Lake County designates $20.6 million for rent, utility help

Lake County has allocated more than $20.6 million in federal funding for eligible residents unable to pay rent or utilities due to negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And in a related action Tuesday, the Lake County Board authorized $12.2 million in carry-over federal CARES Act relief funding for a variety of other uses, including assistance to food pantries and staffing for the county health department's COVID vaccine call center.

The new funding is from the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Ninety percent of the money must be used for direct financial assistance for rent and other housing-related expenses. The rest is for case management or other services to keep households stable, as well as administrative costs.

"Our staff is currently developing a program to distribute this funding as efficiently as possible, and application information will be shared soon." said Cassandra Torstenson, assistant county administrator.

Rental assistance has been the top need requested each month since the county's 211 help system launched in September 2019. In December, 527 calls for rent assistance were received by 211 operators - second only to the 760 calls reported last August.

"It's continuing the program we did last year with the COVID funding. We'll work with local partners," said Lake County Board member Jennifer Clark, who is on the board's financial and administrative committee.

In 2020, the county provided more than $2.1 million in rental and utility assistance to 766 households, according to Eric Waggoner, director of planning, building and development.

A new program for struggling tenants and landlords is being developed, he added. Residents should call 211 for up-to-date information on local resources for rent or utility assistance, Waggoner said.

Clark, an economics professor, also was on the special finance committee on COVID-19 set up last year to review and make recommendations on how the county should spend its $121.5 million in federal CARES Act funding.

Federal authorities originally required that money to be spent by Dec. 31, but the deadline has been extended to the end of 2021.

"When they said you have another year to spend it, we held off," Clark said. "We can really target what we need this year."

That $12.2 million carry-over will fund resident support and assistance; health department/public health support and assistance; business and economic assistance; countywide essential services; and contingencies.

For example, $3 million was designated to the health department for vaccination efforts, including its call center, rent for vaccine sites and other expenses.

Last Thursday, the health department received 1,800 calls, according to Executive Director Mark Pfister. Twenty people will be added to the call center Monday, he added.

Under resident support, officials designated $2.9 million for food insecurity.

"We're supporting local food pantries in Lake County," Clark said. "We find that's a need that's still very high on people's list."

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