Pandemic aid applications ends Oct. 31. Charlotte County faces Dec. 30 cutoff to spend federal aid

By BETSY CALVERT, Charlotte Sun staff writer, published Oct 23, 2020

Charlotte County has to cut off applications for pandemic assistance to individuals on Oct. 31.

A new, short-term eviction prevention program will start shortly after.

The rush is due to the fact that the federal funding for coronavirus funding has to be spent by Dec. 30. They didn’t even get Dec. 31, a Thursday, Housing Director Colleen Turner told the Sun.

Local officials still hope for an extension to spend the $32.9 million allocated in federal funding to the county for everything from emergency medical services to rent relief. In the meantime, the county’s human services staff set the Oct. 31 deadline so they can process the pending applications before Dec. 30.

As of last week, the county has spent more than $2.2 million in federal pandemic funding on rent or mortgage or utility assistance to more than 1,200 households that can show their financial crisis is due to the pandemic. Households show pandemic-related crisis with a letter from an employer, paystubs showing pre- and post-pandemic income drop, or self-certification for the self-employed.

The county has dedicated $300,000 to help homeless households move into new housing. In some cases, the payments are helping people move into neighboring counties if they can’t find an affordable unit in Charlotte County, Human Services Director Carrie Walsh told commissioners last week. These households do not have to show pandemic-related income loss. Just being homeless is considered a threat to public health during the pandemic.

Victims of domestic violence are some of the people receiving the funds for moving to a new location. Domestic violence has encompassed new dimensions during the pandemic where victims are forced into isolation with their abusers. This funding also ends Dec. 30.

When applications end for individual assistance on Oct. 31, a new eviction-prevention program will start and last only about two weeks, Turner said. Details have yet to be released, but the program will offer people facing pandemic-related eviction up to $5,000 — higher than the $3,000 maximum rental assistance provided in the first program.

The idea is to help anyone facing eviction due to the pandemic, even if they have already received the $3,000 assistance, Walsh told commissioners. In this case, landlords will have to agree to not evict the tenants, even if the $5,000 doesn’t cover the entire arrears.

Does the county require applicants to be seeking work, Commissioner Joe Tiseo asked. “I want to make sure we’re not throwing it out there for people who aren’t making an effort,” he said.

Walsh told him applicants generally are working, but can’t get enough hours to pay their bills, or they were laid off earlier and are still digging out of that financial hole.

There are some landlords that are not willing to participate in these programs, Walsh acknowledged, because it requires them to give their tax identification. This opens them up to potential tax review by the federal government.

Commissioner Chris Constance suggested the county report such landlords to federal authorities.

“You’re putting this family in jeopardy, because you’re not willing to allow them to take assistance, so they’re having to scrape together and not eat to pay your rent,” Constance said. “I have a real problem with that.”

Reporting landlords to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service could cause landlords to halt participation, Commissioner Joe Tiseo said.

“You might as well deep six this program,” he said, noting that many landlords in lower rent neighborhoods operate on a cash-only basis.

“It’s a fact of life,” Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch agreed.

Turner told the Sun only about 34 applicants so far have failed to receive rental assistance even though their applications were approved. That would include applicants whose landlords declined to participate, she said.

Commissioners praised the program. “Very frankly, I think it’s going to work,” Deutsch said.

Image Credits: Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay