Aug 26, 2022 - News

Utah could lose millions in federal rent relief if not disbursed soon

Illustration of a stack of hundred dollar bills being erased
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Utah has yet to spend tens of millions of dollars in emergency rental assistance it received from the federal government to help renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: The undistributed assistance could be forfeited if it's not spent by Sept. 30.

By the numbers: Of the $215 million allocated to Utah governments in the first round of the federal program, about 78% is projected to be spent, per the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

  • As of July 31, the state had nearly $50 million left, according to Sarah Nielson, a public information officer for the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS), which distributes the assistance.
  • Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County received and distributed all of their combined $32 million, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Zoom out: At least 27 states have managed to distribute nearly all — 90% or more — of their federal funds.

Flashback: As DWS struggled to disperse the cash last year, state officials sent Treasury a plan to better its processes, the Utah Investigative Journalism Project reported.

  • DWS said they would stop working with renter groups that helped them process applications and instead hire more staff to handle them within the agency.
  • "We often find that one of the most challenging parts of the process is getting all of the required information and documentation from both the renter and the landlord," Nielson said in a statement.

Yes, but: "If they've got until the end of next month to figure out how to do it, then they need to get moving," said Bill Tibbitts, deputy executive director of Crossroads Urban Center.

  • "There are people who need it. We see them in our food pantries," he said. "That's so disheartening."

What's next: Utah received $170 million in the federal program's second round and has until 2025 to spend those funds — a process that's already underway, per Nielson.

Of note: DWS will continue processing and accepting rental assistance applications until next month's deadline.

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