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Florida has distributed only 2% of funds to help renters

File photo
File photo

TAMPA, Fla. – The state of Florida has distributed only 2% of the $870 million in federal funds it has received so far to keep renters in their homes during the pandemic by paying their landlords, even though a nationwide eviction moratorium is ending on Sunday.

Housing advocates fear the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium could result in hundreds of thousands of Florida renters being evicted in the coming weeks, forcing some to become homeless just as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading.

Congress passed two rounds of rental assistance totaling about $46.5 billion, with state and local governments given the responsibilities for sifting through applications and distributing the money.

As of Friday, Florida's Department of Children and Families, which is overseeing the program, had distributed only $18.3 million to about 4,300 applicants, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Agency spokeswoman Mallory McManus told the Times that it has received more than 30,000 applications, and most that haven’t been approved “are awaiting action by the tenant to provide additional information or documentation.”

Critics said people who need the money that has been set aside to help them aren't getting it quickly enough.

“It’s pretty terrifying and highly concerning. I don’t think there’s a quick fix,” said Rajni Shankar-Brown, professor of social justice education at Stetson University and the vice president for the National Coalition for the Homeless.

One reason the distribution of funds has been so slow is an online application process that requires landlords to create a new account and re-apply for every tenant if they’re applying on behalf of multiple people, said Kody Glazer, legal director of the Florida Housing Coalition.

People without computer also may have trouble applying online.

“At this point we need a big ground game, knocking on doors of people getting evicted, getting money out like it’s an emergency management problem,” Glazer said.

Florida is not alone in its slow distribution. Nationally, only about 6.5 percent of the approximately $46.5 billion set aside for the program, or 12% of its initial stage of funding, had been distributed by the end of June, according to a recent report by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The moratorium, put in place by the CDC in September to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, is credited with keeping 2 million people in their homes over the past year as the pandemic battered the economy, according to the Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. Eviction moratoriums will remain in place in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, California and Washington, D.C., until they expire later this year.