Arkansas Lagging Behind In Providing Relief To Renters, Could Lose Millions
Arkansas could lose over $100 million in federal aid for renters. On Monday, the state was identified as having one of the lowest disbursement rates for funding provided by the U.S. Department of Treasury's Emergency Rental Assistance program.
Over $173 million has been earmarked for rent relief in Arkansas as part of COVID-19 assistance provided directly to states by the federal government. According to Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Arkansas has distributed less than 3% of its allotment, which could expire at the end of September.
"In Arkansas, some of the challenges are that the state has a hiring freeze and so they have not been able to staff up the program to process the applications that have come in," Yentel said. "They do have still a somewhat complicated application system that's resulting in some tenants not able to complete their applications and landlords are not accepting funds."
U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a Democrat of South Carolina, in his role as chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said in a press conference that letters were sent this week to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and those of other low-performing states. Clyburn said rates as low as those in Arkansas show a lack of political will.
"I used to run a state agency," he said. "Hiring freezes that sometimes apply to the state budget did not necessarily apply to the federal budget. And federal funds can be used, some of these funds can be used to hire people and get people involved in helping to get the money out."
With some states, like Texas and Virginia having distributed over 50% of their funding, Yentel said there are models for low-performing states like Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota.
"The programs that incorporate best practices, in terms of equitable and robust outreach, simple applications, using self-attestation, doing direct-to-tenant assistance, are the programs that are doing the best in getting the money out fastest and to the people needing it the most."
The Treasury Department can begin pulling funding from states that aren't disbursing at the end of September and redistribute those funds to states with proven success.
The online application portal for Pulaski County residents says the application process opened on April 5. The site, which is hosted by the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), includes a note that a high volume of applications is resulting in longer processing times. According to the DHS site, applicants who receive the federal aid can apply it to rent dating back to April 1, 2020, and overdue gas, water and electric bills. It can also cover up to three months of future rent through, Dec. 31, 2021.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not extend the federal ban on evictions, likely increasing the need for rental assistance.