LITTLE ROCK – Last year Arkansas joined a rental assistance program to help people who have lost jobs or businesses from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
So far the state Department of Human Services (DHS) made 31,373 payments, totalling $64.6 million. The money helps people with rent and utility bills, so they do not have to move out of their home or have their lights turned off.
Of the total payments, 13,204 went directly to landlords. Those payments added up to $39.5 million.
Another 7,158 payments went to tenants. They totalled $21 million.
Before the end of January, DHS expects to make an additional $4.1 million in rental assistance payments.
The Department encourages participation by landlords. When tenants apply for assistance an employee of DHS calls the landlords to encourage them to sign the application. If they don’t participate, the Department sends the assistance check directly to the tenant with instructions that it should be paid directly to the landlord. If DHS later learns that the landlord has not received the rent money, the Department’s Fraud Unit follows up.
The state has about $57 million remaining to help people pay rent and utility bills. There are 8,845 applications pending. They’re either in the initial stages of review, or the Department has had to ask for more information from applicants.
DHS has received 6,678 applications this January. An individual can apply for and receive a total of 15 months of rental assistance, but has to apply for up to three months at a time.
Applicants qualify if their household income dropped during the pandemic, or if they have experienced financial hardship due to extensive medical bills.
There is a “means test” and some people qualify because their income is below a certain threshold, which differs depending on which county you live in.
In December DHS extended the deadline for applying, and will continue accepting applications as long as it has funds to make rental assistance payments. When the program began, it was scheduled to expire at the end of 2021.
For information about the program, search the Internet for ar.gov/rentrelief.
Work Zone Safety
In February the State Police, the Highway Police and the Transportation Department will enhance efforts to protect the safety of highway construction workers.
Two department employees have been killed in the past two months in work zones. The State Police arrested a driver who has been charged with two felonies in the death of a worker who was putting up warning signs in a construction zone in Pulaski County.
A Russellville man who worked for the Transportation Department was killed in a work zone crash in December.
The number of work zone crashes has increased 70 percent over the past four years, to 2,100 crashes in 2021. From 2020 to 2021 the number of fatalities resulting from work zone crashes went down from 19 to 16, but state officials still consider that number to be too many.
Traffic fines are doubled in work zones. Increased enforcement by state troopers and Highway Police will begin February 2.
Transportation safety officials strongly urge motorists to stay off their phones while driving through a work zone.