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Wyoming Rental Assistance Program Awards Just 10% Of Original CARES Funds

Robert Kaufmann, https://nara.getarchive.net/

A state program designed to help Wyoming tenants pay rent through the pandemic dispersed just a tenth of its original allotment; the rest of that money was redirected to other areas, such as oil and gas.The Wyoming Emergency Housing Assistance Program was supported by $15 million of CARES Act funding, and was meant to help rental tenants or mortgage holders make monthly payments throughout the pandemic.

For many applicants, the program did just that. But after six months, the program has awarded little more than $1.5 million - about a tenth of that original $15 million.

Scott Hoversland runs the Wyoming Community Development Authority, a quasi-governmental organization that oversaw the housing assistance program. Hoversland said that million-and-a-half accurately represents the need faced by Wyoming renters.

"Hopefully we've covered where all those places need it," Hoversland said. "And I don't think it's a failure. For those that had the need and applied, hopefully it's worked just exactly as we hoped it would."

To qualify for the assistance, applicants had to show that they were struggling specifically because of the pandemic. They also had to meet copay requirements, and have a household income below a certain threshold. Occasionally, Hoversland said, the $600 employment assistance checks people received early in the pandemic could push someone out of eligibility.

There were other parameters set by the initial legislation. The rental assistance, which was paid directly to landlords or lenders, could only be applied to upcoming or missed payments, meaning that a tenant who had scraped together just enough for rent by making other sacrifices could not be reimbursed, but tenants who had not paid rent could be.

The program rejected about one-third of all the applications it received for failing to meet these requirements or parameters.

Applications are now closed and it looks like the program will have made about 2,000 payments by year's end. But Nate Martin of Better Wyoming said the need felt by Wyoming tenants is surely greater than that.

"It seems to indicate to me that they're not finding the need, and that doesn't mean that the need doesn't exist," Martin said. "If you've got two eyes, you can look around and see that people are struggling right now. It just seems to me clear that the program was designed in such a way that it didn't help a lot of people."

The Development Authority has returned $12.5 million of its original $15 million to the state's pool of CARES funding. Gov. Mark Gordon reallocated that money to other initiatives, such as the Energy Rebound program.

That program - another backed initially by $15 million - eventually gave a total of $30 million to oil and gas companies so they could finish projects delayed by COVID.

Martin said the Energy Rebound Program, which was designed in the hopes of employing workers through December, is not a bad idea. But there's a troubling disparity, he said, between the rental program's final $1.5 million figure and Energy Rebound's $30 million figure.

"It's very characteristic of the Wyoming state government to support an oil company over a struggling single mother," Martin said. "Job assistance - I think that's a perfectly fine use for (CARES funding), but at the same time, to turn around and say that nobody needed the rental assistance because they didn't fit the tiny narrow set of parameters is pretty problematic."

Scott Hoversland said some of the applicants were introduced to other state assistance programs, depending on their individual circumstances.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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