More seeking rental aid

CASPER —Average weekly applications to Wyoming’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program have more than doubled this fall and winter compared to the summer, according to data from the Department of Family Services. 

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), funded through the federal CARES Act, was created to help Americans struggling to pay rent and utilities because of the pandemic. In Wyoming, the Department of Family Services works with county organizations to get ERAP money in the hands of renters, tenants and landlords. 

From the end of April through July, the Equality State received an average of about 360 applications a week, said Kristie Arneson, a DFS administrator. 

But from the end of October into mid-January, there has been an average of about 840 applications per week. 

There’s plenty of cash to go around. As of Jan. 20, Wyoming has doled out $17 million in ERAP money. That’s out of a pot of about $350 million. (Some of that money, however, will be reallocated to other rental assistance programs around the country.) 

The challenge is keeping up with demand. 

ERAP is less than a year old, Arneson said, and the program is still finding its footing. 

“Originally, we weren’t sure what we would see as the program went on — if it would plateau, or the volume would decrease,” she said. “And I think it has increased in a way that we probably hadn’t anticipated.” 

More people applying for ERAP means cases take a bit longer to process, Arneson said. To address this, Wyoming will soon have two more ERAP case managers. (They’ll be employed by Deloitte, whom DFS hired to help manage the program, Arneson said. A request for the current number of case managers was not returned in time for publication.) 

The department is also working out kinks in a separate application track for people who are homeless, according to a Jan. 20 news release. 

Federal guidelines require Americans to have some sort of lease to receive ERAP money. Initially, that left out those experiencing homelessness. 

In October, the department introduced a way to help pre-approve homeless applicants for the program. Once approved, those applicants are provided “letters of intent” that they can show prospective landlords to prove they qualify for ERAP.

Arneson said that part of the program has been largely “successful” so far, though DFS is working out some technical difficulties with the application process. The department doesn’t yet have solid data on how many people have applied for or received letters of intent.