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Rental, utility assistance available to those affected by pandemic

People who make up to 80% of the median county income qualify for help, officials say.

Federal funding is available in Wisconsin to cover up to 18 months of rent and utilities for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wisconsin Emergency Rental Assistance (WERA) program launched in February 2020 with a pot of more than $322 million available to all counties. The program can provide rental assistance for households affected by the pandemic. It can also be used for lot rental, late fees, security deposits, utilities and internet access.

There is still money available.

“They haven’t given us a ‘quit processing’ or ‘running low’ (notice),” said Millie Rounsville, executive director with Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency. “So it’s first come, first served. We’re just going full bore; as we’re getting them, we’re entering them.”

To qualify for the program, at least one or more people in the household must:

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  • Qualify for unemployment or has experienced a significant reduction in income, incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship during the period of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • Demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability;
  • Have a household income at or below 80% of their county’s median income.

The majority of people who have utilized the program statewide, nearly 67%, are in households that make 30% or less of the county median income.
“Those people in that 50 to 80 (percent) that are eligible still aren’t applying,” Rounseville said.

For example, a Douglas County family of four with a monthly income of $5,088 would qualify for the help; a two-person household with a monthly income of $4,071 or less would also qualify.

Funds can also be used for lot rent, security deposits and late fees.

Qualifying for Assistance in Douglas County, Wis.
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune Graphics

“You don’t have to have any eviction. You don’t have to have a court date,” Rounsville said. “If your rent was due Jan.1-Jan. 3 and you’re still struggling, you should be reaching out because you’re not behind. Don’t wait until the landlord sends you a ‘Quit or pay’ notice.”

The first step is to fill out a Wisconsin fuel assistance application, because the same system is used to process WERA requests.

“There has to be a fuel assistance application on file, even if it’s denied,” Rounsville said.

Residents can contact Stacey Johnson, sjohnson@northwest-csa.org , 715-392-5127, or fill out the application for the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance program online.

Rounsville said she can tell the program is working because the number of evictions in the five counties Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency covers has dropped significantly over the past year.

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“Most of the time we look and there might be one eviction in our rural four counties,” she said. “And then there’ll be, you know, at most two or three evictions in Douglas County … if you look at what small claims looked like pre-pandemic, there was far more than that in the courtroom every week. So I think it’s definitely helping.”

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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