PINEDALE – The economic fallout from COVID-19 affected every American. Unemployment, reduced hours, loss of benefits and rising prices left people struggling to pay for basic needs, including housing.
The federal government’s latest COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, created a fund called the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP. Money is allocated through ERAP to each state to help individuals and families cover unpaid or upcoming rent and utility bills.
The Wyoming Department of Family Services (DFS) administers ERAP funds in the state. A small portion of the money was allocated to a local community-based organization to help people with the application process.
Sublette County designated the Sexual Assault and Family Violence Task Force, or SAFV, to serve as the community’s outreach organization. SAFV’s primary task is to guide people through the online application process, answer questions and point people to resources, explained Robin Clover, SAFV executive director.
Wyoming received $180 million in ERAP funds, according to the Wyoming DFS website.
People can be affected directly or indirectly by COVID-19 to receive assistance, Clover stated. Direct consequences include loss of a job and income due to COVID-19, Clover explained.
Indirect consequences can include people who still have jobs but are struggling to pay for higher costs in fuel or medical care, Clover added. Additional examples Clover included were employed people who had their hours cut, took time off to care for a sick family member or lost their benefits.
ERAP funds are available for any eligible resident in Sublette County.
“SAFV is doing this for all residents in our county, not just our clients,” Clover said.
Individuals and families can apply for up to three months' worth of rent, Clover said. The application may be resubmitted up to five times.
“This money is designed to be able to cover up to 15 months in rent,” she said. “That’s big, because usually one-time help doesn’t get a person out of their crisis.”
Applications for utilities, on the other hand, must be filled out each month in order to provide an updated bill, Clover explained.
To qualify for ERAP funds, applicants must meet certain income requirements. ERAP based eligibility on the median income in each county to include people making significantly more than the federal poverty threshold.
An individual in Sublette County can make up to $52,300 annually to qualify for assistance, the Wyoming DFS states. The income level increases with each additional household member. A family of four can receive funds if they make less than $76,650 annually.
A lease or a written contract and arrangement with a landlord are required, said Clover, because the funds are typically distributed to the landlord or property manager. Month-to-month leases and long-term stays in a hotel may count for ERAP funds, Clover said.
Individuals and families are required to fill out ERAP applications online at www.dfs.wyo.gov/erap. A full list of required documents and additional information is available on the website.
Receiving ERAP funds can take time, Clover said.
“SAFV wants to encourage everybody not to give up hope,” she added. “It’s not a quick process.”
SAFV staff members are available to provide assistance at the task force’s Pinedale office on 253 N. Sublette Ave., Monday through Thursday, from 5 to 6 p.m.
People can also call SAFV at 307-367-6305 to set up an appointment.
A hotline was also established to provide guidance at 1-877-WYO-ERAP.
Approximately 3,000 people in Wyoming have applied for ERAP assistance as of June 11, according to Wyoming DFS. Clover hoped more people in Sublette County will apply.
“I’m concerned that so few people have reached out for help. The $180 million needs to be spent by the end of December. Come get help. There’s enough to go around for everybody.”