Phone lines down for Hillsborough County call center focused on connecting residents to relief funds

A special call center scheduled to open Monday morning to help Hillsborough County residents get access to disaster recovery funds hit a road block this morning: Phone lines are overwhelmed and callers cannot get through. 

"Due to a surge in calls for information on our Rapid Response Recovery program, you may hear a busy signal or have trouble connecting when placing a call to our lines. We are sorry for the inconvenience, and we are working to resolve this service delay as quickly as possible," stated a social media post by the county.

By early afternoon, the county had issued a new phone number to call: 813-274-6710

Previously, county leaders said residents of Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, and unincorporated Hillsborough County who have seen a reduction in or loss of wages resulting from layoff or lessening of hours due to COVID-19, are eligible to apply.

Hillsborough County officials said they secured $256-million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. An immediate $15 million was allocated to the Social Services Department to bolster their efforts and programs to serve all Hillsborough residents impacted by the devastating effects of COVID-19. The $15 million funding is the first to come through the Rapid Response Recovery (R3) Program Hillsborough County has put in place to assist its residents.

PREVIOUS: Hillsborough County’s R3 Program Call Center opens Monday to help residents access relief funds

Hillsborough County typically invests about $8 million annually in direct client services that include the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Emergency Home Energy Assistance Program (EHEAP), Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), and Rental/Mortgage Assistance programs. These programs have been in place for Hillsborough County residents, regardless of jurisdiction, before COVID-19 and will remain in place.

Annually, the allocations for Social Services’ direct-client funding distributed to eligible, low income, vulnerable residents located in the three municipalities and unincorporated county are:
-  City of Plant City, 4 percent
- City of Tampa, 45 percent
- City of Temple Terrace, 2 percent; and
- Unincorporated Hillsborough County, 49 percent.

Hillsborough officials anticipate these percentages will be the same for distribution of the CARES Act funding.

The funds can be used to pay past-due utility bills and/or lease/mortgage payments in the name of the person applying for assistance. For instance, if the electric bill is in your spouse’s name, your spouse must be the one to apply for R3 assistance with Social Services.

When phone lines are back online, Hillsborough residents can call the Rapid Response Assistance Call Center at (813) 274-6710. The call center will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Residents who have been affected by COVID-19 but would have qualified for Social Services assistance prior to the pandemic will be assisted through Social Services’ LIHEAP/EHEAP and Housing Assistance programs just as they always have.

Meanwhile, the state's unemployment website was supposed to be back online after weekend-long maintenance. However, many users reported that it was still inaccessible and crashing this morning.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to provide an update during press conference at Tampa General Hospital later today.