County can donate rental assistance funds to town for faster distribution

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Travis County Commissioners’ Court continued to consider ways to spend 65% of a federal rent assistance allowance before a late-September U.S. Treasury deadline threatens to close. cancel unused funds. If the 65% threshold is not met, all remaining unallocated Emergency Rent Assistance Program funds will revert to the federal government.

The initial allocation of ERAP funds was $ 10.6 million, of which 65% is $ 6.89 million. So far, the county has spent $ 1.31 million, but says an additional $ 1.18 million is committed. Even so, that’s only 23% of the money that was spent or committed, leaving the county less than a month to allocate $ 4.4 million in rent assistance – a tall order, given that the county received only 4,789 applications for the program.

County Judge Andy Brown has offered to send up to $ 2 million in funds to the city, as local lawyer Zenobia Joseph suggested the week before.

“I think focusing on September 30 is frankly not the deadline anymore,” Brown said. “I’m interested in making a motion to transfer an amount, maybe up to $ 2 million, to the city, so that their contractor, who got it out very quickly, can do it faster.”

Commissioners discussed the prospect privately with county prosecutors during the executive session.

Lawrence Lyman, of Health and Human Services, reviewed some of the measures the county is using to speed up the distribution process.

“As previously stated, the two main things we have done so far are to implement greater use of self-attestation, where possible, and we are also finalizing some processes so that we can get started. use categorical eligibility and factual proxies to speed up the determination of eligibility. ”Said Lyman.

While self-attestation lowers bureaucratic barriers by allowing applicants’ own written testimony to qualify them for rental assistance, fact-based attorneys use data collected from other government programs to automatically identify and qualify applicants. residents eligible for ERA programs. Implementing these together, Lyman said, will help Travis County administer enough rental assistance to exceed the 65% threshold.

“We all know the federal courts have ruled that the federal moratorium on evictions is not in effect,” Brown said. “I mean, we have the lives of real people who are at a real risk of deportation, so I think we need to do whatever we can to prevent the deportation of more families, and part of that is to make sure we get that as quickly as possible.

According to Lyman, the county has identified about 3,900 households that may be eligible using data available from personal support services programs. Another idea he put forward was to start making payments to landlords and utility providers based on estimated rent and utility arrears.

“What we can do is start pushing payments, based on an estimate, and then resolve any discrepancies after the fact,” he said.

Commissioner Brigid Shea, citing the example of Shelby County, Tennessee, raised the idea of ​​using block bylaws to speed up the process of distributing money.

“They look for complexes where 10 or more tenants are behind on rent, and then they use them to get the money out faster,” Shea said. “We need to find better ways to withdraw the money. “

Lyman said Health and Human Services were looking to identify partners for the bulk settlement option. “I think that’s something we’re going to be able to do,” he said.

“I think it’s a burning hair issue,” Shea said. “Please do whatever you need to do to make this a priority. “

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is a board member of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

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