Sierra Martin | Managing Editor
HAYS COUNTY — The Hays County COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program has lost an additional $1.7M in federal grant funding due to not hitting the targeted milestones in the distribution set by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Under the federal guidelines for this grant, Hays County is periodically reviewed by the Treasury Department to assess how much funding has been distributed. In September, the Treasury recaptured approximately $772,791 of the ERA funds as Hays County had not met a milestone for distribution.
Funded by the $6.9 million ERA1 grant from the U.S. Treasury Department, the ERA program has paid out about $1.2 million to landlords, utility companies and hotels since it began in July 2021.
On February 10, the Treasury Department recaptured $1.7 million for the same reason. Prior to that date, county officials sent a request that the Treasury either not recapture the funds or, if they must be recaptured, to re-allocate them back to the county based on our current and projected level of efficiency.
In that letter, Hays County outlined how during the first six months of the program, under a program manager who resigned in early January, the county distributed about $757,000 and helped 384 applicants (commonly referred to with the ERA office as tickets).
On January 18, the Hays County Commissioners Court approved issuing a formal solicitation to find a new program manager, which could be a firm or an individual. The RFP was issued on January 20.
“With this RFP, we are focusing on the ERA program becoming more efficient and bringing in a leader who can successfully manage a high-volume, often high-stress program while continuing to adhere to U.S. Treasury grant guidelines and rules,” said Commissioner Walt Smith.
In the one-month period since the departure of the program manager, the ERA program has processed 155 ERA tickets for assistance and paid out more than $430,000. Another $113,000 is committed to hotels for housing stability.
“We are on track to distribute the ERA1 funding in a more efficient manner,” said Hays County Commissioner Walt Smith, Pct. 3. “With a more streamlined process in place, we believe more Hays County residents can be helped in a shorter amount of time.”
The county auditor’s office confirmed that the U.S. Treasury Office received the county’s letter about the ERA Program and created an open ticket. It is not known when the federal office will issue a decision.
“Hays County is hopeful that the U.S. Treasury will take our request under serious consideration,” said Hays County Commissioner Mark Jones, Pct. 2.
Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, Pct. 1, agreed.
“If they see the efficiencies and see how we are working to complete more tickets, we believe Treasury will agree that losing the funding would mean we would lose the ability to help that many more residents in jeopardy of being evicted or having necessary utility services shut off,” she said.