DeLand, FL - The new COVID-19 stimulus bill passed last month includes $25 billion for emergency rental assistance. Volusia County has been told that its share will be $16.7 million. During Tuesday's (January 18) meeting, the Volusia County Council gave its approval to the county’s Community Services staff to launch the grant program once the money is received.
Also in this stimulus package, eviction protection has been extended until January 31. The package raises SNAP benefits by 15% for six months but does not expand eligibility.
Close to 8,000 applications for rent and mortgage assistance were approved using funds from the $27.5 million provided by the first stimulus bill. The deadline was December 30, 2020, and applications are still being processed according to Community Services Director Dona Butler.
While the program was approved, the Council also authorized the hiring of up to 15 temporary county employees to help manage the program and process the rental assistance applications. The positions are program manager, two supervisors, nine caseworkers, two accounting specialists, and one staff assistant. They will be paid from grant funds.
The program targets people earning at or below 80% of the area median income, or AMI, with preference given to those at 50% or below the AMI.
The qualifications to be eligible include that one or more members of a household must have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due either directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak. Additionally, one or more people in the household must be able to demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability. Landlords will be able to apply on behalf of their tenants who meet the eligibility requirements as long as the tenant co-signs the application.
Community Services Director Dona Butler told council members that underemployment can be a critical challenge for many. “That can make a big difference,” said Butler. “You might not have lost your job entirely, but you may have had your hours cut in half or you relocated to another job that just doesn’t pay you what you were being paid before.”
The grant funds will also provide financial help for utilities and home energy costs or other expenses related to housing. Households will be able to receive up to a year of assistance but must be re-certified every three months to continue receiving assistance.
It's expected that the program will be up and running on March 1. The information on how and where to apply and the required documentation will be available once the program is ready to receive applications. To make things easier for applicants, the County is going to produce a training video with details on how to submit an online application.
“It’s going to be challenging because there’s going to be a lot of folks that want assistance,” said Butler.