Caseworker relays difficulties in finding people needing rental assistance

Jessica Robinson

One-hundred eighty million dollars is available for eligible Wyoming renters struggling to make rent, internet and utility payments due to COVID-19. However, Carol Lowe, a caseworker helping with Emergency Rental Assistance Program, said it’s been difficult getting the money distributed.

Lowe said there is no database where it lists where people are struggling to pay their rent. She has no names and addresses along with no list of renters. She said there is nothing where people can say they are having trouble and needing help paying rent.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program is a community-based program. Lowe explained each county has one and C.A.R.E.S. is the one designated for Big Horn County. Lowe worked for C.A.R.E.S. since 1989 and retired about a year and a half ago.

The BHC Commission was awarded the funds for this program this year and wanted C.A.R.E.S. to administer the funds. Lowe explained that certain federal checks and training are required. Leslie Hoffman, the director of C.A.R.E.S., had contacted Lowe due to her still having her checks. With the funds only available for nine months, there was not enough time to train someone.

“I could hit the ground running,” said Lowe.

They have until the end of this year to distribute the funds for this program. Lowe does not know if the program will be extended and said they need to get to renters and landlords.

There are four criteria involved in order to be eligible for emergency rental assistance: 1) The applicants must rent a home in Wyoming or have unpaid rent on a previous Wyoming residence. 2) Household income is equal to or less than 80 percent of the area median income. 3) The applicant has qualified for unemployment benefits or can show financial loss due to COVID-19. 4) A person is at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

Past, current and future unpaid bills can be covered. Eligible expenses that are covered include unpaid current and future rent and utility payments up to three months at a time. Unpaid past due rent and utility services incurred after March 13, 2020 are also eligible. Previous residences are included.

Other eligible expenses that may be included are reasonable relocation expenses, security deposits and reasonable late fees. Those costs are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Ineligible expenses include mortgage payments, maintenance costs, home security, landscaping and lawn care, homeowners association fees and commercial leases.

Utility costs that are eligible are electricity, energy costs (fuel, oil, propane), water and sewer, and internet service (up to $50 per month). Cable and telephone is not eligible.

The program can directly pay landlords unpaid rent for qualified renters. They are asked to fill out an application and provide information that includes the renter’s email address, a signed copy of the lease, government issued photo identification, and any eviction notice documentation.

Landlords are also encouraged to share the information about the program with their renters.

Lowe encourages anyone who is or knows anyone that is struggling to pay his or her rent to contact her at 307-568-3983. Their hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday. Lowe said if she is not there, there will be someone to take information and relay it to her.