A new program to assist Wichitans with back-rent and overdue utility payments will soon be a reality.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will assist eligible individuals in three-month increments, for a maximum of 12 months. Wichita Housing Director Sally Stang said she expects the city to receive at least $12 million in federal funds as part of the economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in December.

In order to qualify for the program, individuals must have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples of this include job loss, work-hourly reduction, reduction in tips, additional childcare due to remote learning, and medical expenses.

As for back-rent, Stang said in order to qualify an individual must be in rental arrears and have received a late-notice – not necessarily an eviction-notice, but a demand-to-pay. Rental arrears is considered to be when one or more payments have been missed where regular payments are contractually required.

During a Jan. 14 press conference, Stang said the rollout of the plan is still very much in the works.

“We’re really looking to collaborate with many of our partners in the community,” Stang said. “We’ve reached out to United Way 211, and Workforce Allegiance. We’re trying to get into the courthouse, we’re having conversations with Kansas Legal Services, and our neighborhood resource centers, so we can make sure that people who are eligible for this program know about it, and assist them to apply.”

Stang referred to the program as a “work-in-progress,” but that they’re working to get money out quickly.

“We are strategizing at the moment with our IT Departments to develop an online application,” she said. “And with our finance department to set up the systems that are necessary to make these payments, and to be able to make them quickly.

Stang noted that local jurisdictions can have their funds recaptured on the final day of the fiscal year (Sept. 30) if they’re not utilizing them.

“And then they [unused funds] are to be redistributed to jurisdictions that are using them,” she said. “If we can master this, and get as much of this resource out in the community, there is absolutely a chance we could get more [funding].”

Summed up Stang: “So we’re very excited. It is a project we are working on every single day, but we can’t wait to start helping families get out of this cycle.”

Editor’s note: Money for the program is being administered to each state by the U.S. Department of Treasury, with the amount dependent on population. Kansas will receive a baseline amount of $200 million. Additionally, legislation passed on Dec. 27 provides 45% of that allocation be made available to local governments with a population of 200,000 or greater. In Kansas, that represents only three local governments — Johnson County, Sedgwick County, and the City of Wichita.

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