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Sun Jul 18, 2021, 08:45 PM

Officials work to get billions to Americans behind on rent

Amy Cousino had moved to New Orleans to be a chef but when the COVID-19 pandemic struck last March, her job vanished. Underlying health issues cut her off further from the outside world. On unemployment for the first time in her life, she had to pick and choose which bills to pay, while asking for help to put food on the table. She's struggled to pay rent on her small apartment since last summer. And her landlord already tried to evict her once, despite a federal eviction moratorium.

"If I get evicted, I have no place to go. I will literally be on the street with my dog," Cousino said. She's only been able to navigate the dire situation after being approached by Legal Aid. They were able to keep her in her home. Now Cousino is waiting to find out if she will be granted federal aid to pay her back rent and keep her from homelessness.

With millions of Americans out of work due to the pandemic, the eviction moratorium helped keep people in their homes but it also put a squeeze on landlords. To help, between the December and March COVID relief packages, Congress approved more than $46 billion in rental assistance. Exact amounts renters and landlords can receive depend on their income and where they live, but renters could get enough to cover rent from as far back as March 13, 2020, unpaid utilities and even, in some cases, future rent.

But by the end of May, only $1.5 billion had gone out. And officials are racing against the clock: The federal eviction moratorium ends July 31.

"If the federal eviction moratorium expires and this rental assistance doesn't reach tenants in time, we will be looking at a historic wave of families losing their homes this summer and fall with all the long-term consequences and long-term harm that that goes to families and communities and the country," said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.


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