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Why are these Republican governors turning down federal rent assistance?

Rent prices are soaring nationwide. Yet at least two Republican governors have turned down more federal assistance for struggling tenants. 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last Friday that while his state could receive up to $146 million in new federal rent relief, Arkansas will utilize no more than about $60 million of those funds for housing stability programs that could include rental relief, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The move seemed to baffle some housing advocates in the state, given that inflation is at a 40-year high and squeezing the same low-income families that may be less likely to own their homes. 

Hutchinson, who joins Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in leaving money on the table, said the state had $6.7 million leftover from federal rent assistance in 2021, and “jobs aplenty” in the state to boost renters’ ability to pay, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

The federal funds for rent relief, distributed directly to state and local governments, has been mired by concerns of landlord resistance, bureaucratic headaches, and too-slow relief for renters.


— Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts in a letter vetoing the rent-relief funds

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Hutchinson also said his decision had been “mischaracterized as eliminating all forms of rental assistance,” emphasizing that the state had already distributed nearly $100 million in rental relief during the pandemic.

Other disagree with Hutchinson’s position on rent relief. “This decision is heartless,” Neil Sealy, a member of Arkansas Renters United, a community organization, and executive director of the Arkansas Community Institute, a grassroots group that helps low-income and working families to fight for social and economic justice, told KATV, an ABC affiliate in Little Rock. 

The current pool of federal funds is available through the second phase of the pandemic Emergency Rental Assistance program, which offered up to $25 billion for tenants after the passage of a $900 billion stimulus package in December 2020, and up to $21.55 billion under the American Rescue Plan Act last year.

‘We must guard against big government socialism where people are incentivized not to work but are instead encouraged to rely on government handouts well after an emergency is over.’

The money, which is distributed directly to state and local governments, has been fraught with controversy over concerns of landlord resistance, bureaucratic headaches, and too-slow relief for renters.

Some states also failed to use up their rental relief funds, and in January, the Treasury Department wound up reallocating unspent money from some governments with low disbursement rates to high-need states like California and New York, according to Politico. 

The fact that available rental relief remains unused was, in part, behind Ricketts’ decision to veto a rent-assistance bill that would have had Nebraska apply for $120 million in federal aid last month, according to WOWT, an NBC affiliate in Omaha. 

“We must guard against big government socialism where people are incentivized not to work but are instead encouraged to rely on government handouts well after an emergency is over,” Ricketts said in a veto letter published by the station. “We cannot justify asking for federal relief when Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate in the ‘nation and we are no longer in a state of emergency.” 

Still, many renters are suffering from sticker shock, as rents rise as the number of new COVID-19 cases recede after more than two years of the pandemic and the country’s economy has opened up once more.

What’s more, some might be unable to pay their housing costs in the coming months. Rent prices in Little Rock, Arkansas, have risen 16% since the start of the pandemic, according to a March report from Apartment List, while rents in neighboring state Tennessee cities like Clarksville have skyrocketed 42.4%. 

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