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With distributions lagging, Treasury Department makes it easier for people to get rental assistance

August 25, 2021, 10:00 PM UTC

The Treasury Department’s fund for renters facing possible eviction due to the pandemic has distributed just 11% of the available funds to date. So the government is taking steps to make it easier for states to get cash to people in distress.

The Treasury Department, on Wednesday, announced a series of new policies that it hopes will expedite distribution of Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funds. This follows news that total disbursements have hit $5.1 billion, a drop in the bucket of the $46.5 billion rental aid program.

As of July 31, there have been roughly 1 million payments to people at risk of eviction. July alone saw 340,000, breaking June’s record. Hundreds of thousands of applications are still backlogged, putting strain on both tenants and landlords.

“Too many grantees have yet to demonstrate sufficient progress in getting assistance to struggling tenants and landlords,” the department said in a statement. “After September, programs that are unwilling or unable to deliver assistance quickly will be at risk of having their rental assistance funding reallocated to effective programs in other high-need areas.”

Applicants can now self-attest to financial hardship, risk of homelessness, and income shortfalls without having to immediately supply other forms of documentation. That alone could clear up one of the biggest logjams but could also increase potential fraud. The White House maintains that the fraud risk is minimal compared to the wave of evictions that could be looming.

State and local governments can also now advance financial assistance to landlords and utility companies—and can work with nonprofits to deliver assistance to households at risk, even while their applications are being processed.

Emergency funds can now be used to pay outstanding debt as people search for new housing, too. And they can be used to cover court hearings or eviction appeals tied to their rental troubles.

The Biden administration is rushing to distribute the funds as it fears the current eviction moratorium could be struck down at any time.

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