Lee County upbeat on vaccine, revs up utility, housing payment help
Another round of assistance for Lee County residents who are behind on rent and utility bills will begin March 1 when the county is expected to launch an emergency rental assistance program, officials said.
The county is also optimistic that more vaccinations to ward off COVID-19 will become available.
Vaccination rates are expected to rise more quickly as doses of the medication are shipped.
County Commission Chairman Kevin Ruane told reporters following a county commission meeting that as more of the vaccine becomes available, both through the county and through pharmacies, the vaccination rate will increase.
"More people getting vaccinated is very important," Ruane said. "Let's recognize we're almost at 30% (of residents vaccinated) and only six weeks into this, so kudos for people working around the clock."
Ruane, who has been at the county vaccination site while the shots have been administered, has spoken with residents who desperately want the vaccine to restore some normalcy to their lives.
"I understand the frustration. I understand their anxiety. I understand that they're looking for help. All I can tell you is we're working around the clock," Ruane said. "Remember we're six weeks into this, and as doses continue to ramp up — and they will — we’ll get this done a lot quicker."
Housing, utility help returning
Households that 80% or less of the median income will be eligible for the renewed rental and housing assistance program.
Applicants will need more than unpaid bills to qualify, however. They will also have to demonstrate need for the assistance.
Financial help with paying bills is being made available going forward as well as for making up for some past unpaid rent and electric or water and sewer bills.
"It is for rent and utilities," said Ruane. "It could be for as long as 12 months. It can be retroactive."
Additional eligibility requirements mean applicants for assistance must have experienced a reduction in income, incurred significant costs, or otherwise experienced financial hardship and "demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability."
The federal law allows for an additional three months of payments beyond the initial 12 months of help under certain circumstances.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury said if the local government still has funds available and a family shows that extra time is needed to "ensure housing stability" an additional three months of payments can be tacked on.
Application information for the local guidelines for the new program will be available on the leeflcares.com website but had not been posted Tuesday afternoon.
Legislation signed by then-President Trump in December allocated an additional $25 billion for housing and utility assistance. The money goes to states, U.S. territories, local governments and Indian tribes.
Lee County's share of the federal package is $23.2 million.
Information on applying under the new new rental and utility assistance program will be released once procedures to follow the new federal law requirements are in place.