Members of the Finance Committee for the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators reminded state officials that they need to make a greater effort to help alleviate the fiscal strain many people are enduring.
On Monday, they passed a resolution urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to disperse more money from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Lawmakers wrote that moratoriums on evictions were implemented during the novel coronavirus pandemic to help people who were adversely affected financially. One moratorium was in effect between March 7, 2020, and Aug. 30, 2021, and the state extended its moratorium until Jan. 15.
Congress allocated $25 billion in January for the ERAP, with a second round of $21.55 billion for assistance through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This money was designed to help renters and landlords pay their bills.
However, less than $5 billion of the initial $25 billion in ERAP “funding allocated to states and localities had been spent on household rent, utilities and arrears during the first seven months of the program (through the end of July 2021),” according to the resolution. Despite knowing about the availability of these funds, New York state just recently opened its portal to solicit ERAP applications.
“[T]he failure to the state of New York to effectively administer the program in a timely fashion may result in the federal government reclaiming those funds without benefit to New York state tenants and landlords,” according to the resolution. “[T]he Board of Legislators calls upon New York state Gov. Kathy Hochul and the commissioner of the Office of Temporary Disabilities Assistance to expedite the release of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding to provide relief to those impacted by the [coronavirus] pandemic eviction restrictions and the eviction moratorium …”
This is a serious situation. ERAP funds not used by states may eventually be returned to the federal government.
That would prolong the revenue crisis being endured by both renters and landlords — and it would be wasteful to have Washington retrieve the money it sent here to alleviate the problem. What good is it to have resources designed to reduce financial concerns only to have the program revoked because we weren’t taking advantage of it?
On this page, we took issue with some of the restrictions enacted by the state during the pandemic. But just the same, many of the measures put into place were appropriate.
However, the state has performed poorly in several instances of responding to people in need with sufficient financial resources. The ERAP funding is but one example.
Another one is the incredible challenge that many residents still have with receiving money owed to them through the state’s unemployment insurance program. Numerous individuals have had to wait for months to finally be approved for this income after being laid off from their jobs.
People require money to buy food, maintain a shelter over their heads and pay their bills. We understand that lockdown measures were needed in large part to protect all of us from spreading the coronavirus and making more residents ill.
But we can’t wait forever to obtain the funds promised to us by the federal and state governments to get on with our lives. New York officials must rededicate themselves to examining why these problems exist and resolving them as soon as possible.