Sep 2, 2021 - COVID

Clock is ticking on $183 million in pandemic rental relief

Illustration of an alarm clock with money spilling out as it is ringing.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

With just a month until the clock runs out on the $201 million in federal emergency rental assistance sent to Arkansas, only $17.4 million had been paid as of the end of August. That's less than 9%.

Driving the news: Another $43 million is pending distribution, but even if that were in the hands of those in need, it leaves 70% of the funds to be spent in September alone.

Money not committed by Sept. 30 will be reallocated to other grantees by the U.S. Treasury Department.

  • U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), chair of the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, sent a letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday urging Arkansas to "speed distribution of rental assistance without delay."
  • The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration's attempted ban on evictions last week, putting between 2.5 million and 3.5 million people at risk of losing their homes.

State of play: Axios reported last month that overwhelmed agencies, along with state policy that requires landlords and tenants to submit paperwork, and a lack of knowledge about the program are likely causes for the slow distribution of money.

Why it matters: An estimated 6,400 Arkansans are behind on rent payments with estimated statewide rental debt topping $113 million.

  • Families that can't catch up on rent face eviction, which can make it difficult to find new housing — and evicting people during a pandemic puts them at greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.
Federal rent aid by locality
Source: U.S. Treasury Dept., Arkansas Dept. of Human Services, the counties. Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: Arkansas received four buckets of emergency rental assistance (ERA) based on population. Benton, Pulaski and Washington counties received a combined $27.3 million in funds, managed by various local agencies, and the state received $173.7 million.

  • At the end of August, Benton and Washington counties had paid $9.1 million to more than 1,900 households.
  • Pulaski County received $11.7 million but did not respond to multiple Axios attempts for updated figures, so the $1.7 million most recently reported in July was used in this analysis.
  • The state's ERA funds are managed by the Department of Human Services (DHS), which has paid $7.2 million to more than 2,900 households.
  • DHS told Axios it is now providing about $1 million per week in rental assistance.

The bottom line: A DHS spokesperson said that much of the bottleneck is tied to required documentation.

  • To inform the public about ERA, DHS has a $70,000 social media campaign underway and statewide advertising will launch soon.
  • Almost 500 social media "toolkits" with messaging about ERA have been provided to agencies throughout the state, and more than 75 news stories have been written about the program.

What they're saying: Acknowledging Clyburn's letter in a news conference Tuesday, Hutchinson said, "We are working hard to get that rent relief out without compromising the integrity of the whole program."

  • He's asked DHS to streamline the process where possible.

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