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County mobilizes to reach residents who qualify for emergency rental assistance

Wednesday, August 4, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On Aug. 3, the Travis County Commissioners Court fielded updates on the national Emergency Rental Assistance Program from Sherri Fleming with County Health and Human Services. The program concerns rental and utility assistance programs and initiatives made available from federal funds intended to help those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The update came as the Biden administration extended the national eviction moratorium, giving municipalities more time to distribute tens of billions in rental assistance. Only $3 billion has been distributed so far.

The entire program is funded through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill passed last December that authorized $25 billion in emergency rental programs to be funded by the U.S. Treasury. Travis County was allotted $10.7 million of that federal relief funding designated for households most in need.

Fleming’s update contained information regarding the expenditures of the local allocation so far, program outreach and progress toward current program administrator goals.

“The consultants have achieved a goal of submission for at least 60 payments to the County Auditor’s Office for processing,” Fleming said, opening her update to the commissioners. “The county and consultants made changes to the program design as we’ve been talking to you each week, to boost the average amount of assistance provided to applicants by providing three months of prospective rental assistance by default.”

Fleming also said program administrators were undergoing efforts to accelerate the quality control review process, “which is the stage right before payment.” The reason for upping both the speed of the QC process and the number of payments each week was to ensure the local branch of ERAP meets the federal Treasury deadline.

“We have 65 percent of the county’s ERA funding allocated by Sept. 30,” Fleming said, later mentioning that the Consolidated Appropriations Act requires that ERAP participating locations allocate at least 65 percent of available funds by that date.

The county’s 65 percent target is $5.7 million, according to Fleming, which would be an average payment value of $3,010. At that rate, 180 payments would have to go out per week to meet that target.

The local area emergency rental assistance quarterly report is due to the Treasury this Friday.

The largest portion of people served by the program belonged to those making 30 percent or below of the area median income. The U.S. Treasury asks municipalities to prioritize those who make 50 percent or below area MFI. “But we are allowed to go up to 80 percent in the program,” Fleming clarified.

Last week, the program saw an additional 328 applicants for assistance. Meanwhile, the county is actively reaching out to potentially qualifying residents. Over 1,000 outreach emails were sent last week.

Fleming also mentioned HHS is mobilizing staff to reach applicants who qualify for rental assistance in the county, in order to avoid landlord refusal or lack of response.

Commissioner Jeff Travillion asked whether HHS had enough staff to meet the 65 percent target by the end of September. “Are there any moving parts that we don’t have in the calculation yet? What do we need to do to help you get to your 65 percent within 60 days?”

Fleming said HHS would consider his words when the opportunity to request more resources arises.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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