ELK COUNTY--The Elk County Commissioners have provided an update on the current applications processed by Northern Tier under the ERAP (Emergency Rental Assistance Program) created last year with Federal Funding under the COVID-19 CARES Act.
Under ERAP, either landlords or tenants can apply for assistance, and the money can be used for items such as utilities and homeschooling costs as well as rent. There’s also no dollar amount cap on the monthly aid, which can be provided for up to a year. Applicants for the program should not contact Northern Tier Directly but fill out the application through the PA COMPASS website. Those with questions about the program are directed to the COMPASS website at compass.state.pa.us/Compass.Web/RAP/FAQ.
ERAP can cover “expenses including rent, rent arrears, rental costs for trailers and trailer lots, and may include long-term housing in hotels, motels, and boarding homes,” according to the Pa. Department of Human Services. Utilities may also be accounted for, including “electricity, gas, water, sewer, trash removal, and energy costs.” Other expenses covered under the program include relocation expenses, rental fees, reasonable late fees, internet services for work, homeschooling, or telemedicine.
Pennsylvania’s previous rent relief program required that landlords and renters apply together, but under ERAP, either landlords or renters can apply. When a landlord applies, they must have the renter’s signature. Eligible households must have an income lower than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI varies by county. For Elk County, the AMI's are: for one person $37,450, two-persons $42,800, three-persons $48,150, four-persons $53,500, five-persons $57,800, six-persons $62,100, seven persons $66,350 and eight persons. $70,650.
Another qualification for the program is that one or more people in the household must have had a decrease in income, had increased household costs, qualified for unemployment benefits, or experienced other financial hardship, either directly or indirectly, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For applicants already listed on the COMPASS website, the process will be fairly simple. For new applicants, the ERAP application will require identification information for the head of the household, including a driver’s license, state-issued ID card, or passport. ERAP applicants will need income information for all household members over the age of 18, a copy of their current lease, and a bill to show the amount of rent owed. Applicants will also need to provide their landlord’s contact information, along with utility expenses and provider information.
So far, for the Elk County portion of the ERAP program, 42 applications have been approved, with 31 still pending and waiting on more information from landlords or tenants, and 27 have been denied. Much as with the Pennsylvania Department of Unemployment, applications are being received via the internet from areas outside of Elk County in an effort to "scam" small local agencies into giving assistance to people who do not qualify and have no connection to the region. In total, 27 applications have been rejected by Northern Tier for accounts that applied but did not qualify. The Elk County Commissioners handing over management of the ERAP program to Northern Tier, a local organization headquartered in Cameron County instead of an outside accounting firm, has already resulted in savings due to low cost and area knowledge being used to weed out the bad applications. Currently, there is no dollar amount on how much has already been allocated to residents, with a briefing expected near the First of August for the ending of the fiscal year.