The COVID-19 pandemic caused hundreds of thousands of Ohioans, and millions of Americans, to lose their jobs or businesses. This meant families couldn’t pay for the necessities: food, rent or mortgages, utilities, and health care. The government has stepped up, though not always in a timely fashion, and has provided significant funding to meet these basic needs.
Ohio has opted to use Community Action as the foundation for the distribution system for many of these benefits. The State decided to use $50 million in CARES Act funds allocated to it to fund rent and utility assistance late last year. The CARES Act was approved last April, and the dollars were allocated to the network in October. The funds were just about exhausted when the Omnibus funding bill passed on December 27, 2020. Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds also were made available. The DeWine Administration flowed this funding through Community Action as well, though the agencies are using numerous local partners to assist with getting the money out, just like it takes a big network to get shots in peoples’ arms.
The folks at the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) put together a nice little chart embedded below that provides information on the funding availability and purpose. Here’s a brief recap:
CARES Act – Passed in April 2020, with funding available in May, the CARES Act was the first installment of pandemic relief. It was passed on a bipartisan basis; it had to be because the Republicans still controlled the Senate. The bill set aside significant funds for state and local governments. The larger cities put this money to work fairly quickly, and a number of OPAE members have been involved in distributing these funds locally for rent and utility assistance, including water & sewage.
However, the State and many smaller governments held the dollars, hoping to be able to use them to fill revenue holes caused by the loss of tax receipts. As summer turned to fall and Congress couldn’t agree to waive the spending requirements, these governments were forced to use the funds to directly benefit people. Additional local funds became available to agencies, and the State passed $50 million to the Community Action network to distribute for rental and utility assistance.
HEAP also received an additional $900 million in the bill; Ohio received about $37 million. CSBG also received supplemental funding of $900 million.
FY 21 Regular HEAP Appropriations – In the first of a series of Continuing Resolutions, Congress authorized full funding for HEAP. $3.7 billion (99%) of the funds were released in November 2020 and February 2021. Ohio received $147 million, roughly the same level we have seen for the past several years.
The Omnibus Appropriations Bill – Passed on December 27, 2020, this legislation included the 13 regular appropriations bills and a host of funding to address the impacts of the pandemic. It also included the reauthorization of HWAP. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was once of the biggest chunks of funding, a full $25 billion. It must be spent by the end of this calendar year. Ohio again chose to flow this funding through the Community Action network and its local partners. The funds are for rental assistance and utilities, including water and sewage. Congress also created a new water and sewage utility assistance program, appropriately names the Low-Income Home Water Assistance Program, providing $653 million. The funds remain available until expended. ODSA will administer the funds in Ohio.
American Rescue Plan – The $1.9 trillion package was the first of President Biden’s initiatives to address problems resulting from the pandemic. The legislation included a host of new programs and policies. Most relevant to the OPAE network were four provisions. First, HEAP receives $4.5 billion in supplemental funding; Ohio’s share is $157 million. The funds can be spent through September 2022. Second, $9.96 billion was approved to establish a Homeowner Assistance Fund. The funds are available through September 2025. Many state and local governments have used funds under their control to provide mortgage payment assistance. This is the first formal federal program to address those needs. Utilities are also allowable expenditures under the program. Third, there was a second injection of funding into the Emergency Rental Assistance Program described above. The funds can be spent through September 2027. Finally, Congress added another $500 million to the new Low-Income Home Water Assistance Program.
Add Ohio’s Percentage Income Payment Plan to the list, and it is clear that Ohio has access to significant levels of funding to mitigate the impact of the pandemic by keeping people in their homes and keeping the light and heat on, along with water flowing.
Our heartfelt thanks to all those working at OPAE member agencies to qualify customers for these programs. You are truly essential workers!