Giddings jfac rental assistance

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, left, questions Alex Adams, Gov. Brad Little's budget director, and Brady Ellis of IHFA, who was testifying remotely, during a Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

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Idaho has been awarded $200 million for emergency rental assistance under the newly enacted COVID-19 relief bill. Alex Adams, Gov. Brad Little’s budget director, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today that the governor is proposing that lawmakers pass a supplemental appropriation to authorize the spending of the state’s share of the funds, a big chunk of which already have arrived.

In anticipation of the funding, Little had proposed a $110 million supplemental appropriation, which would authorize starting to expend the funds during the current year, Adams said, but that was because local governments with at least 200,000 population could claim direct shares of the state’s allotment. Canyon and Ada counties and the city of Boise all met that standard. However, “It is my understanding that Canyon has chosen not to participate,” Adams said. “Boise city has applied and it was the intent of Ada to apply.” That means the money that otherwise would have gone directly to Canyon County went into the state’s share, which still could be used in that county as well as elsewhere; Idaho has received $164.2 million. “It’s a federal grant for a very specific purpose,” Adams said.

The money is for assistance with rent and utilities for Idaho renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic who are in financial hardship and earn less than 80% of the area median income. Eligible renters could receive up to 12 months of assistance, with a possible three-month extension after that. They’d have to “re-certify” their eligibility every three months.

Adams invited Brady Ellis of the Idaho Housing & Finance Association, which administered a similar, smaller rental assistance program last year with $15 million in CARES Act funds, to address JFAC. Ellis told lawmakers the program would make the payments directly to the landlords or utilities, rather than to the renters; it would be for renters of residential property only, not for mortgage payments.

“IHFA did administer funding from the CARES Act for rental assistance from mid-June through the end of 2020,” Ellis said. “And this program is very similar to that, so we’re positioned in terms of operations, staffing systems, security measures and so on to take on this program.”

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, asked, “Do we have a guess about how many people this will impact?”

Ellis said there are about 76,000 households in Idaho with income of less than 80% of the area median income. “The $15 million we administered last year, we were able to serve about 6,000 households and about 19,000 individuals,” he said.

JFAC didn’t vote on the supplemental appropriation today; it just gathered information. Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, JFAC co-chair, said the appropriation will be on the joint committee’s agenda for a vote on Friday, along with six other supplemental appropriations being proposed by the administration, including for transportation, Health & Welfare and the state Board of Education.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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