Author Archives: femmefrugality

Rent Relief for Pennsylvanians

As a part of the CARES Act, states were given money to run their choice of any number of programs. One of those programs is rental assistance.

Today, applications opened up for the state of Pennsylvania. Here’s a little more information for those who have fallen behind on their rent.

The CARES Rent Relief Program Launches in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s CARES Rent Relief Program (RRP) is open to all Pennsylvanians, but administered at the county level. Here are some of the key details.

How do I qualify?

To qualify for assistance, you as the renter must have seen a household income decrease of at least 30% directly because of COVID-19 related circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have to have been sick — it just means that this disaster impacted your monthly income.

You must also meet income eligibility limits for your county. Eligibility limits are set at the area median income based on your county.

The bigger your household, the higher the income limits.

How much help can I get?

Pennsylvania has capped assistance at $750/month. It is possible to get less money if your rent is less than $750.

You can get assistance for up to six months, for a total of up to $4,500 in assistance. The program has $150M in funding, though theoretically it could be expanded in the future.

You: I thought people didn’t have to pay rent during Corona because Congress said.
Me: No, that’s not how it works, unfortunately.

How will I get the money?

The money will be paid to your landlord by the county organization managing the RRP in your area.

When your landlords agrees to participate in the RRP, they must agree to accept the max payment of $750 as if the rent were paid in full. They will have to forgive the renter the rest.

This is a flaw in the program as $750 not going to cover rent for a lot of families across the state.

Some county organizations may be offering additional funding on top of the state-issued RRP funds. This may help your landlord fill the gap between the $750 and however many dollars you’re supposed to pay in rent.

What if I have a roommate?

Take the amount of rent you’re responsible for in the paperwork. If it is less than $750, the lower number is your new max rental assistance amount.

Now, make sure you are income eligible and that you have lost at least 30% of your income due to pandemic-related issues.

Let’s say you split $800 rent two ways. You could each potentially qualify for $400 in rental assistance each month for up to six months, getting your landlord 100% of the money even though the total exceeds that $750 limit.

Can I request assistance for future months?

Yes. If you qualify for the program, you can get help for months past and those upcoming months which you anticipate to be economically troublesome.

You will have to report your income every month. If it goes up high enough, you could lose access to rental assistance for that month.

How do I apply?

You can apply from July 6, 2020 through September 30, 2020. The organization you apply with will vary by county. Find your county organization here.

For my Pittsburgh readers: Allegheny County

What forms do I need to submit?

You will have to fill out one form and your landlord will have to fill out two. They’re fairly simple — as long as your landlord has been taking good care of you. They have to certify that the property is up to code, but the state’s not going to run inspections.

You will need to get your landlord on board for this to work. Here are the forms they have to fill out:

You will need to fill out the:

You will also need to submit supporting financial documentation as the renter, a copy of the lease and a utility bill or some other proof that you live at the property.

Depending on your county, you may be able to fill these forms out online. You should be able to submit them via email across the state.

Do other states have COVID rent relief programs?

Yes! But everything from their existence to their income limits to their payouts and administration process is going to vary based on state.

It’s fun, I know.

To find more information on your state’s program, search for “(your state)” + “CARES rent relief program” or some variation thereof.

Your city or metro area may be offering rental assistance at the local level, too. These programs exist, but they don’t exist everywhere and aren’t being done in a uniform manner. So you really have to search.

The most comprehensive list I have been able to find is from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. It does not include every single locality, though it does have information for some major cities.

Note

Assistance programs have been changing quickly during the pandemic. The information above is gleaned from the linked documents produced by the state of Pennsylvania at the release of the program. Requirements may change and there may be expansions or contractions of the program in the future.

Contact your county office for the most up-to-date information.

Celebrating 9 Years of Blogging with a Book #Giveaway

Nine years ago, I sat down at my computer and started this little blog. I was in school nontraditionally, young kids at home, scraping together every last penny I could.

It turns out I found a lot of pennies.

