Application counselors to the rescue - rental aid at stake

Mike Moen
State News

FARGO. -- North Dakota is reaching out to those who have fallen behind on their rent due to the pandemic and may not know there's help.

Application counselors are seen as a bridge in getting funds to those who need it. Most of the $352 million the state received this year in federal emergency rental aid is still unclaimed.

Community Action Partnership of North Dakota says those eligible for emergency federal rental aid can get help with their application with a trained counselor in person or over the phone.

The nation's eviction moratorium expires July 31, creating concerns about a wave of people being forced from their homes.

Carmel Froemke, statewide outreach coordinator for the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota (CAP-ND), said her staff is getting new training to handle urgent cases, and those who still might see their situation worsen.

"We know that the effects of COVID aren't just going to go away. There's long-term effects of that," Froemke explained. "And so, we're hoping to be able to provide a more sustainable assistance over the course of time."

CAP-ND is contracted with the state through next February to carry out application assistance, with 30 counselors to provide one-on-one help from agency offices, to those unsure about navigating the online portal.

They can help vulnerable populations who don't have access or experience with technology. State officials say eligibility has been expanded to ensure program recipients have a less-rocky recovery from their hardship.

Eligibility was boosted to 80% of area median income, and a person can now receive rental aid for up to 12 months.

Andrea Olson, executive director of the Community Action Partnership of North Dakota, said it suggests part of the issue in reaching households is people who have never relied on aid programs before may now need it, but do not know they exist.

"They make just enough to survive," Olson explained. "But when there's something that happens like a global pandemic, they don't have sufficient savings to carry them through."

Froemke added once people get through the initial application stage, there is a lot of information to submit, including details from the landlord.

"Once the rent is approved, the landlord will be paid directly through a vendor service process," Froemke confirmed.

She added that is why counselors will follow up with applicants, so aid is not pulled back over a key detail. They can also assist if a recipient is renewed for more funds.

Nationwide, Census Pulse Survey data show more than 6 million households are behind on rent. It is estimated the updated North Dakota program could serve up to 25,000 households.

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