August saw a marked rise in the amount of emergency rental aid paid out to needy tenants, although the Treasury Department says that more needs to be done to accelerate the payments.
The department said in a Sept. 24 statement that more than $2.3 billion in rental aid payments were disbursed to more than 420,000 households nationwide in August, an increase from the $1.8 billion that reached 340,000 households in July.
The Biden administration faces a narrowing window to distribute rental aid, as unused funds will soon be subject to reallocation to more productive programs. The Supreme Court ruled in August to halt a federal eviction ban.
Of the total $46.5 billion that Congress had appropriated under two emergency rental assistance programs, around $7.7 billion, or less than 17 percent, has been spent as of Aug. 31.
“While many jurisdictions have more work to do to meet the urgent demand for this relief in their communities, grantees saw significant growth in August—particularly among state and local agencies that adopted the Treasury’s recommended best practices,” the statement reads.
The 2020 pandemic relief legislation established the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program with $25 billion in funding (pdf), while the American Rescue Plan Act in March provided another $21.5 billion in rental assistance (pdf) in what’s known as ERA2.
But getting that aid to needy households has been slow, driven chiefly by application processing delays. Seeking to boost the pace of disbursement, the Treasury Department announced in August seven new policies meant to streamline the application process, including greater flexibility in the use of self-attestations by applicants to document financial hardship or the risk of homelessness.
The department stated in the Sept. 24 disbursement update that the Biden administration “continues its all-out effort to encourage grantees to avoid or reduce unduly burdensome documentation requirements for verifying income, provide assistance directly to tenants when landlords are not cooperative, and protect renters from eviction after payments are made on their behalf.”
In order to further accelerate the pace of distributing the ERA funds, the department said it’s rolling out new program design tools to help grantees serve even more eligible households while calling on local authorities to put in place measures preventing people from being evicted until they’ve had a chance to apply for aid.
The statutes that govern the disbursement of ERA funds require the Treasury Department to begin identifying and reallocating unused funds beginning on Sept. 30.
In a Sept. 24 letter to ERA recipients (pdf), Treasury Deputy Secretary Adewale Adeyemo said detailed guidelines on fund reallocation would be released in the coming days.
Goldman Sachs economists estimated in August that 2.5 million to 3.5 million U.S. households are behind on their rent and, when the eviction moratorium expires at the beginning of October, between 1 million and 2 million households will face a higher risk of eviction.