On Aug. 15, the state of Mississippi will stop accepting applications for federal rental assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tate Reeves said at a press conference Wednesday.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERA, is part of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief initiatives and has provided more than 36,000 Mississippians with help paying rent since the start of the pandemic, Reeves said.
When accepted for the program, applicants can receive rental assistance for up to 15 months, meaning that payments will continue for those who apply before the Aug. 15 cutoff date.
“If you’ve already applied for the program, today’s announcement will have no impact,” Reeves said.
The primary reason for closing applications is to encourage people to work, Reeves said.
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“We still have too many people in our state who are being paid not to work,” Reeves said. “Today I am announcing that our state, Mississippi, is taking another step to push back on those left wing policies that pay people not to work.”
When the ERA program was extended by the federal government for a second round, it no longer required applicants to prove that they could not pay their rent or utilities due to the pandemic, which Reeves said expands its scope beyond what the program was initially intended for and prevents people from returning to the labor force.
“This decision is about returning to pre-pandemic policies, further strengthening Mississippi’s economy and incentivizing people to work,” Reeves said.
Reeves also said that as the rental assistance program has gone on, the state has seen more instances of fraud in applications. Those cases can include landlords collecting the funds from the government while still charging their tenants, as well as individuals claiming assistance for multiple different addresses, Reeves said.
Reeves addressed concerns that turning down federal funds for rental assistance could lead to a rise in homelessness. He said there are other assistance programs in the state that will continue, and that there are jobs available.
“I’m always concerned about potential hardships for Mississippians,” Reeves said. “In today’s world, we don’t have a lot of people out looking for jobs, we have a lot of jobs looking for people.”
Reeves said the state will return its unused funds to the US Treasury, but that amount will depend on how many people apply between now and August. 15, and how many of those applications, along with the more than 16,000 current pending applications, are approved.
The governor does not anticipate the need for these programs, even as COVID-19 cases remain high. He said the reality is very different than it was when the ERA program was first conceived.
“Covid is going to be with us,” Reeves said. “In many instances, the severity is not the same as it was, and we have treatment now. … Individuals have the opportunity to protect themselves with vaccines and we have treatment options available.”