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How to Help Citizens Tap Into Rental Assistance Funds

Epiphany Team

Millions of Americans struggle to access rental assistance despite the billions of dollars the federal government has provided.

Sky-high unemployment rates as a result of the pandemic have left millions of Americans unable to pay their rent, compromising their ability to maintain access to one of the most basic human needs — shelter. 

To help these families keep a roof over their heads, Congress created the Emergency Rental Assistance program (ERA). Yet despite funneling billions of dollars into the program in December, one very large problem remains — many renters can’t access it.  

Why Cities are Struggling to Distribute Emergency Rental Assistance 

After Congress approved $25 billion in rental assistance this past winter, many hoped that tenants and renters would soon achieve greater stability. But in cities across the country, that hasn’t been the case. 

“Wait times for rent relief in Massachusetts are still weeks to months,” said Helen Matthews, communications manager at City Life/Vida Urbana, in an April interview with CNBC. In Texas, a survey conducted earlier this spring found that even with $1.3 billion to spend, only 250 households had received support more than a month after one of the state’s assistance programs launched. And as of April 25 in California, only $20 million of the $355 million of rental assistance requested had yet to be approved. 

So why are so many local governments struggling to distribute the first wave of federal rental assistance funds? The reasons are many and include: 

  • Inability to meet demand: As millions of citizens seek rental assistance at once, cities are finding it hard to keep up. In Charleston, S.C., one state-run program received so many applications that it closed within six days
  • Technology challenges: Several technology roadblocks have significantly slowed the distribution of funds, including technology glitches in the software used to process applications and citizens’ lack of access to a computer or stable internet connection — both of which are often needed to apply. 
  • Complex applications: Some local programs require citizens to provide proof of lost income, leases, and other documentation many renters find challenging to produce.
  • Lack of federal guidance: The federal government offered little guidance when the rental assistance funds were allocated in December. Left to decide alone how to handle such large sums of money so quickly, many states have floundered.
  • Significant restrictions: Funds provided under the first phase of the ERA program required an offer of assistance to landlords before reaching out to renters, adding yet another step to the fund distribution process. 

A New Wave of Rental Assistance

To address the ongoing need for rental assistance as a result of the pandemic, the Biden administration announced the allocation of an additional $21.6 billion in ERA funding earlier this month.

They’ve also put new policies in place to help local governments distribute this second round of funding more effectively. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the latest phase of the ERA plan:

  • Requires state programs to offer assistance directly to renters if landlords choose not to participate
  • Allows assistance to be offered directly to renters first
  • Prohibits grantees from establishing documentation requirements that would reduce participation
  • Reduces burdensome documentation by allowing programs to verify the eligibility of low-income renters based on readily available information or “proxies”

Distributing Rental Assistance Funds with Confidence

While the new policies surrounding rental assistance are expected to help local governments distribute their allotted funds more seamlessly, they are not a cure-all. Millions of Americans need these critical funds, meaning millions of Americans will continue reaching out to their local governments for support — and they can’t afford to wait any longer

“If it takes [a tenant] 45 days to get money, and 44 days to get evicted, what was the point of the money?” said lawyer Mark A. Melton. “It’s like drowning in the ocean and being 12 inches away from a lifeline, but no one is helping to push it your way.”

At Epiphany, our in-house, on-shore call center agents have extensive experience working in the public sector. They know how to navigate complicated processes, break down red tape, and create a superior customer experience. Serving as an extension of your team, we’ll help you: 

  • Field calls, emails, and chatbox messages, including those about ERA funds
  • Walk citizens through the process of applying for ERA funds, either digitally or on paper
  • Provide 24/7 support to your community
  • Alleviate the burden placed on your overwhelmed staff 
  • Allow your teams to focus on priorities outside of ERA
  • Improve your reputation as an agency committed to its community

Your citizens need your support, and they need it now. Contact us today and start distributing critical ERA funds with confidence.

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