The Department of Children and Families (DCF) has accepted a second round of funding through the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
Announced late last week, the $740.4 million will provide continued funding for OUR Florida, the DCF-led program that offers aid to renters facing financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic. DCF accepted $871.2 million in the first round of funding. Nearly all of the first-round funding — about $858 million — has been distributed.
“DCF is on a mission to support families in their greatest time of need, and the OUR Florida program is another example of our efforts to assist Florida families on their road to economic self-sufficiency,” DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris said. “The extension of the emergency rental assistance program and the corresponding additional relief funds will accelerate Florida’s recovery and help those in need.”
ERAP is a $25 billion federal program that began last January after 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. Since the program launched in May, Harris said DCF and OUR Florida have provided relief to more than 164,000 households. Harris said OUR Florida now has a team of more than 700 helping process applications and get payments out.
It’s a marked improvement from a slow rollout. In October, Florida was among the states the Treasury warned could see funds recaptured for reporting less than 30% disbursement. A Sept. 30 report from the department showed Florida had only distributed 24% of its funds at the time.
William Peña Wells, a lawyer with Gulf Coast Legal who has been assisting folks through the ERAP process, said he has seen the program make a marked improvement.
“It’s been a learning curve because it was something developed on the fly to respond to a national emergency,” he said. “But now, for every problem case you hear about, there are 10 or 15 cases where people have been able to stay housed and get on their feet, especially families with children.”
But some say the program doesn’t go far enough. The program doesn’t directly pay courts to stop the eviction process, and it excludes short-term rentals like hotels and efficiency apartments from qualifying for funding. Peña Wells also said the program’s reputation still suffers from the rough rollout.
“Unfortunately, we’re dealing with people’s lives and people’s homes, so it has a profound impact and that reputation spread by word of mouth through communities,” he said. “The reluctance of landlords is a problem because of the reputation of the program. It got a bad rap. The perception is it takes weeks and weeks or months to get paid out, so landlords don’t want to put themselves in that. But the process has been better now. It’s gotten better.”
Representatives for DCF said OUR Florida now has an escalation process to expedite applications of renters who might be facing eviction.