A legislative budget panel Thursday authorized an additional $27 million in federal rent and utility assistance to Montanans harmed financially by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government voted unanimously to insert the money in a yet-to-be-introduced bill, to augment $17 million in another bill awaiting Gov. Greg Gianforte’s signature.
The funds are part of Montana’s total federal share of $200 million for rental assistance, which would be redistributed to other states if not used by this fall.
Earlier this week, state Commerce Department officials this week outlined their plans to distribute up to $44 million by June for emergency rental assistance and utility bills in Montana. They estimated the money could go to as many as 8,000 households.
Cheryl Cohen of the state Housing Division said the department believes 10,000 to 30,000 Montana households could face difficulty paying their rent this year, and that as many as 10,000 could face eviction notices when a federal moratorium on evictions expires March 31.
“We think there’s a greater need out there, than perhaps what the applications from last year’s program demonstrates,” she said.
Last year, the state distributed only $8.4 million out of $50 million in federal money allocated for “emergency housing assistance” to Montanans who had trouble paying rent or mortgage payments because they’d lost their job during the pandemic. About 2,500 households got an average of $3,400 each.
Commerce officials said they plan a more streamlined, concentrated effort to reach those in need of the money. Also, the program will allow landlords to submit applications for their tenants – a new addition.
Households or landlords interested in the program can get information at the website, https://housing.mt.gov/Rental-Housing/Montana-Emergency-Rental-Assistance-Program, or call: 406-841-2840.