Evers announces $387 million in rent, energy assistance for Wisconsinites who lost income during the pandemic

MADISON – Wisconsinites whose income falls just below the median can qualify for federal rental and energy assistance under a $387 million program Gov. Tony Evers detailed Thursday.

Individuals could get up to 15 months of their rent covered, as well as some past, unpaid utility bills, according to the Democratic governor’s administration. The program uses federal funds to assist those whose income has dropped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we continue working to get vaccines distributed and shots in arms as soon as we have supply, these funds will be critically important providing families the stability and support they need to get through this pandemic,” Evers said in a statement.

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Help is available to those who have become unemployed or faced other financial difficulties because of the pandemic and is targeted to those who are at risk of losing their housing and whose income is at or below 80% of the median income in their county.

Eighty percent of monthly household income for a family of three is $5,029 in Milwaukee and its suburbs, $5,888 in Dane County, $4,942 in Brown County and $4,742 in Marathon County.

Assistance is used first to cover unpaid rent and unpaid utility bills going back to March 2020, around the time the pandemic began. After those expenses are covered, help is provided for future rent.

Applicants can qualify for benefits covering three months of rent at a time. In all, they can qualify for up to 15 months of rent, according to the state Department of Administration. 

The state and local governments received $386.8 million for the program under coronavirus legislation Congress approved in December.

Communities of 200,000 or more are responsible for running their own programs, with the state responsible for other communities. The state is in charge of about $322 million and local governments about $65 million, including $17.6 million for Milwaukee, $10.6 million for Milwaukee County and $12 million for Waukesha County.

Community groups across the state have been hired to administer the program. It has already started in Dane County, but is still getting off the ground elsewhere. For instance, the City of Milwaukee and Waukesha County have not announced who will administer the program for them.

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Community Advocates will run Milwaukee County’s program, which will begin Monday, according to the group.

Milwaukee County residents can apply for the program through the organization’s website. Information about how those living elsewhere in the state can apply is available through the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association.

Throughout the state, payments will be made on behalf of tenants to landlords and utility companies, not to the tenants themselves.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.