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With billions in renter stimulus checks tied up in red tape, how do you get one?

·4-min read
With billions in renter stimulus checks tied up in red tape, how do you get one?
With billions in renter stimulus checks tied up in red tape, how do you get one?

As the pandemic continues to put a financial squeeze on many Americans, millions remain behind on their rent. Yet tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance, approved as part of federal COVID relief, is still available, according to new U.S. Treasury data.

Despite efforts to pick up the pace of distribution, only a fraction of the government's "renter stimulus checks" have found their way to people who need them, officials say. That's aid that could help tenants get caught up, take care of their bills and pay down debt.

The money may be hard to get, but it's not impossible, and officials say the process is improving. Meanwhile, a national ban on evictions was cut short in late August by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, deepening the state of emergency for many renters.

Tens of billions in rent relief is bogged down

Close-Up of the Lettering / Shutterstock

The two most recent COVID stimulus packages passed by Congress set aside a total of $46.6 billion to help renters pay overdue rent and utility costs. But only about $7.7 billion has been distributed so far — a mere 16.5% of the money, the Treasury revealed on Friday.

Still, aid reached more than 420,000 households in August — up from 340,000 during July, officials say.

While the funds are being provided by Washington, they’re being distributed through hundreds of programs at the state and local levels. And "many jurisdictions have more work to do to meet the urgent demand for this relief in their communities," the Treasury says in a news release.

With aid spread across many different housing authorities, each with their own resource and capacity constraints, renters in different places have not been receiving the same levels of service or responsiveness.

But you or someone you know tried to apply for emergency rental assistance and became frustrated by a drawn-out or confusing process, you should check back with the local housing authority. The Treasury says things are improving and that "many programs have proven an ability to accelerate aid effectively."

The holdups add to the challenges facing renters

Pink Eviction Notice Taped on Front Door.
Mega Pixel / Shutterstock

The stimulus aid available to renters can be sizable. In Illinois, eligible tenants and landlords can apply for one-time grants of up to $25,000 to pay off a maximum 15 months of rent missed between June 2020 and August 2021.

The program in Texas is covering unpaid rent and utilities going as far back as March 13, 2020, and can pay for up to two months of future rent and utilities. The relief for Texas renters caps out at $4,600 per month.

But as snags continue to hold up rental assistance in some parts of the country, things have gotten bleaker for tenants. After the Biden administration extended a national eviction moratorium to Oct. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the ban because Congress hadn't authorized it.

Anyone evicted in the coming months could have much more difficulty finding an affordable place to go, because rents are soaring.

Single-family rents are growing at the fastest pace in 16 1/2 years, according to new data from CoreLogic. Rents in July were up a stunning 8.5% from a year earlier, the research shows.

Make your own rent relief

Stressed-out young family
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

The administration is "continuing its call for states and localities to put measures in place ensuring no one is evicted before they have the chance to apply for rental assistance and to ensure no eviction moves forward until that application has been processed," the Treasury says.

As you wait for rent relief — or if you don't qualify, and need more help — here are a few ways to create some financial breathing room for yourself.

  • Eliminate debt. If your budget is stretched to the limit every month because of multiple high-interest debts, consider rolling them all into a single, lower-interest debt consolidation loan. You’ll pay less in interest and potentially wipe out your debt sooner.

  • Land a new job. The hiring boom taking place in the U.S. right now is an excellent opportunity to find a new, higher-paying job. If you’re happy where you’re at, but would like to generate a little more income through freelancing, there are plenty of people out there who will pay for your skills.

  • Cut costs when you shop. You can save when you shop online by downloading a free browser extension that will automatically scan thousands of retailers for lower prices — and keep you from overpaying.

  • Make money investing your pennies. Even if you're strapped for cash, it can be surprisingly easy to wring some income out of the stock market. A popular app lets you invest in a diversified portfolio using just your "spare change" from everyday purchases.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.

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