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BOISE — A bill to authorize millions of dollars in rental assistance for Idahoans is heading to the governor’s desk.

The Idaho Senate voted unanimously Thursday to authorize the spending of $175 million in rental assistance the state was awarded by the COVID-19 relief bill signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 27.

That’s final passage for the bill, which earlier passed the House on a 59-8 vote with eight House Republicans dissenting; it now goes to the governor’s desk.

The assistance for Idaho renters impacted by COVID-19 is part of nearly $900 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds that have been languishing since the legislative session started in January; it’s the first major chunk to head to the governor’s desk. HB 176 is a supplemental appropriation, meaning the money can be spent as soon as the bill is signed into law.

Sen. Ali Rabe, D-Boise, urged support for the bill. “The state and the Treasure Valley … are in the midst of a housing crisis. It was like that before COVID happened,” she said.

Rabe disclosed a potential conflict of interest under Senate ethics rules due to her work for a housing nonprofit, Jesse Tree of Idaho.

“I want to emphasize the need for this funding right now,” she said. “I work directly in eviction court in my other job, and I know that more and more families are in need of rental assistance.”

She said a third of residents in the Treasure Valley right now “are literally living paycheck to paycheck, month to month,” and any large unanticipated expense could push them out of their home.

“In the state of Idaho there are over 9,000 people that are experiencing homelessness right now that we know of, living in shelters, the streets, their car. There are even more Idahoans that are couch-surfing, living kind of just with friends or family, jumping couches every week,” Rabe said. “There were over 1,800 eviction filings in the state of Idaho last year. The majority of those happened because simply people can’t pay their rent, and this is the case now more than ever before for our state. There are thousands of families that need this rental assistance funding right now, and I urge your support for this bill.”

Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle, the bill’s Senate sponsor, noted that payments under the program, to be administered by the Idaho Housing & Finance Association, would go to landlords, property managers or utility companies, not to the renters themselves. “So this is a way that these businesses can be compensated,” he said.

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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