Editorial: Rent assistance helps

The state housing corporation started up its new, federally funded assistance program for renters this week. Up to $200 million is available to help tenants across Alaska who are behind on their rent or utilities, and/or need help with the rent for this month and even far into 2021.

In addition to a maximum income level - a Wrangell applicant's total household income either last year or this year cannot exceed $57,120 - the other major eligibility requirement is that the household must show it was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a loss of wages or a drop in self-employment income.

The congressional intent of the nationwide $25 billion program is to keep people in their homes, to help them get through the economic loss caused by the pandemic, and especially to avoid more people moving in together into one residence to save money but in doing so adding to the risk of spreading the virus.

Good idea, good program, great intent. People need housing, landlords need the rental income to cover their costs, and everyone should come out of this in better shape than the painful options of evictions, delinquencies, bankruptcies and maybe homelessness.

Such targeted assistance during the pandemic is the best use of federal funding. Determine the need, be it housing assistance, food boxes, job training or internet service for at-home online learning, and then direct the money where it is needed.

Same thing for federal help for communities. Direct the money to help cover COVID-related expenses and budget shortfalls at schools hurt by declining enrollment, and gaps in municipal and state budgets caused by the loss of tax revenues that are no longer sufficient to cover the fixed costs of necessary public services.

Sadly, there is a long list of needs in communities nationwide. As Congress and the Alaska Legislature deal with the second year of the pandemic, they need to stay focused with targeted spending, such as housing assistance and school aid. It is working for millions of Americans and needs to keep working until enough people are vaccinated to start thinking about an end to the pandemic.

- The Wrangell Sentinel


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