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Montana’s unused federal COVID-19 rental aid in jeopardy?

Gianforte asks feds for flexibility on spending it
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Posted at 4:56 PM, Nov 30, 2021

HELENA — As much as $175 million of Montana’s unused federal COVID-19 emergency assistance for renters may be reallocated by the Biden administration – but Gov. Greg Gianforte says his administration is still waiting to see whether it can use the money on other housing needs.

“The emergency-rental assistance is designed for people who were in rental programs,” he told MTN News Tuesday. “We’re looking for more flexibility to help more generally with the problem in some of our communities, that are seeing such a shortage of housing.”

Gianforte said his administration has been in touch with the White House, and he wrote a letter to Montana’s congressional delegation two weeks ago, asking for help to gain flexibility on how to spend unused funds.

He said Tuesday the state has yet to hear back on its request.

Yet Gianforte also hasn’t spelled out specifically how he’d like to spend the unused funds. When asked Tuesday to elaborate, he said only that the administration would “like to see everyone under a warm roof.”

“It depends what flexibility we get from the feds,” he said. “We’ll have to operate under the rules that they give us.”

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Gov. Greg Gianforte

So far, Montana has disbursed $23.4 million of the money to several thousand low- and moderate-income households, to pay rent and utilities. It also has allocated $14 million to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services for housing-stability services.

The state hopes to execute contracts with nonprofit organizations to provide the housing-stability services in the coming weeks, the state Commerce Department said.

It also said the state is working on a contract with Montana Legal Services Association to expand an eviction-prevention and diversion program for renters.

The emergency-rental money is from two federal COVID-19 relief bills, passed last December and in March.

The Biden administration said this week it plans to reallocate some of the unused funds, possibly to other states whose rental-assistance programs have used up their funds already, such as New York or Texas. A decision is expected in early December.

Montana is one of the states with the most unused money. Most states and other governments had to write rules and hire staff to administer programs disbursing the money.

Eligible Montana households can still apply for emergency-rental assistance at the state Department of Commerce website.