Apartments in Downtown Albuquerque (Marisa Demarco / Source NM)
A state agency tasked with spending $170 million in rental and utility funds has met its deadline for getting some of that assistance out the door, preventing the money from being clawed back by the federal government, according to a spokesperson.
The state was required to either distribute or approve the spending of 65% of that money by Sept. 30 or risk the remainder being returned to federal coffers.
As of Sept. 30, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program had spent about $50 million — or about 30% — of the money it received in late March. That money arrived in 20,220 payments to about 13,000 households — about $2,470 per payment.
But spokesperson Henry Valdez said at least 35% more of that money has been “obligated” but not yet spent, which means the state has met the federal requirement. That often means a landlord has been approved to receive money but is waiting for a check to be cut. Other funds that are obligated but not yet spent will be directed to utility companies that accept large payments from the program on behalf of tenants who are unable to pay their utility bills.
The program typically pays landlords on behalf of tenants for up to 12 months of owed back rent and three months of future rent, plus the same for utilities. Tenants can get the money if they earn less than a certain amount and if they can show the pandemic cost them financially. (In Bernalillo County, the income limit is $55,300 for a household of four.)
Valdez said the exact amount of obligated funds is still being calculated, though that number will be released in the coming days, he said.
He also said the state would soon announce a “new phase” of the program that will “assist even more New Mexicans with rent and utility assistance.”
Some organizers who help tenants get the assistance said the application was difficult and misleading, especially for those who speak Spanish. They worried those barriers would make the state miss its deadline.
The state had obligated 46% of the funds 30 days ago, Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Debbie Romero told lawmakers Sept. 1.
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