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Emergency rental assistance programs are ending in much of the Mountain West

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News brief: 

Emergency rental assistance programs have served tens of thousands of people and handed out hundreds of millions of dollars for things like rent and utility payments since they began during the pandemic. Now, many places in the Mountain West are no longer accepting applications because they’ve run out of funds.

Count Idaho and New Mexico among them, as well as Denver and most Colorado counties. Josh Watanabe works with Wyoming’s program and said a lot of people applied for aid in November before the state closed its portals.

“The cost of everything for folks is going up, and so folks who may not have needed this program when it started are trying to take advantage of it now,” he said. “In the winter, we need a little bit more help.”

Watanabe knows the program wasn’t meant to go on forever, but said it’s hard to replace money from the federal government.

“We're talking about, you know, tens of millions of dollars that were in the state's economy that were there for people who needed assistance in this past year,” he said. “Those dollars are now leaving, essentially.”

Utah and Clark County, Nevada also recently announced that they’ll stop accepting applications soon. In parts of the country where COVID-era relief funding has already run out, homelessness is beginning to surge. Watabe said he’s not sure if those same trends will play out in Wyoming or the rest of the region, but that the current affordable housing shortage is something that needs solving no matter what.

“When we look at it at an individual level, the fact that it (homelessness) exists is the worst part,” he said.

While losing federal funds is a major change, Watanabe reminds people that local and state agencies can often still help people who are short on rent, just through different application and funding methods.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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