Busy signals. Long waits on hold. Conflicting messages about required documentation and eligibility. And what seems like endless limbo before finding out whether money is on the way.
Sound familiar? Millions of laid-off workers in Florida experienced those nightmares when trying to access unemployment benefits after COVID-19 shut down the national economy in spring 2020.
Today, Florida tenants seeking a slice of nearly $2 billion in so-called emergency rental assistance funding allocated by the federal government this year report encountering the same mind-numbing frustrations and delays.
Some of the largest programs set up by the state, counties and cities to provide up to 12 months of past-due rent and up to three months of future rent are distributing money at a turtle’s pace, seemingly unconcerned that applicants are often days away from eviction.
On a Facebook support group for assistance applicants, some report getting evicted while their assistance applications languish. “Got evicted today with a 24-hour notice,” wrote Orlando resident Joselyn Bisono. “I’m so depressed. No money. Nowhere to go. I feel so ashamed and lonely.”
In Broward County, distribution has been excruciatingly slow. Just 3,630 households out of 14,142 tenants who applied through the county’s online portal have received payments, averaging $8,011, through last week, county data shows. Programs in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have each distributed aid to more than twice as many homes.
Applicants wonder whether governments can do anything right when it comes to helping people keep their homes, their livelihoods, and their dignity.
“It’s a complete communication breakdown,” said Judith Krim, a Stuart resident who has been waiting since August to find out if she’ll be approved for assistance by a statewide program run by the Department of Children and Families. “There’s no way to get any relief because you cannot get any response from the state.”
Few successes, many complaints
Thirty-two large Florida counties and cities, along with the state, created separate programs this year to distribute $1.97 billion federal dollars earmarked for rental assistance. Nationwide, $46.6 billion was earmarked to help prevent tenants who experienced loss of income from become homeless.