LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas is easing rules for its rental relief program to prioritize the funds for tenants at immediate risk of being evicted after little of the state's share of the federal money has been spent so far.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday announced the changes to the Arkansas Rent Relief Program after asking the state Department of Human Services to review its processes surrounding the program.
Arkansas set aside $173 million in federal funds for the program for people who have lost jobs or are struggling financially because of the pandemic. So far, though, only $9.8 million in assistance has been paid out.
DHS said nearly 2,800 applicants are at immediate risk of eviction and 51 percent of those will be prioritized under the changes. The remainder have been paid or are expected to be paid by next week.
The other changes will also allow funds to be paid to eligible tenant applicants if a landlord does not submit the required information within 10 days. DHS said the contractor handling the program is also adding 70 staffers to handle calls and process cases, and a new case management team has been added to focus on previously submitted applications where the landlord did not submit the required information.
Arkansas is among five states that Congress last week urged to speed up distribution of the rental aid funds. Hutchinson, however, noted that if the state approved all of the pending applications it would still only spend less than $40 million of the relief fund and said it's unlikely all of the money would be spent.
“We want to provide this rental assistance, but that's a lot of money that's in the pot right now," he said.
A tenants' advocacy group said more action was needed to help renters, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed evictions to resume nationwide.
“The new guidelines put forth by Governor Hutchinson are a good start, but we are urging him and others in charge to take stronger and more immediate action to protect Arkansas renters," Arkansas Renters United said in a news release.