Justin Eby, executive director, Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, discusses the Emergency Rental Assistance Program at a Lancaster County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (Source: co.lancaster.pa.us)
Justin Eby, executive director, Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, discusses the Emergency Rental Assistance Program at a Lancaster County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. (Source: co.lancaster.pa.us)

Lancaster County on Wednesday officially accepted another $6.2 million for the local Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, bringing the total funding for the program to nearly $55 million.

"I think the program's going well. We're getting the money out," Justin Eby told the Lancaster County commissioners at their meeting Wednesday morning. Eby is executive director of the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority and the associated Housing Authority, which is administering the program on the county's behalf.

According to the redevelopment authority's latest figures, ERAP has paid out $7.2 million so far, and has incurred a little over $530,000 in eligible administrative costs. Another $9.2 million is approved and due to be paid shortly, leaving just over $38 million available.

This table shows Lancaster County's four ERAP appropriations and their uses to date. The green highlight denotes the most recent allocation, formally accepted by county resolution on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority | OUL)

ERAP provides up to 12 months of rent and utility assistance to households that meet income limits and can show they lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic. Another six months of aid can be made available if needed to ensure long-term household stability.

According to the authority's update, nearly 4,500 Lancaster County households had submitted applications as of Tuesday, Sept. 21. Of those, about 100 were above the income limit and were rejected. Of the other 4,400 (4,388, to be exact), a little over one-quarter have been approved for payment. (Note: The table below runs only through Sept. 15, when 4,025 applications had been received.)

Almost all the rest are in process or are awaiting documentation. A small number — fewer than 80 — have been withdrawn, determined to be ineligible (including eight flagged for fraud), or applicants have not responded to follow-up efforts.

That should be sufficient to meet the need, Eby told the commissioners. A little less than 60% of the money is available until September next year; the remainder can be used for another three years, until September 2025.

ERAP statistics for Lancaster County. Note: Data is through Sept. 15. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority | OUL)

ERAP is being implemented nationwide, and in many jurisdictions, it is struggling; as of July, only 11% of available funds had been distributed. A bill to streamline the program and add protections for renters recently passed out of committee in the U.S. House.

In Lancaster County, main impediment to getting applicants through the process successfully remains communication, Eby said: Specifically, making sure applicants complete all the steps and submit full documentation.

The authority and its nonprofit partners have called more than 1,000 households to follow up, Eby said. In addition, it has been holding events where applicants can receive help in person — possibly the only ERAP program in Pennsylvania to do so, Eby said.

Northern Lancaster ERAP Community Day

Applicants for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program can receive in-person assistance from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1, at the Ephrata Public Library, 550 S. Reading Road, Ephrata.

Advance registration is recommended. To register, click here.

ERAP Community Days previously took place this month at Clipper Magazine Stadium and at the Columbia Market House, assisting 94 and 29 households, respectively.

One encouraging indication: The county's rate of eviction filings has not spiked since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the national eviction moratorium at the end of August. To date, this year's eviction filings are running about 75% of the equivalent count in 2019.

The ERAP program is staying in close contact with the county court system, Eby said, regularly providing it with lists of ERAP applicants. That way, if evictions are filed against ERAP applicants due to nonpayment, magisterial district judges can be made aware that they have taken steps to make good on their debt.

It's essential to continue tracking evictions and the reasons behind them to the greatest extent possible, Commissioner Craig Lehman said, to ensure "no one falls through the cracks" through lack of access to ERAP.

There have been two Congressional appropriations to fund ERAP, and both times, some of the dollars have been routed to Lancaster County through state government, while some have been received directly. Thus, the $6.2 million accepted Wednesday, an American Recue Plan Act appropriation distributed through Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services, is the county's fourth ERAP allocation, or the fourth "bucket," as Eby put it.

Tim Stuhldreher