Stimulus Programs: Take Advantage Before the Money Runs Out

A photo of the economic stimulus check that was sent to US citizens during the covid-19/coronavirus quarantine.
LPETTET / Getty Images/iStockphoto

When the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020, commerce shut down in the United States. Only essential businesses stayed open; some of us with office jobs were lucky enough to work from home. But millions of jobs were lost, sending countless American households and business owners into a financial panic.

The government enacted stimulus programs that helped small businesses to pay their employees, to revitalize restaurants and to support entertainment venues forced to close. The chance to apply for those programs has closed. However, other programs to help households pay their rent, mortgage and some other housing expenses remain open, with funds still available.

But the distribution of the money isn’t universal now as assistance programs have closed in some areas where the funds have dried up. Read on to learn more about whether you still could receive help to get caught up on overdue rent or mortgage payments, or even money for current expenses.

Homeowner Assistance Fund

The federal government allocated $9.961 billion for the Homeowner Assistance Fund, which aims to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgages and other housing expenses because of COVID-19 to stay in their homes. The U.S. Treasury Department allocated the money to states, territories and tribes to administer their own programs.

The good news is that most states still have money left to help homeowners bring their mortgages current or help them to pay insurance, property taxes and neighborhood association dues, depending on state program rules.

Make Your Money Work for You

In Minnesota, for example, homeowners may be eligible for as much as $35,000 to be paid toward past-due expenses. In New Mexico, the limit is $20,000 but covers help with past-due housing costs or current expenses, provided at least one member of the household is receiving unemployment compensation for the latter.

To get started, find out whether your state has funds available by visiting the website of the National Council of State Housing Associations. Each state will have different requirements, filing deadlines and such.

Emergency Rental Assistance Program

The COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress in December 2020 included $25 million to assist low-income tenants with urgent need for help with rent. The American Rescue Plan of March 2021 added $21.55 billion to the pot, meaning $46.55 billion was set aside for emergency rental assistance.

As with the Homeowner Assistance Fund, the money was distributed to the states. In some states, the rent-relief programs have been administered by counties or local jurisdictions rather than statewide agencies. As of July 12, $29.09 billion had been given out – and 68.3 percent of the 514 programs nationwide were still accepting applications.

But if you’re in need of help with your rent – and you meet your region’s qualification income and resource guidelines — where you live will dictate whether you can apply. You should inquire as soon as possible as some programs are preparing to shut down as funds dwindle.

Of the nine local programs in Alabama, for example, five still were accepting applications as of July 12, three programs had moved to “on hold/wait list” status, and one other was permanently closed. If you live in Huntsville or Tuscaloosa, the program remains open. In Birmingham and Mobile, the programs are listed as on hold/wait list.

Make Your Money Work for You

Visit the website of the National Low Income Housing Coalition to learn more about the status of your area.

Help for Landlords

The Emergency Rental Assistance program also could offer landlords help in retrieving income lost from unpaid rent. Not every local program includes landlords, but about 75% do, according to the Treasury Department.

For you, as a landlord, to be eligible to receive payments, your tenants must be eligible based on their income and their other circumstances. You’ll need to work with tenants to get information, or even their permission, but it could be worth it.

Money from the federal program could provide you with up to 18 months of back rent and current rent, in some cases, where the funds are available. Evicting a tenant is no guarantee you will receive back rent, the federal government said.

The swift reaction by Congress to virus relief helped to keep countless families and businesses afloat. If you haven’t taken advantage of the stimulus programs but believe you qualify and need assistance, contact your local jurisdiction before it’s too late. Even if federal funds no longer remain available, you could be directed toward other local programs that can help.

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