Before the COVID-19 pandemic, helping people pay their rent was a small part of what Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners did.
“Now it’s one of our bigger programs that we don’t see going away anytime soon,” said Nicole Bishop, the nonprofit’s marketing and communications specialist.
This week, the Spokane County Commission voted to send $7.2 million to SNAP for emergency rental and utility assistance. Those dollars will help county residents who don’t live within Spokane city limits to pay rent and utility bills when they’re struggling financially.
It wasn’t Spokane County taxpayer money, at least not directly.
The $7.2 million came from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and is a small piece of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, a COVID-19 stimulus bill Congress passed in March. The money had to be used for emergency rental and utility assistance and the county said it chose SNAP because the nonprofit was best equipped to get the money to renters.
The dollars are separate from the $101 million Spokane County is getting through the American Rescue Plan. Jeff McMorris, the county’s community engagement and public policy advisor, said the county probably won’t start distributing the $101 million until March or April.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the number of people needing help to pay rent, for several reasons.
Early on in the pandemic, millions of Americans couldn’t pay rent because they’d been laid off and lost their source of income. While most have since returned to work, housing prices have risen to record highs in Spokane and other parts of the country, making it harder for many lower income residents to afford rent.
Bishop said rental assistance is often necessary to prevent an individual or a household from becoming homeless.
“A lot of people have realized what a stabilizing force a program like this is,” she said.
SNAP has helped people pay more than $23 million in rent since November 2020.
The nonprofit breaks down its rental assistance data into three chunks because it’s gotten lumps of money at different times from different places.
During its first round of rental assistance, from November 2020 through May 2021, SNAP gave 2,505 households $8.1 million. On average, each household got four months worth of rent, totaling $3,239.
In another block, SNAP gave 1,199 households $8.3 million, which came out to an average of eight months’ rent and $6,925 per household. In a third block, SNAP has given 1,157 households a total of $6.9 million, which on average helped households cover seven months of rent.
Bishop said households aren’t double counted, although they can sometimes receive money more than once. She said a household can get a total of 12 months of rental assistance.
The number of people seeking rental assistance from SNAP has decreased compared to last year, but there’s still a significant need, Bishop said.
Bishop said it’s difficult to know how long the $7.2 million might last, but she noted a month ago SNAP was giving out between $100,000 and $130,000 in rental assistance daily.
Per the Department of the Treasury’s guidelines, SNAP will have to use the money by Sept. 30, 2025.
A household must meet specific qualifications in order to receive rental assistance.
First, a household cannot make more than 80% of the area median income. The Spokane metro area’s median income in 2020 was $77,400 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Second, the Treasury states that an individual in the household has to have “qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak and one or more individuals in the household must demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability.”
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