By Joseph Beaudet
The Sheridan Press Via Wyoming News Exchange 

ERAP's end brings concerns from those helping local families


May 25, 2023

SHERIDAN — Final payments from the Wyoming Emergency Rental Assistance Program will come in June. Those helping families with the program in Sheridan County expressed concern about potential impacts of the program’s end.

ERAP began April 29, 2021, and was designed to assist people who were unable to make rent or utilities payments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through May 25, Wyoming Department of Family Services data shows 17,143 households have received assistance from the program and payments totaled $107 million. Payments were made to and for landlords, households, utilities and moving expenses.

Funds were originally projected to last through 2025, but higher than anticipated utilization led to a shorter program and availability.

As the program comes to an end, Sheridan County Attainable Housing Councilor and Community Services Network of Wyoming Executive Director Susan Carr said there are growing concerns.

“As the Emergency Rental Assistance Program winds (down) in Wyoming, we are pretty nervous to see what might be happening once people lose their rental assistance,” Carr wrote in an email. “For those who can't find adequate work or other resources, the first day rent becomes due in July is going to be a very scary day.

“The end of many COVID-era funding assistance, combined with skyrocketing food, gas and housing prices is creating the perfect storm of crisis for many of our friends and neighbors,” Carr continued.

Carr also said she has spoken with people who have a more direct hand in assisting families with ERAP.

“I am not the only one losing sleep over this crisis, but I don't provide direct services and those who do are expressing deep concern over what this summer and upcoming fall is going to bring to vulnerable Wyomingites,” Carr wrote in an email.

Compass Center for Families has been administering ERAP funds in Sheridan and Johnson counties since June 2022. Co-Executive Director Tifany Resser said it’s difficult to gauge the short-term impacts of the program’s end.

“It's hard because we're already living through a housing crisis in our community,” Resser said. “It's in terms of affordability, it's in terms of inventory, access for low-income clients, even average income clients who are first-time homeowners.”

In total, Sheridan County has had 1,617 ERAP applications paid out, which totaled $3,971,128 in assistance. Since October, Compass has paid out about $727,000 to 429 households from ERAP.

“Overall, there’s a lot of households, a lot of families that are going through post-COVID struggles,” Program Manager for Project Thrive Jeremy Reynolds said.

Reynolds said Project Thrive is still a work in progress but will be an education and enrichment program designed for families that are struggling financially or experiencing some hardship. The program itself will involve field experts meeting with families to assist them. A portion of funds ERAP funds contracted to Compass were used for Project Thrive.

“My elevator pitch is, (a family is) drowning in the deep end and, instead of pointing at them and saying, ‘Swim over there,’ we jump in the water with them, and then it’s just how the hell are we going to get out of here,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the program had positives and shortcomings, though, including families being able to stay together. He said shortcomings came from landlords raising rent and deposit prices because they knew ERAP funds were guaranteed.

According to the DFS website, households that have already received ERAP funds are able to apply to receive a three-month extension. Applications are made through the Wyoming ERAP portal. Documents applicants are required to submit include a signed copy of their lease for all months they are seeking assistance and a proof of impact on their income, which can be two consecutive years of pay statements or W-2 tax forms.

This story was published on May 27, 2023.


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