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County to temporarily halt applications for rental assistance, pending Treasury response

Thursday, December 2, 2021 by Seth Smalley

There was no shortage of confusing acronyms and numbers being batted around during Tuesday’s discussion of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Option One, Option Two, ERAP 3, ERAP 2, the aggregate of ERAP 1 and ERAP 2. “Can we refer to it as Option Two instead of Option B?” someone asked.

Here’s the gist: There is roughly $11 million worth of ERAP applications yet to be allocated, only $3 million that the county has on hand to allocate, and an additional $5 million the county is still expecting from the federal government. That leaves a $3 million-$4 million shortfall the county won’t be able to pay out, and with the end of the eviction moratorium in sight, one very big problem for residents who depend on the service.

According to County Executive Sherri Fleming, part of what’s driving the shortfall is a recent uptick in applications to the program. The Planning and Budget Office has already applied for an additional $7.8 million from the federal government, but the future of that funding is unclear.

“I must also emphasize that, while we have made an application to the U.S. Treasury for additional resources, we have yet to receive any information about when those resources might be coming,” Fleming told commissioners. She added that it’s unknown “whether we will even receive the amount that we requested.”

Fleming provided commissioners with two options. In the first option, the county would continue to administer the remaining $3 million-$8 million in ERAP funding it currently has until Dec. 31, hoping that the Treasury responds to the additional funding request before then.

The second option was to close the ERAP application portal within one to two weeks.

“The positive of this approach is it halts continued growth in the applicant backlog and keeps the county operating in a known financial landscape,” Fleming said.

The potential drawback of Option Two, according to Fleming, was that it would limit the accumulation of obligated funds beyond the county’s current finances. This would lead to a more time-consuming process of the administration of the ERAP funds if the Treasury were to approve PBO’s request for an additional allotment.

“When we spoke to you all two weeks ago, we had not yet seen what we consider to be a significant uptick in applications – but now we have.” Fleming added that consultants have seen an additional increase over the holidays since the uptick two weeks ago.

“I would hate to shut down the applications, but it also seems potentially irresponsible to keep taking them without letting people know that we don’t have the funds now for these applications,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said.

Commissioner Ann Howard suggested adding messaging to reflect the present situation on the application website, and temporarily closing the ERAP application portal.

“I think it is just as kind and fair to the community as continuing to take applications when we don’t have funding to meet their needs. To me, it’s a false hope,” Howard said.

Commissioners unanimously voted to stop taking ERAP applications for now, pending word from the Treasury.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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