I figured I should probably share everything I was learning with other people; there must be someone else out there who could use this information. I wanted everyone to know all the money things I was learning. So I started sharing it on the internet.

I never imagined it would become my career. Yet in 2015, I went full-time.

I am eternally grateful for this journey. It’s allowed me to engineer my life around my family’s needs. It’s allowed me to provide for them reliably (until COVID.)

Just as importantly, it’s allowed me to connect with all of you. Through the years, you have been my support system — the reason I keep going.

Thank you. From the very bottom of my heart.

Year Nine in Review

Year nine has been…eventful.

It spanned a period of intense travel and professional efforts, and then a period of pandemic where I’ve had to reevaluate every business plan I ever had.

Here’s where we’ve been, friends.

Everything was dramatically different one year ago.

In the past few years, Femme Frugality has done a lot of work locally here in Pittsburgh. In 2019, event promotion was making up an increasing part of the business model.

I can’t help but look back at the 8-year mark, and fondly recall that it was celebrated by attending The Mattress Factory’s Solstice Party.

It was so much fun.

I skew introvert, but, dang, do I miss people lately.

We’ll get back to it. For now, though, stay safe. Parties and plays and all of the people-y things will be back in a safe way eventually. To be there for it, we’ve got to take care of our collective health now.

Summer Book Tour

Last summer I had the opportunity to go on a book tour to small towns and cities across the country. Those of you who came out to meet me — thank you. I remember each one of your stories and smart questions. Meeting you IRL was sustaining. I look back now with the perspective of pandemic and social distancing and find myself doubly grateful for the experience we shared.

If you’re looking for independent bookstores, here are a couple of my favorites that supported me on the road last summer:

Personal Finance by Women

Late last summer, Personal Finance by Women launched. We did some really cool things together, like get our members’ stories featured on major media sites. We used financial literacy to support the fight against the opioid crisis. Celebrated International Women’s Day together.

We tried to launch a series for Black History Month, but I had trouble trying to turn public-facing support into a dollar commitment from sponsors in a timely manner.

Then, I had to put Personal Finance by Women on pause earlier this year due to COVID time constraints. But we’re moving the content we had planned over here to Femme Frugality as a new addition to the Intersectional Finances series.

Keep your eyes out for it this summer!

In the meantime, one of the writers for this upcoming series — Jackie Cummings Koski — recently retired at age 49! Check out her MarketWatch FIRESTARTERS feature:

Plutus Awards

Last Fall, I was humbled to be nominated for two Plutus Awards. They were:

To clarify, the Intersectional Finances Series was not written by me. It’s merely hosted by Femme Frugality. All the recognition for that one goes to Choncé, ZJ, Nour, Taylor, Revanche and Kristine.

New Communities

In the past year, I’ve learned that while working to make the world immediately around you a better place may be a noble effort, there does come a point where your environment is so toxic that you have to walk away. Walk away from certain personal relationships. From certain business communities.

It’s painful, but it clears the way for better things.

I’m enjoying the search for those better things. While it’s overwhelming to be a newbie in some of my business communities all over again, I can already see the strength and opportunity in these new-to-me spaces. I’m looking forward to contributing and supporting.

I was honored to be awarded a grant from PEN America earlier this year, becoming a member of the organization.

Other great groups I’ve found have included a number of Binders groups for writers on Facebook, and Tarra Jackson’s DUALpreneur® community. I’m very new in all of these well-established spaces, and even so I’ve found so much support. I’m grateful and excited for this leg of the journey.

More community <3

If you’re looking for more community, I might not be super active with #PersonalFinancebyWomen long-form content and bigger projects at the moment.

But the hashtag is full of interesting new content all the time on Instagram, with contributions from a litany of amazing personal finance writers. Pushing 1,000 posts!

Join us!

The Feminist Financial Handbook Giveaway

To celebrate this year’s blogiversary, I am giving away five (5), signed copies of The Feminist Financial Handbook. Each person can win a maximum of one (1) copy.

