State opens rental aid program to Utahns receiving jobless benefits

(Damian Dovarganes | AP file photo) In this April 1, 2020, file photo, a paper envelope written with the words "Rent Money $" is left tucked in a lighting pole in the Boyle Heights east district of the city of Los Angeles. In Utah, the state has opened a rental aid program to people receiving unemployment benefits.

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Utahns who receive unemployment benefits are now eligible to receive rental assistance from the pandemic housing assistance program, the Utah Department of Workforce services said Wednesday.

“We continue to adjust the housing assistance program as the landscape of the pandemic changes,” Jess Peterson, state housing programs manager at the Housing and Community Development Division, said in a news release. “Our goal is to help people stay in their homes and maintain the stability of their families during these hard times.”

The announcement comes as a response to the expiration of the additional $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit program at the end of July. Previously, individuals who received unemployment benefits were not eligible to receive rent assistance from the pandemic housing program.

Renters can receive up to $2,000 a month from the program to pay for rent and utilities. The program helps renters whose income has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and have a household income at or below the median income in their area.

The Utah Legislature approved using federal funds from the CARES Act for housing assistance and assigned the Utah Housing and Community Development Division to administer the funds throughout the state using local nonprofit agencies.

Since launching in May, the program has assisted 285 Utah households to stay in their homes with a total of $383,103 being distributed in rent and rent-related payments, according to the division.

On Tuesday, the White House and House Democratic leaders agreed to try to finalize a deal to address unemployment benefits and eviction restrictions by the end of the week. The GOP drafted a $1 trillion-plus relief bill, but negotiations have slowed because of debates over aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases and assistance to renters and homeowners.

Lawmakers initially planned to phase out the additional $600 stipend under the assumption that coronavirus infections would decline, but case numbers are still high around the nation with 51,185 new cases reported in the United States on Wednesday. COVID has killed more than 158,000 Americans to date.

To learn more about eligibility and where to apply, renters should call 2-1-1 to find their local agency. The news release notes that callers should be aware that there may be wait times, or that they may need to leave a voicemail message so that staff can call them back.