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Federal Rental Assistance Ends in Polk, Expected to Impact Struggling Families

Rising Home Costs Price Many Out of Local Market

The end of the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program means that lots of Polk County families have lost a lifeline that has allowed them to remain housed through the difficult times of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the huge demand for housing locally and across Florida has driven home prices sharply higher, leaving many of those struggling families facing bleak choices.

Since it's July 2021 launch, Polk County's Emergency Rental Assistance Program helped more than 5,000 families with utility and rent payments. Among qualifying factors for the assistance was a loss or reduction of income, loss of employment or health-related issues because of COVID.

Eligible families had gross household income below 80% of the area median income based on household size and had to show proof that they had fallen behind on rent or utility payments.

Polk County and its agency partners – Florida Rural Legal Services, the Agricultural and Labor Program, Inc., Heart for Winter Haven, and the Salvation Army – distributed $32.7 million to assist people who lost jobs or income during the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds also made a significant contribution to the local economy as they turned over several times as purchases and paychecks from area businesses.

The program was part of President Joe Biden's Recovery Act in response to the economic stagnation that resulted from the Covid pandemic that claimed 1.1 million lives in the United States.

Polk County officials recently announced that the program is now closed.

"The pandemic impacted everybody," said Polk County Commissioner Bill Braswell, "and I'm glad the Emergency Rental Assistance Program was able provide some relief to 5,000 families. No one deserves to lose their home because of circumstances beyond their control. This money helped people keep a roof over their heads."

 

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