You can enter through the entire month of July, up to 11:59p Eastern on July 31, 2020. This giveaway is open to people with mailing addresses in the US and Canada.

There are a lot of ways to enter, including following the women who shared their stories in the book:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck to all, and thank you for a great nine years!

This is not new.

Things can feel really heavy sometimes right now. I — futilely, perhaps — try to grasp for rays of hope where I can. And one of the things I’ve been appreciating over the past few weeks is how much I have had the opportunity to learn.

Here’s some of what I’ve been learning. And some of the things you can expect from Femme Frugality moving forward.

The American Criminal ‘Justice’ System

Ava DuVernay is beyond talented at what she does. I would recommend watching everything she’s ever made.

But in this moment in particular, watch 13th. It’s a Netflix documentary, but Netflix has made it free in full on YouTube. So you don’t even need a subscription.

If you do nothing else after reading this post, watch this documentary. It’s mandatory viewing.

Donate to Pittsburgh Organizations.

Our city has an incredible capacity to grow and change into a better version of itself. But right now, we have a lot of work to do to activate that potential.

Significant action is required to help make necessary improvements happen. Here are a bunch of great organizations in SWPA on the ground doing the work. Please support them if you can.

Short on cash, or simply want to do more than just reach in your pocket? Here are some other things white people can do.

Moving Forward.

To learn more about personal finances from an African-American perspective, check out the talented creators listed in this Jason Butler article.

In the coming months on this site, you will see a revival of the Intersectional Money Series here on Femme Frugality. Honestly, this effort has been in the works for a while.

When you read the articles by the phenomenal contributing writers, it may seem like some of the subject matter is curated for this moment.

It was not.

Which may send a message in and of itself: These issues were important before. They were as real and as visceral earlier in the year when the writers selected them as they have been in the past weeks. They will continue to be urgent until and even after there is significant and meaningful change.

Let us all actively choose and work to be part of that change.

Watch. And subscribe to Candice’s channel.

Father’s Day Gifts for Sports Fans Under $20

Father’s Day is just around the corner! And I’ve got a great roundup of Father’s Day gifts for sports fans for you!

While it’s good to celebrate Dad, buying gifts should always be done within your budget. I’m not encouraging you to be a cheapskate — if you can afford something very expensive that would add value to his life, go for it.

But if your budget is a little tighter, know that you’re not alone and that you can still get the father in your life something he’ll appreciate without draining  your bank account.

Here’s a Father’s Day Gift Guide for some inspiration. Keeping in mind that budgets may be tight, everything is under $20. And everything is sports-themed.

MLB Watches

MLB San Diego Padres Men's Spirit Watch

Price: $19.99 – $24.99, depending on team.
Where to get it: Bed Bath & Beyond

Our perception of time has undergone a wild makeover in 2020. Help Dad keep track with this affordable watch from Bed Bath & Beyond. Featured here is San Diego‘s watch, but you can pick his favorite team.

Michael Jordan Motivational Poster

Price: $5.72
Where to get it: TrayFivePrints

If you didn’t spend five straight Sundays — including Mother’s Day — watching The Last Dance, go back and binge watch it now.

We could all use a little bit of this particular Michael Jordan energy in our lives right now. A lot of our own weaknesses are exposed in this moment of uncertainty and strife. I’m not talking about physical or monetary status right now. That’s mostly out of your control in the current climate.

But if we take this moment to reflect on our own characters, we can turn some of those flaws we have into strengths. Your money and your health can be taken from you. But your character cannot.

Father’s Day Golf Tees

Price: $9.98
Where to get it: XcaliburInk

Golf is supposed to be the safest sport to engage in right now — if social distancing is properly practiced. If Dad is choosing to visit the links, these tees will make his day!

Hockey Stick BBQ Spatula & Bottle Opener

Price: $14.99
Where to get it: Requipd

Requipd is a cool Etsy shop that takes hockey sticks and turns them into tools — primarily for grilling out. With its hockey stick handle, this spatula also serves as a bottle opener.

