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Vermont has spent about half of its rental assistance funds

The Vermont State Housing Authority has doled out about half of the funds tied to the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
The Vermont State Housing Authority has doled out about half of the funds tied to the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Vermont has doled out more than $50 million in rental assistance to 8,437 households since April.

The $110 million program funded by federal coronavirus relief funds, and administered by the Vermont State Housing Authority, is meant to help tenants whose finances were hurt by the pandemic. But the rollout of the program hasn't been completely smooth. Advocates and people trying to secure aid have said it doesn't get money out fast enough.

VPR's Liam Elder-Connors recently spoke to Tyler Maas, special programs director at VSHA, to check in on the program. Their conversation has been edited for clarity.

Liam Elder-Connors: In the early days of the program, there was some criticism that it took too long to get people assistance. And some of that was people saying applications were getting stuck at the out-of-state call center and with some out-of-state contractors. Has there been anything done to address that backlog or those concerns?

Tyler Maas: Well, we have recently switched to a new vendor. It is another out-of-state vendor, but it is someone who has a lot of experience in implementing government programs. And so we've seen a lot of turnaround of applications quickly. You can see the numbers — we did over $8 million in assistance in just December alone. So that shows the steady progression up from where we were back in July, which is $5 million, $5.5 million in assistance. But we're feeling really good about this switch to Group O. And I have gotten a lot of good feedback from the community and also from our staff who was working directly with them.

More from VPR: Vermont Tenants Are Still Waiting For Assistance As The End Of Eviction Ban Draws Closer

Was the change to Group O due to issues with the previous contractor?

There was a lot of dissatisfaction in the community with the call center, like you mentioned. They were always very attentive to our needs and work with us, but I feel that they didn't have as much experience with running this type of program. So that's why we've made the switch.

So if I were to apply for assistance now, approximately how long would it take for that assistance to get to me?

The program requirement is 30 days for either an approval or denial. And there are certain marks along the way where we have to wait five days to reach out to a landlord to make sure we have all of their information correct. And then, you know, sending out letters and getting the correspondence back from the applicants. So everything comes within 30 days, whether that's an approval or denial. But we never fully deny; you're able to get back into your application if you provide the information that was needed to get yourself to an approval.

So if you are denied, there's an opportunity to apply again. And is that because most of the denials are because of bad paperwork? Or why is that exactly?

A lot of the denials are just timing out; we have a requirement to make a decision within 30 days. And we do see a lot of people come back 30 days after receiving the denial. Sometimes the letter sort of sparks people, "Oh, got to get on that, right?" Nobody likes filling out forms and that type of thing. But once they receive the denial, they don't actually have to reapply; they can just contact the call center or one of our staff and we can work to just make sure that their information is processed as quickly as possible to get the payment out.

How much money is left in the program?

Our initial grant was for $110 million. And we've used $48 million of that. So that puts us around $96 million, right talking big numbers here. So we're about halfway there, which is appropriate since the program is exactly halfway through. We started in April. And here we are in January, exactly nine months later and at the end of September. So halfway through the program, we spent half the money. So we feel like we were on pace to meet our goals for the program and spend all of the all the money.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Liam Elder-Connors @lseconnors

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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