Eligibility changing for emergency rental assistance program as funds dwindle

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – More than 4,300 people in Lincoln have paid rent using millions of dollars in federal funds, but now the city said that money is drying up, changing who can apply for help.

Starting now, anyone who has already received assistance will be cut off to save money left for new applicants. The city does not know how many people the change will affect. But it means people like Brian Nelson, who has been getting emergency rental assistance since July 2021, will no longer be able to re-apply.

“It was a life saver, truly a life saver,” Nelson said.

Because it’s been so helpful, Nelson said he stayed on the program for a year, then was able to re-apply for a three-month extension securing his payments through September. That’s when he was told he’d be cut off from the program.

“I inquired if there was assistance beyond that, perhaps to the end of the year to help carry the load for many of us,” Nelson said. “I was told no, it’s ending in September.”

The city said this is the case for anyone hoping to re-apply because all of the ERA1 money has to be spent by the end of the year and they have more people to help.

“I think what we’re weighing is there are over 1,100 people who have not received benefits who are eligible for benefits and there’s diminishing dollars,” Dan Marvin, director of Urban Development said.

The money will help people, like a woman who sent a letter to 1011 NOW, saying she was approved for assistance in March, but still hasn’t gotten any help. She said she’s still behind financially after being required to stay home from work for two weeks after a COVID-19 exposure.

“I continue to struggle now to even get the aid that has been put in place to help people just like me,” she wrote. “This is just such a sad and extremely stressful situation.”

Marvin said for the last several months, they’ve been helping so many people, they haven’t had the capacity to take on more. That’s also why they’ll be stopping payments to people who have already gotten help.

“We’re hoping their time will be freed up so that they can dedicate the resources of their time to getting these people who are waiting, to get them paid and processed,” Marvin said.

The city is allocating the roughly $10 million left in ERA1 money to the backlog and new applicants, but Marvin does understand it will be a challenging transition for some people.

“This was always going to have a point at which payments were going to be discontinued,” Marvin said. “What we’ve been trying to do as we reach the end of the program’s life is to make sure we spread those benefits.”

They’ll then take the rest of the ERA2 money, which is about $7 million that they have until 2025 to spend, on preventing homelessness and supporting those facing eviction.

“We want to create a safety net to keep people from slipping through in that regard,” Marvin said. “I mean, it’s just a matter of the needs are greater than the dollars we have available.”

Nelson, who said he’s been able to lean on family support to get through in the short-term said he hopes the city can support people struggling long term.

“I don’t think they fully realize the amount of people that are going to be left in the lurch by this and I don’t think they’re prepared for the ramifications,” he said.

The city said there is a chance they could get more money from ERA2 funds that Governor Pete Ricketts declined, but they don’t know yet.

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