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As ERAP well dries, county turns to other sources to meet renters’ needs

Friday, January 7, 2022 by Seth Smalley

Travis County Health and Human Services broke the bad news to commissioners Tuesday that the U.S. Treasury will not be granting the county’s request for an additional $7.8 million in Emergency Rental Assistance funds. This means hundreds of people counting on the money might not get it, at least not from the Treasury.

“We have just received communication this week that we will not be expecting the allocation that we had hoped to receive. Treasury has communicated that it is likely not going to happen,” said Lawrence Lyman, division director for county HHS. “So what we have is what we have.”

As things stand, Travis County has $2.6 million in ERAP funding left, but $4.6 million to allocate to renters, so there’s still about a $2 million shortfall. The county mulled using $3 million from a General Fund to bridge the gap, but acknowledged that continuing to deplete the General Fund for rental assistance at the level of ERAP (about $19 million per annum) wouldn’t be sustainable over the coming year.

Commissioners directed HHS to explore other ways to pay out the rental assistance, including looking at a significantly larger chunk of American Rescue Plan Act funding (totaling $110 million) originally designated for relieving homelessness.

“The ‘bridge funding’ was an advance for cash flow that we planned to repay to the General Fund when we got the ERAP,” Commissioner Ann Howard said. “So I think as a court we need to decide if we want to use General Fund money to continue the ERAP program or if we want staff to take a look at just ending the program.”

At the beginning of December, county commissioners had discussed the $3 million-$4 million disparity between the money requested from eligible rental assistance applicants and what was available to give to them. At the time, County Executive Sherri Fleming said it was unknown whether Travis County would even receive the full amount requested. Kirsten Siegfried, the director of the Family Support Services Division at HHS, delivered the news that none of the hoped-for amount would come.

“Travis County was not selected to receive additional reallocated emergency Rental Assistance Program funds. So that additional $7.8 million that we were hoping for is not coming,” she said.

All of the ERAP funding given to the county to date totals $19 million. So far, 995 assistance applications – a total of $4.6 million in requested funds – have been fully reviewed and determined to be eligible, while 1,100 applications are still being processed.

“Does this allow us to consider using other funds, or could we ask for an assessment of other funds that might be used to fully pay for those 995 people, as opposed to having a negative $2 million balance in this program?” Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion asked.

Commissioners ultimately directed county staff to continue to process the 995 pending applications, communicate the closure of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to current applicants, and look into other sources of funding, including ARPA dollars, to keep rental payments flowing.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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