Editorial: CT can't leave money on the table and residents on the street

For too many Connecticut households, finding the money to pay the rent is a crisis right now. Help is available, and they face a deadline to seize it.

At least 8,828 tenants in Connecticut have already received federal aid to pay rent.

That should offer some scope of how bad the problem is during the pandemic. After all, 8,828 is more than the population of 61 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.

Sounds pretty bad, right?

Now consider that 63,450 state renters were behind on payments as of early August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Pulse Household Survey. Nationally, the survey identified nearly 8 million people backed up on rent.

Many people who lost income during the pandemic got a reprieve one year ago when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiated the eviction moratorium. That was set to run out Oct. 3, and many tenants were hoping for an extension. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the clock Aug. 26, ruling that the CDC exceeded its authority.

If that’s not enough stress for renters, another clock is running out as well.

Connecticut was allotted nearly $236 million in federal funding, but had spent less than one-third (about 29 percent, or $68.8 million) of that as of Friday.

The distribution delay was reasonable because UniteCT had to be created, which Dawn Parker, director of the program, compared to “building the plane while we were flying it.”

The plane is now in the air, but will need to soar in the weeks ahead. Sixty-five percent of the funds must be obligated before Oct. 1 or be surrendered. Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont authorized the program, but his emergency powers run out Sept. 30. Some state lawmakers are seeking a special session to extend the program beyond month’s end.

That’s a lot of red tape (and there’s miles more of it) for an effort that can save lives. Some of it is necessary, as programs such as this can be targeted for fraud.

Landlords are not the villains here. They need to pay their own bills. But, as living with COVID becomes a new norm, it’s important to remember some of the ancillary motivations for the eviction moratorium.

High on that list is that sending more people to live in shelters, with relatives and in the streets will only contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

To qualify for aid, Connecticut residents must have household incomes below 80 percent of the area median income and be able to demonstrate they were financially impacted by the pandemic. Eligible residents can collect up to $15,000 in rental assistance and $1,500 in electricity assistance payments.

For applications, go to UniteCT, or call for assistance at 1-844-864-8328.

If you know someone struggling to pay the rent, this is the chance to help. Leaving money on the table and state residents on the street should not be a consequence of red tape.