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Human Services Department, Sen. Costa and County Officials Urge Families and Landlords in Southwest Pennsylvania to Apply for Rental and Utility Assistance

04/13/2021

Harrisburg, PA - Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller today joined Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and county officials from southwest Pennsylvania to encourage individuals and families who pay rent and are at risk of eviction or loss of utility service to apply for help through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which launched in March. A total of $847 million has been distributed among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to help thousands of families maintain their housing and utility services and to sustain an industry hit hard by the economic downturn.

Residential tenants can apply for rent and utility assistance through ERAP on their own behalf. If determined eligible, residential tenants can receive assistance through ERAP regardless of a landlord’s level of cooperation in the process. Likewise, landlords can apply for assistance on behalf of tenants and receive rental assistance directly if the tenant is eligible.

“This program has the potential to stabilize the lives of millions of Pennsylvanians in vulnerable housing situations. While $847 million is a lot of money that can help a lot of people, it is first-come, first-served. I encourage Pennsylvanians who need assistance to avoid eviction or utility shutoffs to please apply for help through ERAP today, and I encourage landlords to do so on behalf of their eligible tenants,” Secretary Miller said. “The people who have borne the brunt of this pandemic deserve to see a light at the end of this tunnel.”

With federal funds allocated through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the Wolf Administration built the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) in partnership with the General Assembly through Act 1 of 2021 to distribute about $569 million to Pennsylvania households through partnerships with local leaders. An additional $278 million in rental assistance was directly allocated to Pennsylvania’s largest counties by the federal government.

“In the past year, folks in my district and across the state have had many worries: worries about their health, their jobs, schooling for their children. No one should have to worry about losing their home on top of that,” Sen. Costa, Senate Democratic Leader, said. “Funding for the ERAP program is going to restore housing security to many people in the southwest and I was proud to advocate for it in the General Assembly along with my colleagues here today.”

About two-thirds of Pennsylvania counties have partnered with DHS to make ERAP applications available to their residents online at www.compass.state.pa.us, including Beaver County.

“The Community Development Program of Beaver County has seen firsthand the stress that housing insecurity puts onto renters that are struggling to make ends meet after suffering a loss of income or reduction in their household incomes due to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Marlene Landrum, direct of the Community Development Program of Beaver County. “The Emergency Rental Assistance Program will go a long way toward mitigating these effects and erecting a housing safety net under these vulnerable families as we all move forward into our post-COVID lives.”

In addition to Beaver County, other counties in southwest Pennsylvania using the COMPASS application include Armstrong, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence and Somerset.

“We are pleased to have the financial resources through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to assist families impacted by COVID-19 in Bedford, Fulton and Huntingdon counties. These funds will help families maintain stable housing through the pandemic,” said Wendy Melius, executive director of Center for Community Action, which is administering ERAP for residents of Bedford, Fulton and Huntingdon counties. “The application process offered through the Department of Human Services COMPASS system has made it easy for our participants to access and for case managers to process. The program itself is easy to navigate, thus reducing stress on applicants. The online application is also an added benefit to rural areas where transportation is a barrier to participants.” 

Twenty-two counties – including Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland counties in southwest Pennsylvania -- have opted to accept applications from county residents through their own application process. However, residents of all counties can visit COMPASS for information on how to apply for ERAP, including residents of counties that have developed their own process. If a person tries to apply through COMPASS but indicates that they reside in one of the 22 counties with its own application, they will be provided with information about how to apply, including a link to the county application if available.

In Allegheny County, residents can visit https://covidrentrelief.alleghenycounty.us to fill out the application online. The county has enlisted the aid of the non-profit ACTION-Housing to review the applications, and they, along with other partners, are also staffing drop-in centers to assist those who have questions about the application or don’t have computer access. 

“We are grateful to the more than 20 organizations in the county who have worked together to help us reach as many eligible people as possible with this funding opportunity, especially with some of our hardest-to-engage communities. We’ve seen a good response so far in the use of the drop-in centers and continue to look at other ways to get the available funding out to those most in need,” said Erin Dalton, director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.

Applicants can also download and print an application or obtain an application from their county ERAP office. DHS has translated a paper application into SpanishRussianVietnameseArabicChinese and Cambodian and made those available to all participating counties.

Households may be eligible for up to 12 months of assistance to cover past-due or future rental and/or utility payments. The amount of a household’s monthly rent or utility bills does not preclude eligibility, but the amount of ERAP assistance provided to a household is determined by program administrators at the county level.

Assistance can be provided to a tenant for future rental payments, and for unpaid rental or utility arrears that were accrued on or after March 13, 2020 on a residential rental property. Counties may choose to provide additional assistance to eligible households if funds remain available.

To qualify for assistance, a household must be responsible to pay rent on a residential property and meet each of the following criteria.

  • One or more people within the household has qualified for unemployment benefits, had a decrease in income, had increased household costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic; AND
  • One or more individuals in the household can show a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; AND
  • The household has an income at or below 80 percent of area median income, which varies by county. Income limits by county are available on the DHS website. Resources (like bank accounts and cars) are not relevant to ERAP eligibility.

Applicants will need to provide the following information: head of household’s personal information; income information for all household members 18 and older; rental lease and amount owed; landlord’s name and contact information. If applying for utility assistance, applicants must provide utility expenses and utility provider information.

Applicants should be prepared to provide documents that substantiate information provided, such as pay stubs, tax filings, unemployment letters, and rental/utility arrears. However, if applicants do not have documents, county ERAP offices will work with applicants to obtain documents or written attestations.

The program will end when all funds have been expended. More information about ERAP can be found at www.dhs.pa.gov.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin James - ra-pwdhspressoffice@pa.gov

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