August saw a marked rise in the amount of emergency rental aid paid out to needy tenants, though the Treasury Department says more needs to be done to accelerate payments.

Treasury said in a Sept. 24 release that over $2.3 billion in rental aid payments was disbursed to more than 420,000 households nationwide last month, an increase over the $1.8 billion that reached 340,000 households in July.

The Biden administration faces a narrowing window to distribute rental aid as unused funds will soon be subject to reallocation to more productive programs and after the Supreme Court ruled in August to halt a federal eviction ban.

Of the total $46.5 billion Congress appropriated under two emergency rental assistance programs, around $7.7 billion has been spent as of Aug. 31, or less than 17 percent.

“While many jurisdictions have more work to do to meet the urgent demand for this relief in their communities, grantees saw significant growth in August—particularly among state and local agencies that adopted the Treasury’s recommended best practices,” Treasury said in a statement.

Last year’s pandemic relief legislation established the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program with $25 billion in funding (pdf), while the American Rescue Plan Act in March provided another $21.5 billion in rental assistance (pdf) in what’s known as ERA2.

But getting that aid to needy households has been slow, driven chiefly by application processing delays. Seeking to boost the pace of disbursement, Treasury last month announced seven new policies meant to streamline the application process, including greater flexibility in the use of self-attestations by applicants to document financial hardship or the risk of homelessness.

Treasury said in Friday’s disbursement update that the administration “continues its all-out effort to encourage grantees to avoid or reduce unduly burdensome documentation requirements for verifying income, provide assistance directly to tenants when landlords are not cooperative, and protect renters from eviction after payments are made on their behalf.”

In order to further accelerate the pace of distributing the ERA funds, Treasury said it is rolling out a new program design tools to help grantees serve even more eligible households while calling on local authorities to put in place measures preventing people from being evicted until they’ve had a chance to apply for aid.

The statutes that govern disbursement of ERA funds require Treasury to begin identifying and reallocating unused funds starting on Sept. 30.

In a Sept. 24 letter to ERA recipients (pdf), Treasury Deputy Secretary Adewale Adeyemo said that detailed guidelines on fund reallocation would be released in the coming days.

Goldman Sachs economists estimated last month that between 2.5 million and 3.5 million U.S. households are behind on their rent and, when the eviction moratorium expires at the beginning of October, between 1 million and 2 million households will face a higher risk of eviction.

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he’s ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: ‘Hit your target’ and ‘leave the best for last.’

September 24, 2021 5:19 pm

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