COVID Emergency Rental dollars should help others

North Dakota legislators did not pass the funding when it could have helped the most.

JSSP Letter to Editor

A recent newspaper article and editorial regarding COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) dollars missed important points.
First, North Dakota received a minimum allocation of emergency rental assistance dollars. There was no estimated amount or request sent to Congress. North Dakota received $352 million to help with rental assistance. Each funding allotment has a specific purpose and limited timeframe.

Second, the North Dakota legislators did not pass the funding when it could have helped the most. North Dakota received the first funding in January, but legislators did not approve it until late April. That meant agencies had to scramble to create a program to meet U.S. Treasury’s requirements, find employees, contract with agencies and find software. The legislative process meant a six-month delay in implementing the program and using the funds.
The software vendor has not lived up to its expectations, creating a large backlog that is overwhelming. It is difficult to implement large-scale software for a national temporary program. The good news is that the North Dakota Department of Human Services hired extremely resolute and sincere employees to help the program.
Agencies like Community Action, United Way, North Dakota Department of Human Services, Salvation Army and housing providers assisted clients prior to the program implementation using their own funds. In addition, Tribal nations helped their reservation and some neighboring county clients with their CERA dollars (did not require legislative approval). Millions went out to help our community members in need through other sources.
HUD’s Section 8 Voucher rental assistance funding to North Dakota is $40 million a year! The emergency fund is nine times more than North Dakota Section 8 rental assistance each year. Even if the 1,200 applicants received $20,000 each, that would equal $24 million.
Another columnist made an excellent point about verifications. If you need help, you should have to verify that need. After major floods, FEMA never gave you a brand-new home because you had a hardship. Some barriers can and should be removed, but there needs to be a proven need. Grand Forks Housing Authority’s criminal history policy for rental assistance is more of a barrier than the verifications for CERA.
Finally, the first batch of funding expires this fall. If North Dakota does not use it, the funding goes back to Congress. There are other states and major cities that do need and can use the funding before it expires, waiting to make those decisions is cruel. North Dakota still has $200 million and that is plenty to use over the next few years. Concentrate on making the program work with the second allotment and give the first allotment back to help others in greater need.
Klein resides in Jamestown.

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