Florida's delay in distribution of federal rental assistance funds under scrutiny

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved a renewed, 60-day eviction moratorium that would protect areas where 90% of the U.S. population lives on Tuesday. 

The moratorium is set to expire on Oct. 3, according to the newly signed order. 

"Following the recent surge in cases brought forth by the highly transmissible Delta variant, the CDC Director now issues a new Order temporarily halting evictions for persons in counties experiencing substantial or high rates of transmission, for the reasons described herein. This Order will expire on October 3, 2021, but is subject to further extension, modification, or rescission based on public health circumstances," according to the CDC’s website. 

Property owner Ellen Sousa said she has 15 Central Florida tenants who haven't paid rent in 16 months.

"I have to pay the bills," said Sousa. "Not being able to get our rent, I can’t pay my bills. So I’m in the same situation as the majority of the tenants that are not paying. They’re struggling and we’re struggling."

Florida received $870 million in federal funds for rental assistance, but as of Friday, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) has only distributed 2% of the funds.

RELATED: CDC orders new 60-day eviction moratorium amid COVID-19 surge

DCF is overseeing the rental assistance funds and said they have processed 4,300 of the 30,000 applications they have received. They blame the delay on incomplete information from tenants. The agency says Our Florida has made 80,000 calls to people to try to help fix applications.

But experts said if people don't get the funds soon, people will be put on the streets.

"Federal funds, billions of dollars have been set aside and only a small fraction has made it to the folks who need it the most. Is very troubling and we have to do better," said Rajni Shankar-Brown a professor at Stetson University and the Vice President of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Local lawmakers are now questioning why DCF was put in charge of the funds.

"It's incredibly frustrating but predictable," said State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando. "It would be better to work with agencies that have a history of grant requests and streaming money into local governments."

The CDC put the eviction ban in place as part of the COVID-19 response when jobs shifted and many workers lost income. The ban was intended to hold back the spread of the virus among people put out on the streets and into shelters.

The White House noted that state-level efforts to stop evictions would spare a third of the country from evictions over the next month.

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