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Advocates say Connecticut rental assistance falls far short | Covid-19

The state of Connecticut is doubling the amount of federal coronavirus money dedicated to rental assistance, but housing advocates contend it falls far short of what’s needed to help as many as 130,000 households, according to one estimate, that face possible eviction between now and Dec. 31 because of the pandemic.

In comparison, there were about 20,000 eviction filings in 2019, before COVID-19 hit.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced Friday that $10 million will be added to the original $10 million for the Temporary Rental Housing Assistance Program. That’s in addition to $5 million for renters who faced eviction before, $2.5 million for renters excluded from federal help because of their immigration status, and several other housing-related programs, for a total of $43.3 million. Lamont said he also plans to soon sign an executive order that will extend the moratorium on residential evictions until Oct. 1.

Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said the $20 million in temporary rental assistance will likely benefit only 5,000 households, which are eligible for $4,000 grants that are paid directly to the landlords.

“Most other states are chipping in significantly more,” she said, noting that New Jersey is spending about $100 million of its federal coronavirus funding on rental assistance; Montana, $50 million and the city of Houston, $75 million. “Connecticut is among the lowest amount,” Kemple added.

Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, said the administration wants to “do as much as we reasonably can to help renters, understanding there is a crisis out there.” He did not rule out the administration providing more rental assistance funding in the future.

“We recognize there are tens of thousands of people in Connecticut looking for relief,” Reiss said. “This is not just a public health crisis. It’s an economic crisis as well.”

But he said the state is limited by a funding formula set by Congress for the distribution of federal conoanvirus aid.

“We are in a lot of ways handcuffed as a result of Republicans in Congress passing coronavirus relief based on a formula that adversely impacts a state like Connecticut,” he said.

During his coronavirus briefing with reporters on Thursday, Lamont said the additional round of funding “will allow (landlords) to negotiate with a tenant who was may be in arrears or slow in their payments to make it easier for that person to power through and reach the point where they’re able to start making the full payments again on the past due rent.”

But Kemple said there’s a large group of people who won’t have that opportunity because they’ve been deemed ineligible for the program because they earned too much in 2019, even though they have since lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic and can’t pay their rent now.

“So people who were essential workers, making above minimum wage during 2019 essentially wouldn’t qualify now,” she said. “And now, they’ve been laid off. We’ve heard from several people who have COVID-19 and, as a result, are no longer able to work. And they’re being told that they’re not eligible for assistance.”

In other coronavirus news:



The state of Connecticut has submitted its application for federal funding to provide eligible residents out-of-work because of the coronavirus pandemic with a temporary $300 weekly supplement to their unemployment benefits, the governor announced Friday.

If approved, the $300 benefit will help fill the hole left when the earlier $600 weekly supplemental benefit expired on July 26. Without any extra federal funds, weekly filers in Connecticut receive an average of $269 a week.

“It is important to remember that this is only a temporary backstop,” Lamont said in a written statement. “It’s imperative that the Trump administration reach an agreement with Congress on comprehensive legislation that provides stable and long-term funding to supplement weekly unemployment benefits.”

The additional benefit will be retroactive to the claim week that began July 26. It will also be available for claim weeks beginning Aug. 2 and Aug. 9. Department of Labor said additional weeks are “under review.”

Eligible individuals, which include workers receiving at least $100 in weekly unemployment benefits, will have to self-certify they are unemployed or partially unemployed due to the impact of COVID-19. The labor agency hopes to disburse the additional funds to about eligible 250,000 claimants in mid-September.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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