Emergency Rental Assistance is on Nikki Fried‘s agenda.
The Commissioner of Agriculture and lone Democrat on the Florida Cabinet Monday tore into Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris over $660 million in unaccounted for Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds. Fried posted a copy of a letter she sent Harris and DeSantis on her Twitter page.
“DCF’s poor performance in expending this federal funding, combined with a troubling lack of transparency, raise very serious concerns about DCF’s ability to administer this program. As of this fall, 144,000 Florida households are at risk of eviction — more than 40 percent of the 357,000 households behind on rent,” Fried wrote. “Our state cannot afford to leave taxpayer funds on the table, especially money designated to help Floridians at risk of losing their homes during this uneven pandemic economic recovery.”
The $25 billion federal relief program began after the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The funds are meant to help families pay rent and utility bills as the nation still reels from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. An Oct. 4 memo from the Department of Treasury warned that recipients with less than 30% of funds expended, or less than 65% of funds allocated as of Sept. 30 would have to submit a plan for remaining funds to the Treasury by Nov. 15. If not, the funds could be recaptured.
Data from the Treasury shows Florida expended only 24%, or about $200 million of its $870 million allotment. Florida Politics first reached out to DCF to ask about ERAP funding on Nov. 10 and has still not heard back about the program.
Each state is tasked with forming and running its own ERAP program. Florida’s is run by DCF. Data from the Treasury shows Florida was well under the funding threshold and should’ve had to submit a plan. But as Fried’s letter states, DCF hasn’t confirmed whether that happened. Her letter also demands discussion of ERAP funds be on the agenda for the next Florida Cabinet meeting.
“The excessively slow disbursement of ERAP funds follows a disturbing trend within the DeSantis administration of spurning or mismanaging — perhaps purposely — billions in federal assistance on school funding, low-income nutrition assistance for hungry families through Pandemic SNAP and Pandemic EBT, and weekly unemployment aid. Certainly you would agree that using all available tools to help Floridians in need should transcend partisan politics,” Fried wrote. “Please provide an explanation for DCF’s failure to submit the required ERAP Program Improvement Plan by November 15, and how your department intends to improve disbursement of these funds.”
Experts have said Florida should look to the successes of states like New York and California and local governments like the city of Tampa or Miami-Dade and Alachua counties that have disbursed almost all ERAP funding. Members of the Treasury said the ERAP program was designed to be flexible and adaptable enough to give states the freedom to craft whatever programs work best. It even allows money to be moved around from state to local governments.
Florida received the $870 million. But some local governments were able to request funding directly through the federal government. In Florida, that added another $570 million in ERAP funding. That portion has gotten out the door much quicker.
“When we think about reallocation, there is ability for states to voluntarily reallocate (to local governments),” said End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions Senior Project Director Sarah Gallagher. “It’s probably time to have conversations with jurisdictions who are doing well.”
Florida Politics reached out to DCF and DeSantis for comment and did not receive a response.
DCF responded to Florida Politics and said, “Florida has missed no deadlines. The Commissioner is incorrect and has outdated data.”
DCF also provided Florida Politics with a copy of the letter it sent to the Treasury on Nov. 15 and a copy of its program improvement plan. According to the letter, DCF increased increased spending by 79% from September to October and 65% from October to November and had sent out 42% of its funds by Nov. 15.