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Wyoming DFS awarding $3 million per month in emergency rental assistance

A woman and her roommate are outside their dilapidated house in the winter, with their belongings on the ground.
Jeff Victor
Wyoming Public Radio
Meg Foley and her roommate take a break from moving out during their eviction from a Laramie rental in March 2020.

Wyoming's Department of Family Services (DFS) is now awarding about $3 million a month through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The program is part of a $25 billion rental assistance program passed by Congress in late 2020. It helps renters struggling financially amid the pandemic.

Now a new version of the program, with less restrictive qualifications, is helping DFS dole out the money faster. But it might not be fast enough to keep the federal government from taking back a significant portion and regifting it to other states.

Department of Family Services Director Korin Schmidt said the federal government will start "clawing back" the money at the end of the month.

"What we need now is time," she said. "The program is up and running. We're not going to spend it at the rate of some other states but we will spend the whole amount if we are given the time to spend it."

Since May, the program has awarded about $24 million, mainly to landlords on behalf of tenants.

The state was originally awarded $180 million through what is called ERA 1, which was launched in the final days of the Trump Administration. But the guidelines for who did and did not qualify for rental assistance under that program were restrictive.

In particular, renters had to prove that their financial hardship was directly related to the coronavirus pandemic. Schmidt said that's difficult to do in a state that chose not to shut down.

"ERA 1 required that the financial difficulties be the result of something related to COVID," Schmidt said. "In Wyoming, that's a little bit tricky because we really didn't respond to the pandemic in ways that other states did by completely shutting down."

So, the state has returned a lot of that money to the federal government, and is now using funds from what is called ERA 2.

The total amount from this second program is $152 million. It's less restrictive and can be awarded more easily, which has helped the DFS give out more awards and to disperse the funds more quickly.

But still the feds could take back up to $90 million dollars that Schmidt said Wyoming is more than capable of spending. Without updated guidelines for reallocation, Wyoming could lose access to a majority of the $152 million set aside for it.

The DFS-run Emergency Rental Assistance Program today is completely distinct from the earlier Wyoming Community Development Authority (WCDA)-run housing assistance program of 2020.

The DFS program now awards more rental assistance every month than the WCDA program did during its whole existence.

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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