HELENA — Montana leaders are trying to get the word out about money that could now be available for people who need help with rent and energy bills.
Leaders with the Montana Department of Commerce suspect many more Montanans could be eligible for their Emergency Rental Assistance program, and they want to make sure everyone who could qualify knows what’s available.
“We know that rents have escalated throughout the state, we know that home energy costs have escalated, fuel costs have escalated, food prices,” said Cheryl Cohen, administrator of the department’s Montana Housing division. “Especially families on fixed incomes, they’re experiencing that inflationary crunch more than other families, and we would love to serve more of those families.”
Montana Housing is administering the rental assistance program, which is funded with federal COVID relief money.
Because of federal rules, the first pool of money the state received – about $200 million – was open to people experiencing a financial hardship “due directly or indirectly to the COVID pandemic.” The state is now receiving a second pool of money, which is open to anyone with a financial hardship “during the COVID pandemic.”
“We think that adjustment will allow us to serve more seniors and persons with disabilities on fixed incomes,” Cohen said. “Maybe they didn’t have a direct or indirect COVID impact, but they are strained financially now because of inflation and other factors.”
The state could eventually receive $150 million for the second allocation. They have gotten about $60 million from the federal government so far.
The emergency rental assistance program can provide up to $2,200 a month for rent, as well as up to $500 a month for each eligible utility. In order to qualify, you must be a renter and have a household income at or below 80% of the median income in your county. Cohen estimates about 96,000 Montanans could fall within those requirements.
So far, Montana Housing has allocated about $60 million, providing about 8,000 households with an average of $7,700 each.
You can go to the Montana Housing website to check your eligibility, find out what documentation you need, and submit an application.
You will need an email address to use the online application form. If you don’t have one, you can call Montana Housing at (406) 841-2840, and they’ll put you in touch with someone who can help you out with the application.
“We want to make this available to as many Montanans now as we can, to support families so they can have a bit of peace of mind and financial stability,” said Cohen.
Montana initially received $200 million in the first pool of rental assistance money – the minimum amount given to each state. However, Cohen said the federal government has since recalculated those amounts based on Montana’s expenditures under the program, and they have asked the state to return about $98 million of that money.