Wyoming residents will be able to apply for rental assistance starting this week, taking advantage of a program backed by federal COVID relief money.

Governor Mark Gordon signed a bill last week launching the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and authorizing the Department of Family Services to administer it.

The COVID relief part of Congress’s 2021 appropriations bill set aside $25 billion for rental assistance. Wyoming will see $200 million of that, and must spend the full amount by September. If the state doesn’t spend it all, the leftover amount will be given to other states or cities that did spend all of theirs.

Unlike earlier rental assistance from the CARES Act, this money has to be spent on rental assistance and utility payments. The earlier rental assistance program gave out less than $2 million, or just one percent of the new amount allotted to Wyoming. That program was run by the Wyoming Community Development Authority.

The new rental assistance funds will be distributed through the state’s Department of Family Services (DFS) instead.

“We are very thankful to Governor Gordon and the Wyoming Legislature for giving us the opportunity to help families who rent their home to avoid homelessness while recovering from the impacts of the pandemic,” DFS Director Korin Schmidt says in a news release. “The program also will help landlords, many of whom are small businesses, avoid financial difficulties when their renters cannot pay.”

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has shown that the pandemic exacerbated the existing housing crisis in rural areas of the United States, putting renters deeper into debt and accelerating housing insecurity.

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