Greatest Plays Mug

Price: $15.00
Where to get it: PlaybookProducts

These mugs feature the four best plays from MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams. You can also pick from soccer teams and many college sports teams. PlaybookProducts also has slate coasters, poster and iPhone cases featuring some of the best plays of all time.

Featured here is the play that gave the Steelers one for the other thumb in ’09. Right before this play happened, I was sitting in a ‘Steelers Nation’ Bar packed full of Cardinals fans screaming at them bout our 4th quarter stats. I knew we had it, even though we were down.

AND WE DID.

I’m obsessed with Pittsburgh sports. But it’s really just an example. Whoever your team is, PlaybookProducts has a coaster set that features their best.

Pandemic Money Hacks

As I find money tips that may help through this crisis, I’m sharing them in batches. You can find Batch 1 here.

Here’s what we’ve got in store for Batch 2:

You won’t lose unemployment if your employer illegally reopens in PA.

Governor Wolf.

Through this crisis, he has allowed public health and science to inform his decisions, and as a result, saved countless lives.

He has offered Pennsylvanians the opportunity to do the right thing voluntarily, but has also held businesses accountable when they openly flout the emergency orders put in place to protect the health of our citizens, our healthcare systems and our communities.

And now, he’s out there protecting your unemployment benefits.

Human lives over short-term profit.

Here is the full statement from the governor. Please read it knowing it comes from a twice-democratically-elected governor in a very purple state, regardless of the skewed images you might see on social media.

Basically, about half the state had restrictions partially lifted last week. But that’s not how people here were treating it.

More important to the people of Pennsylvania, that’s not how some employers wanted to treat it. There was this very real, lingering question:

If an employer opens up in an area where it’s been deemed unsafe to work, will you lose your unemployment by refusing to go back into a potentially unsafe environment?

Because maybe, just maybe, you’re not willing to die or kill your grandma for your employer?

The answer is, ‘No,’ according to Wolf’s statement.

At the time of writing this piece, in the state of Pennsylvania, if your business or locality is violating state orders by opening prematurely, you are completely within your bounds to refuse to go in to work. If you stay home, you will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

This is a huge relief for anyone worried about their own health, or the health of the communities in which they live.

It’s a huge relief for the average person struggling economically through this mess as their employers attempt use them as pawns to manipulate financial benefit programs like PPP.

Mortgage Forbearance

If you’re struggling to pay your mortgage, or are a renter who would like to know what your landlord’s options might be before you approach them about a late rent payment, it’s going to be really helpful to understand the mortgage forbearance rules out there right now.

You can find some perspective from Justine at Live with Plum. As she notes, forbearance is not forgiveness; you’re still going to need a plan to pay this off.

If you’re a renter, you’ll want to check the Batch 1 tips to find out why it’s so vitally important to understand your landlord’s options.

Start Looking at Summer Food Programs Now

Even if you didn’t qualify for or rely on the school lunch program before COVID-19, you might now.

At least in Western Pennsylvania, most school districts are distributing food via a basic signup list, waiving income eligibility limits to make sure all the kids have food.

This eliminates a lot of the paperwork barriers that often impede people from getting the benefits they need, and reduces social shaming.

If you’ve never dealt with the school lunch program before, you may not have thought about the summer yet. Luckily, there are summer meal programs across the country funded by the USDA.

Ask your school district about summer meals now. These meals are sometimes administered by community nonprofits and recreational organizations rather than in schools.

But during the pandemic, things have undoubtedly changed.

The USDA provides a searchable map so you can find local sites. But at least here in Western PA, the map is telling me to do the same thing: Contact your school directly.

Traditionally, admission to these summer meal programs required a separate application. In this time of crisis, so much of your eligibility and access is going to depend on decisions made at the local level.

Get in touch with your district to make sure your kids have enough food over the summer. Make your plan now.

Because believe it or not, we’re almost halfway through May.