Slightly over 8,300 households have received money from New York State’s rent relief program launched more than two months ago. The initial rollout was the slowest in the nation, according to a report by the state watchdog.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) is supposed to help low- and mid-income New Yorkers pay rent they missed because of financial strain during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns that have strangled the economy.
The state opened up the program on June 1 and by July 30 received over 168,000 applications. By Aug. 9, only 7,072 households were paid any money, according to the report released on Aug. 16 by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
By Aug. 16, total of 8,305 payments were made, an official with the responsible state agency, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), told The Epoch Times via email.
The state has more than $2.3 billion in federal funds available for the program. Bu Aug. 16, it has managed to pay out about $114 million, the official said, of which more than $61 million was sent out last week.
In the first month after launch, the state made no payments, the only state in the union that has failed to do so, the Comptroller report said, noting that even some New York counties that have launched their own rent relief programs worked faster and managed to push out the money at least to some people in June.
In an emailed statement, OTDA called the report “sensationalized” and blamed delays on the state budget process. It pointed out that 38,000 applications for rent relief have already been “provisionally approved” and additional nearly $525 million have already been “obligated” to applicants.
“While we will review the Comptroller’s findings and are always searching for ways to improve this program, we are dismayed that this report does not accurately reflect the stabilizing impact the program is having for renters and landlords alike,” the statement said. “Likewise, this report doesn’t touch upon the fact that the ERAP program was tethered to the state budget process, which achieved critical tenant protections, but significantly delayed its launch.”
The budget was approved on April 7.
The state announced on July 26 that it was streamlining the program, cutting documentation required for applications, and bringing in 350 volunteer reviewers from other state agencies. It pledged to catch up on payments to all pending verified applicants by the end of August.
New Yorkers late on rent payments can apply as long as they earn less than 80 percent of the median income in their area and saw their income drop, expenses go up, or ended up on unemployment benefits due to the pandemic since March 13, 2020.
The state would pay up to $15,000 for late rent and utility bills. If rent makes up more than 35 percent of the household income, the program would also pay up to three months of future rent.
In New York City, the Area Median Income reaches over $95,000 for a family of four.
Over 300,000 New York State households reported being late on rent in June, according to Census Bureau surveys cited by the report. The state has an eviction moratorium in place, preventing landlords from evicting tenants who don’t pay.
New York’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic lockdowns. New York City’s unemployment rate jumped from 3.6 percent in January 2020 to 20 percent in May that year, then dropping to 10.6 percent in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Statewide, the rate hit a 16.2 percent high in April and dropped to 7.7 percent by June.
Update: The Article has been updated with information from the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.