Valley residents who lost jobs and income because of the pandemic and fell behind on rent and utility payments may be eligible for a share of $12.7 million in emergency aid.

The U.S. Treasury announced a $25 billion emergency rent and utility assistance program in January resulting from the federal coronavirus aid package passed through Congress in December. Pennsylvania received $847 million from the program. The Department of Human Services is responsible to divvy $564 million of that among 49 counties while the remaining 18 were large enough to qualify for their own individually administered programs, according to Ali Fogarty, communications director, Department of Human Services.

Valley counties were allocated the following: Montour, $1,198,992.63; Northumberland, $5,974,771.68; Snyder, $2,655,278.69; Union, $2,954,599.35.

The funds can be used to cover up to 12 months of rent with an additional 3 months possible. Rental arrears must first be paid off before aid is provided for future payments.

The funds also can be used to make utility payments: electric, gas and other home heating fuels, water, sewer and trash. Phone bills don’t qualify.

The Department of Human Services on Thursday demonstrated to county officials its application process for the emergency rent and utility assistance program on the PA Compass website, Applications, which will be available online in English and Spanish, are expected to open next week and an exact date will be announced in the coming days, Fogarty said. 

Central Susquehanna Opportunities, which is administering the program in Northumberland County, has been working with people in need of rent assistance for the past year, according to Stacie Snyder, community action administrator.

“There are many households who are behind on rent for up to a year,” Snyder said, noting that both tenants and landlords may be in crisis. “They’re struggling just as much as those facing eviction. Landlords are part of the crisis.”

While mortgage assistance isn’t available through this specific program, residents are encouraged to contact their municipality and county of residence to ask if it is available through Pennsylvania’s Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus Program.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify, residents must have experienced job loss or significant loss of income, are eligible for unemployment and incurred significant costs. They must demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability, and have a household income at 80% or below the average median income (AMI) in their county — a moving target that varies by the size of one’s family.

Sue Auman, executive director, Union-Snyder Community Action Agency, noted that the income eligibility is higher than other social supports, broadening eligibility across a wider class of Pennsylvanians.

“This funding allows us to help many more families in our counties whose livelihoods were affected by the pandemic. People who are usually not eligible for rent or utility assistance are now eligible,” Auman said.

In Union County, the AMI begins at $40,050 for a single-person household and rises incrementally to $75,550 for an 8-person household. The low and high ranges for the remaining Valley counties are as follows: Montour, $42,750, single, $80,600, 8; Northumberland, $38,200, single, $72,050, 8; Snyder, $37,450, single, $70,650, 8.

The Union-Snyder CAA is administering the program for its coverage area. Auman said applications will be available for download and submission at PA Compass as well as Information will be available on the CAA website to submit applications by email or to pick up and drop off paper copies.

The application may be streamlined before it goes live. As it stood Wednesday, Auman said up to 14 documents were needed to prove eligibility. Staff at Union-Snyder CAA will help applicants fill out the application, she said.

“Ideally, people could do this on their own but the reality is that some people will need help to figure it out,” Auman said.

Holly Brandon, chief clerk, Montour County, said residents there will find more information posted at once the Department of Human Services finalizes rules and regulations. She said service agencies in the county will be contacted and apprised on the program.

Central Susquehanna Opportunities (CSO) plans to accept applications beginning Monday at, Snyder said. Paper copies are available at four different CSO sites in Northumberland County: Career and Arts Center, Shamokin; Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, Sunbury; Delaware Township Municipal Building, Watsontown; Milton Senior Action Center. For more information, call 570-644-6575 ext. 171.

Mortgage help

Union-Snyder CAA is working with SEDA-COG on its administration of the separate mortgage assistance offered through Pennsylvania’s Community Development Block Grant program. Available aid is substantially lesser than the federal rent and utility aid program.

Pennsylvania counties and municipalities that received emergency block grant funds could choose different programs to fund, with mortgage assistance being among them.

Union County dedicated $40,000 and Kelly Township dedicated $20,000. In Snyder County, Penn Township set aside $19,742 while Selinsgrove dedicated $37,646.

Alicia Herb, housing supervisor, CSO, said block grant funds can cover up to 3 months of back mortgage payments for qualified individuals in Northumberland County.

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