Emergency Rental Assitance Program changes requirements to help more people

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Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 11:22 PM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) -This week, an announcement came about changing the Federal language and requirements in the National Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The ERAP program started in April of 2020. A program like this never existed in Wyoming until the pandemic. It has faced challenges along the way, as it has been re-managed and tweaked after its first initiation when the need for supplementary income to avoid mass homelessness became real.

However, many Wyoming families did not meet the area’s median income or requirements and some could not directly tie in Covid-19 to a loss of income to be able to access the ERAP benefits according to federal rules.

As a result, of the $200 million that Wyoming has been given, only $4.7 million has been paid out directly through the program.

“At a national level if this legislation goes through (congress) it gives our program a lot more flexibility to truly meet more of the needs of those who are facing homelessness or perhaps are homeless,” said Korin Schmidt, Director of the Department Family Services.

Schmidt says some of the government program rules were not designed for the needs of a state like Wyoming. Nor was it consulted before the government gave these rules of the program and funds.

One area where the Federal program rules fall short is in meeting the needs of people who are already homeless.

As they have no proof of prior rental or lease agreements, they can not access these federal funds to help create home security for themselves or their families.

Meaning the federal funds that were supposed to help create stability and support infrastructure can’t help people trying to move from homelessness into safety and productive society.

And homeless programs have limited federal funding and rules, comparatively speaking, that limit the numbers they can assist.

The current environment where there are funds available few can access creates an unwitting catch 22 for states that run against the norm, like Wyoming.

Additionally, even if the government adjusted these Federal rules for the Emergency Rental Assitance Program, there are no extra housing units in Wyoming to house them in.

Again these ERAP monies can not be used to create more housing in an already short housing market within the state. They would have to be allocated somewhere else according again to different rules.

Schmidt says the Department of Family Services is now trying to follow up to find applicants who may not have completed their forms to ensure people get the funds and assistance they need.

Finished applications typically take 30 days to payout, but incomplete applications take much longer and gathering the proof of need required within the federal guidelines takes time.

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