Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program Updates
The American Rescue Plan Act that passed Congress in March 2021 included additional funding for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). Including payments allocated directly to larger counties by the U.S. Treasury, Pennsylvania and its jurisdictions will receive more than $762 million in this round of ERAP. Of that funding, Treasury allocated $450 million directly to the state. The state will distribute funds to each county according to the same population-based formula that the state used to distribute the first round of ERAP funding earlier this year. A further $49 million that Pennsylvania received for high-needs jurisdictions will be set aside for low-income, high-needs households.
The Housing Alliance advocated for the General Assembly not to impose restrictions on this funding more stringent than required by Federal law or guidance, so that funds can be sent out as quickly as possible to struggling renters and landlords. We are pleased to see that the state legislation does not place extra restrictions. Following Federal requirements, counties may use up to 10% of their new allocations for housing stability services (including mediation, legal services, and housing counseling) and up to 15% for administrative costs.
The state legislation also explicitly allows counties to use applicant self-certification for income to the extent allowable by Federal guidance, which will help speed up payments. It further restricts counties from placing any limitations on assistance additional to Federal law or guidance.
The General Assembly also made several important changes to the law governing the state allocation of the first round of ERAP funding. It removed the 5% cap on administrative costs, which had limited the ability of counties (especially those with smaller populations) to process applications quickly and conduct outreach to tenants and landlords. It also extended the expenditure certification deadlines required of counties to align with the new expenditure deadlines put in place by the American Rescue Plan Act. Counties must now certify by July 31 of this year what percentage of their first-round allocations they have obligated and what percentage they expect to obligate by September 20, 2022.
Low Income Household Water Assistance Program
The Department of Human Services will administer the new Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, with $43 million in funding allocated to Pennsylvania by Congress through COVID relief legislation. The program will help pay water and wastewater arrearages and bills owed to public water authorities by low-income families.