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Mississippi to return money from federal rental assistance program, even though renters and advocates say need remains

In a few days, Mississippi will end its participation in the federal pandemic rental assistance program that has kept those facing eviction in their homes during the past two years of economic turmoil.

The state still has $130 million in federal cash to run the program, but Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, said earlier this month that next Monday would be the last day to apply for help. After Mississippi finishes processing the remaining claims, it will return any remaining money to the US Treasury, which oversees spending.

The end of the program comes as rental prices in Mississippi have skyrocketed and a large percentage of those behind on rent or mortgage said they could lose their homes in the next two months, according to census data. USA

The Mississippians Rental Assistance Program, or RAMP, provided up to 15 months of assistance with rent and utility bills for people in need. It was funded by two Covid-19 economic bills passed by Congress in 2020 and 2021, which provided billions of dollars in rent relief to states to manage those economically disadvantaged by the pandemic.

Although unemployment continues to fall in Mississippi and most program participants are employed, Reeves said RAMP discourages work.

“This program has essentially become: If for any reason you can’t pay your rent or your utility bill, the taxpayers will pay it for you,” Reeves said in a statement earlier this month. “Mississippi will continue to say no to those kinds of liberal subsidies that encourage people to stay out of the workforce. Instead, we are going to say yes to conservative principles and policies that put more people to work.”

Reeves’ decision affects Mississippi as the country experiences rising housing costs and reduced economic protections. Nationwide, median home listing prices increased 16.6% in July from a year ago, and rents increased 14.1% in June 2020 from June 2021, Realtor.com reports.

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Jacob Leibenluft, director of collections for the US Treasury, said programs like RAMP, which is part of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, have helped keep evictions below historical averages.

He said the Treasury Department continued to strongly urge states to use the funds to serve renters, noting that more than 6.5 million payments were made to renters facing eviction in June. Even if the states return the money, he said it will still go to housing.

“As we have done elsewhere in cases where funds are not used by the original recipient,” Leibenluft said, “we will continue to reallocate available funds where possible, prioritizing keeping funds in state where there is exceptional need.”

Housing rights advocates and Mississippi program participants said the problem in their state isn’t finding work, as Reeves said, but finding wages that can pay for the rising cost. of vida. RAMP ha sido de gran ayuda para llenar el vacío, aunque a menudo ha tardado meses en llegar.

Teresa Walker, 45, a hairstylist in Jackson, said the pandemic has caused her to lose many clients. Although business has improved, it is still difficult to pay his rent of $935. She applied for the program, as well as jobs at Target and Walmart to help pay off the roughly $4,000 she owes the owner.

Because the process is so slow, he hasn’t heard from her since she applied three months ago, and her bills are piling up.

“Do not care. They just don’t care,” Walker said. “The number of applications they receive shows that there is a need, and what do they suggest that people like me do not work? That’s a slap. It is very insulting and demeaning. Not only are you not sensitive to needs and understand them.

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Data from the Mississippi Home Corporation, which operates RAMP, shows the state was still processing nearly 17,000 applications as of July 31.

Rivers Orman, a spokesman for the state agency dedicated to expanding access to low- and moderate-income housing, said in an email that “they have served more than 36,000 households and have distributed more than $200 million in funds to help those most affected.” by the COVID-19 Pandemic” since June 2021.

Because they’re still processing so many applications, Orman couldn’t say how much of the $130 million will be returned to the US Treasury, but since Reeve’s announcement, “they’ve seen an increase in new applications and recertifications.”

The typical candidate in Mississippi was black and female, according to data from the Home Corps. Less than a third of applicants were unemployed, but almost 70% earned less than the median income of the region where they lived.

A coalition of nonprofits that helps people apply for the program said it was difficult to access, especially in a state struggling with high illiteracy rates and poor broadband availability.

Jeremiah Smith, who runs 662 Tenants Union in a small Delta town, said he knows many tenants who have backed out of the process because it takes months to get a response, and the Mississippi Home Corporation is often hard to reach.

“The program was discontinued from the beginning,” said Smith, who has helped dozens of renters apply.

Paheadra Robinson, who runs the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative in Jackson, said her group traveled around the state to run clinics for those who needed help applying for the program.

She said they should bring computers and help people sign up for email accounts for the first time. More clinics are planned over the next month but will have to be canceled due to Reeve’s decision, she said.

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“Many of these people were able to afford where they lived before this explosion of rent increases, and now this increase is causing families huge financial problems,” Robinson said. “It’s just unaffordable for a lot of people, and I don’t think the leaders of this state have given it due consideration.”

Other states with Republican governors, such as Nebraska and Arkansas, have previously rejected federal funds that would help residents pay for housing and utilities.

Government Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas rejected hundreds of millions of dollars supposedly going to their states, saying they were protecting residents from socialist programs they didn’t need.

“We need to guard against big government socialism where people are incentivized not to work, but encouraged to rely on government handouts long after an emergency is over,” Ricketts said in March. “We cannot justify asking for federal assistance when Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation and we are no longer in a state of emergency.”

But nonprofits in those states have told a different story since governors rejected federal aid in the spring.

Together Omaha, which handled the rental assistance application process for the state, has struggled to provide rental assistance ever since, said Executive Director Mike Hornacek.

“In general, we are all living through the perfect storm that has concerned all of us in the nonprofit sector, which is that the need continues at the level that it reached during the pandemic and the funding disappears,” he said.

“Unfortunately, in some cases like ours in Nebraska, some leaders just don’t seem to understand that it’s not that simple for people to get back to work.”

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