Despite low rental aid distribution rate, Nevada ‘not at-risk’ of losing funding
As the federal government threatens to sweep unused rental assistance funding from states that have not gotten enough dollars out the door, Nevada officials think they are safe from redistribution despite an initially poor ranking.
Data released by the U.S. Treasury Department on Monday indicates that as of Oct. 31, the state had distributed approximately 44 percent of the federal funds received as part of the first round of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program — well below the 65 percent allocation threshold to avoid losing unspent money.
But state officials attribute that to issues with the evaluation method. Once all the funding in the state is combined rather than separated out between state and local governments, Nevada’s distribution of rental assistance increases to 61 percent, ranking the state thirteenth in the nation for rental aid disbursement.
The U.S. Treasury’s method of tracking each state or local jurisdiction’s distribution of funds separately does not account for the way Nevada funnels the federal rental assistance money through three main entities: the Reno Housing Authority, Clark County and the Nevada Rural Housing Authority.
Those entities first use the local government dollars before turning to state dollars, leaving the state with a less-than-ideal distribution rate because the U.S. Treasury's evaluation methods did not initially consider state dollars kicking in only after local allocations were spent.
"Nevada's rental assistance program was designed to ensure that the State's ERA allocation would provide last-dollar support to local jurisdictions with the highest level of need," Nevada State Treasury’s Chief Policy Deputy Erik Jimenez said in an email. "We are in constant communication with the U.S. Treasury Department regarding Nevada's distribution of rental assistance funds, and based on the October numbers, the State is not at-risk of reallocation of funds at this time."
As a whole, the U.S. has distributed 56 percent of the first round of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds established under the COVID relief bill passed last December.
The District of Columbia maintains the lead over all other states, having distributed around 99 percent of its funds. South Dakota, Wyoming and North Dakota hold last place, with less than 7 percent of rental assistance distributed.
Jimenez said the state expects to have 95 percent of its first round of Emergency Rental Assistance funds spent by February of next year, almost seven months before the funding expires.
Though the state is still working through the first round of Emergency Rental Assistance funds, it received authorization from the legislative Interim Finance Committee to begin dipping into the $164 million provided by the second round of Emergency Rental Assistance included in the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act for certain cases, officials said. The state has until 2025 to use the second round of funding.
Speeding up the process
In a program improvement plan submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department, Nevada Housing Division Administrator Steve Aichroth wrote that one of the key obstacles the state faces to increasing the distribution of Emergency Rental Assistance funds are reporting requirements that shift staff attention toward administrative tasks rather than service-oriented ones.
“Treasury has requested different information or program updates which require new coding that was not accounted for during the initial design sessions,” officials wrote in the plan. “Updating the system on a continuous basis with changing requirements is difficult because of the administrative burdens and reduces the ability to increase capacity for assistance.”
State officials submitted a three-part action plan to improve the distribution of funds. The first part of the plan would transfer “self attestation,” or a person's written, verbal, or electronic declaration of his or her circumstances, to the front end of an application, which officials said would ideally reduce the processing time for an application.
Next, officials said they would also make it so that the application portal for rental assistance will integrate with other systems to reduce double entries, thereby speeding up application processing. The third proposed improvement step is implementing an expedited process to close cases that stall if an applicant is unresponsive.
Previously, correspondence with the state was limited to email, but the new plan calls for permanent social workers who will reach out via telephone to complete any documentation requests if someone cannot be reached by email.