notification of whether or not their application was approved. Tenants are responsible for paying any amount of past due rent or future rent, in full, that is not covered by this grant program.
  • Eligible households may receive up to 12 months of assistance, plus an additional 3 months if it is determined the extra months are needed to ensure housing stability and funds are available. The County is partnering with the City of Rockford Human Services Department to implement the program.

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