WASHINGTON D.C.: The U.S. Treasury Department has announced that states and localities paid out $2.9 billion of rental assistance in November to cash-strapped tenants, the highest amount since a related federal program began.
The latest figures suggest that the program's early problems have been largely resolved and it is now focusing on delivering funds to those running short of cash.
The latest figures indicate that $17.39 billion has been allocated to help cover back rent for those in need, with the program having paid out or allocated $30 billion by the end of 2021. So far, more than 3.1 million payments have been made.
In an email interview, Gene Sperling, who is charged with overseeing the implementation of the federal $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, said, "We are just seeing that people got their programs started, made them simpler and more efficient. A lot of places are moving fast and you are getting large amounts of funds out quicker to renters in need."
Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, welcomed the increased pace of disbursements, stating, "Efforts by the Biden administration, advocates, program administrators, and others have significantly improved emergency rental assistance programs and quickened the pace of ERA distribution, keeping millions of people stably housed," as reported by ABC News.
But concerns exist that the program will not reach all tenants who need help. The first batch of emergency rental assistance funds, known as ERA1, is valued at $25 billion, while the second, known as ERA2 and meant to be spent over a longer period of time, is worth $21.5 billion.
More than 100 beneficiaries, including programs in major states such as New York and Texas, have indicated they have gone through almost all of their ERA1 money, the Treasury said.
Also, a dozen states are now transferring money to localities. Georgia, for example, is transferring $50 million to Fulton and DeKalb counties. In Arizona, $39 million is being moved from the state to Maricopa County.
"This is a team effort, and we will continue to work with all cities and counties operating their own programs so there are no gaps in services for Arizona families. This voluntary reallocation to Arizona's population centers will help make sure that resources are available to all eligible households, regardless of jurisdiction," said Tasya Peterson, a spokesperson for Arizona's Department of Economic Security, as reported by ABC News.
Meanwhile, California welcomed the additional funds, but said they are not enough.
In a statement, Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramrez said, "While we are grateful for the infusion of additional federal resources from the U.S. Treasury, California will need significantly more funding from future federal reallocations in order to continue to meet the needs of low-income California renters impacted by COVID-19."
In a state court filing on January 10, New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Executive Deputy Commissioner Barbara Guinn said, "New York's $27 million will likely only fund 2,177 applications."
Slow disbursement plagued the initial rollout of the federal program, and administration officials publicly criticized state and municipal partners for excessive bureaucracy, often aimed at preventing fraud.
In addition, some parts of the country were expending all their money while others, especially in parts of the South, were lagging behind.
The deadline for submitting a request for the second round of reallocated funds is 21st January. By statute, the process for reallocating ERA2 funds will not begin until 31st March, 2022.