Federal Rental Aid System Picks Up Speed

A program that pays rent for hard-hit tenants is accelerating after a slow start

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More financially struggling tenants are catching up on their rent with help from the government, according to a new report that shows the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, built from scratch during the pandemic, is gaining momentum.

Key Takeaways

  • The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which pays up to 18 months of rent for struggling tenants, is now helping renters at a faster pace than earlier this year, a new report says. 
  • The program has been hampered by red tape, but some state and local jurisdictions in charge of distributing the aid have streamlined the process.
  • The rental aid program is one of the major pandemic safety net initiatives still available to renters, who have especially relied on government assistance. 

The unprecedented relief program, which pays up to 18 months of rent for households hobbled by the pandemic’s economic downturn, has gathered steam over the summer. In August the program provided households with $2.3 billion—out of a total program budget of $47 billion—compared to $1.7 billion the month before, the Treasury Department said Friday. The results mean more than $7 billion has been distributed so far.

The assistance had gotten off to a slow start following its December launch, hampered by bureaucratic delays among the nearly 500 local programs administering the aid. State and local jurisdictions that reduced cumbersome paperwork requirements have showed the most improvement, the Treasury said.

“When the Emergency Rental Assistance Program launched earlier this year, there was little state and local infrastructure to deliver emergency rental assistance,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. “Most rental assistance grantees needed to start programs virtually from scratch. Nonetheless, many programs have proven an ability to accelerate aid effectively.”

If you are behind on rent or utilities due to the pandemic’s financial impact, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program might be able to help pay what you owe from government coffers. There is a website to help find the local program administering the aid in your area.}

The rental aid program is one of the major remaining components of the social safety net the government put in place during the pandemic, as other measures, such as extra unemployment benefits and the federal eviction ban, have recently been withdrawn. Renters relied more heavily on pandemic assistance than homeowners and were left in a more precarious position after the aid ended, according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau earlier this week. 

Indeed, there were more far renters than homeowners at risk of losing their housing, according to the most recent polling data from the Census Department, which showed 3.3 million renters were worried about having to leave their homes due to eviction, compared to 1.2 million homeowners who feared foreclosure, as of early September. 

The Treasury Department plans to take money away from poorly performing local programs and give it to ones that have ramped up their spending at the end of the month.

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