On Sunday December 27, 2020, President Trump signed bills to provide COVID relief totaling $908 billion. The Bipartisan State and Local Support and Small Business Protections Act provides $160 billion for state and local fiscal relief, and the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act provides $748 billion in other assistance. This includes:
- A one-month extension of the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- $25 billion for emergency rental assistance
- Unemployment assistance
- Aid for small businesses
- Funds for vaccine distribution
- Support for schools
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR RESIDENTS SEEKING HOUSING STABILITY
FEDERAL EVICTION MORATORIUM
The first of note is the CDC’s eviction moratorium is extended through January 31, 2021. The eviction moratorium covers nonpayment for households under certain income criteria. Renters can stay in their homes while state and local governments work quickly to distribute aid to households in need.
EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE
$25 billion for emergency rental assistance would be funded through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) and administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The local mechanism for distributing these funds in Rhode Island has not been established yet.
The proposed legislation requires cities and states to prioritize households most at risk of eviction in the coming months. Funds must be used for households below 80% of area median income (AMI), with a preference for those below 50% AMI. You can find the AMI for regions in Rhode Island here. Income determination would be based on the monthly income the household is receiving at the time of application. Under the bill, households are eligible for emergency rental assistance funds if one or more individuals:
- Has qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due to or during the pandemic;
- Can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and (3) has a household income below 80% AMI.
Rental assistance provided through the CRF would not be regarded as income or considered when determining eligibility for federal benefits or federally-assisted programs.
Role for Landlords
The proposed legislation allows landlords and property owners to aid tenants in applying for assistance. If landlords apply for assistance on behalf of their tenant, the tenant must co-sign the application, the landlord must provide the tenant documentation of the application, and the payments must be used to pay the tenant’s rental obligations.
The U.S. government is about to send checks — or direct deposits — to most Americans to help people survive financially this winter until coronavirus vaccines are more widely available. There will be a one-time payment, “the stimulus check,” with the following details:
- $600 for each adult and child under age 17 (for households with income up to $75,000/$150,000 for a couple)
- Mixed status families eligible for payment — if one parent is US citizen and other has ITIN, the citizen parent is eligible for the $600 payment, as are eligible citizen children in the family.
- The new eligibility for mixed status families is retroactive to cover the stimulus payment under the CARES Act, so eligible individuals will be able to claim the $1,200 (adult) and $500 (child under 17) when they file taxes in 2020.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s unemployment insurance programs provide unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own and meet certain other eligibility requirements.
- Additional unemployment benefit of $300/week from December 26, 2020 through March 14, 2021
- People who are self-employed, gig workers, part-time workers and others who don’t qualify for state unemployment benefits continue to be eligible for federal unemployment benefits. Number of weeks increased from 39 to 50.
- Federally-funded unemployment benefits for workers who exhaust state-funded benefits increased from 13 to 24 weeks.
- Shared Work program continued through March 14, 2021
- Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit: Families can claim these credits based on their earnings in 2019, if they were unemployed or had reduced wages in 2020, thus increasing their tax refund.
- Paid Sick and Family Leave: Tax credit to support employers offering paid sick and family leave, based on Families First Coronavirus (FFC) framework.
Am I Eligible?
Each state sets its own unemployment insurance benefits eligibility guidelines, but you usually qualify if you:
- Are unemployed through no fault of your own. In most states, this means you have to have separated from your last job due to a lack of available work.
- Meet work and wage requirements. You must meet your state’s requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established period of time referred to as a “base period.” (In most states, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters before the time that your claim is filed.)
- Meet any additional state requirements. Find details of your own state’s program.
Latest COVID Relief Bill Provides Increased Access and funding to SNAP.
- SNAP benefits are increased by 15%. (Individual: $204 to $234; household of 2: $374 to $430; household of 3: $535 to $615; household of 4: $680 to $782).
- Additional funds for food banks.
- Improves the P-EBT program (Pandemic EBT) that provides additional SNAP benefits for families with children who are eligible for free lunch to help cover the cost of meals children would otherwise have received at school.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR GOVERNMENTS AND ORGANIZATIONS
Of the total amount, Each state would receive a minimum of $200 million. The bulk of the funds will be distributed to states and cities with populations of 200,000 or more. Additionally $500 million is allocated to U.S. territories and $800 million to tribal communities.
Uses of Funds
At least 90% of the funds must be used to provide financial assistance, including back and forward rent and utility payments for up to 18 months. Recipients would be able to use the remainder of funds (up to 10%) to provide housing stability services, such as case management, eviction prevention, and rehousing services. Not more than 10% of the amount paid to grantees may be used for administrative costs to provide financial assistance and housing stability services, including data collection and reporting requirements.
Under the legislation, cities and states can make payments directly to landlords or utility companies on behalf of renters. If a landlord refuses to accept the rental assistance, cities and states can give assistance directly to the renter, who can then make payments to the landlord or utility provider.
Any funds not obligated by October 1, 2022 may be used to provide affordable housing to very low-income or extremely low-income families. Prior to using unobligated funds this way, state and local governments would have to submit a plan for approval by the Treasury Secretary.
The bill requires the Treasury Department to report quarterly on how each state, local, tribal, and territorial government is using emergency rental assistance funds. Each report must include how much assistance the state and local government received, the amount disbursed to households, the number of households served, the acceptance rate for applicants, the types of assistance provided to each eligible household, the average number of monthly payments that households receive, and outcomes for eligible households at the end of the assistance period. The data collected must be disaggregated by income level and the gender, race, and ethnicity of the primary applicant in the household, provided by zip code. Under the bill, the Treasury Secretary can make full, unredacted data available for statistical research.
COVID Relief Fund
In addition to providing $160 billion in state and local fiscal relief, the bipartisan bill extends the deadline for funds provided by Congress in the CARES Act through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). If enacted, the deadline would be extended from December 30, 2020 to December 31, 2021. Many states and localities have used CRF resources to provide emergency rental assistance during the pandemic.