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Hays County losing $1.7 million in federal rental assistance

The U.S. Treasury Department is recapturing the funds after Hays County failed to meet the milestone for distribution.

HAYS COUNTY, Texas — Hays County's Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program is losing $1.7 million after failing to give out enough money. 

The federal government originally gave Hays County a $6.9 million ERA1 grant to help those in need of rental assistance due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hays County's ERA program has paid out about $1.2 million to landlords, utility companies and hotels since July 2021, the County said.

Hays County said under the federal guidelines for the ERA1 grant, the County is periodically reviewed by the U.S. Treasury Department to assess how much of the funding has been distributed. In September, the Treasury took back approximately $772,791 because the County hadn't met the milestone for distribution.

On Thursday, Feb. 10, the Treasury Department took back another $1.7 million for the same reason. The County said prior to Thursday, County officials had asked the Treasury not to take back any funds, or, if they must, to reallocate them to the County based on the current and projected level of efficiency. 

In that letter, the County outlined how during the first six months of the program, the County had distributed about $757,000 and helped 384 applicants. All of that was under a program manager who resigned in early January.

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The County said in the one-month period since the program manager resigned, the ERA program has processed 155 ERA tickets – applications for assistance – and paid out more than $430,000, with another $113,000 committed to hotels for housing stability.

"We are on track to distribute the ERA1 funding in a more efficient manner," Hays County Commissioner Walt Smith (Pct. 3) said. "With a more streamlined process in place, we believe more Hays County residents can be helped in a shorter amount of time."

While the County said its efficiency has increased, it's facing staffing shortages. In Tuesday's commissioner's court meeting, Tammy Crumley, the County's director of citywide operations, said it only has one full-time staff member in the ERA program. Also, some part-time staff was out due to COVID-19-related issues.

The Hays County Auditor's Office confirmed the Treasury received the County's letter about the ERA program and created an open ticket, but it's unclear when the Treasury will issue a decision.

"If they see the efficiencies and see how we are working to complete more tickets, we believe [the] 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," Hays County Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (Pct. 1) said.

Erin Hahn with Texas Housers said the Treasury could take back money every two months up until March. In March, if the County has not assigned or dispersed the money, it will lose it. 

"All unobligated funds will be clawed back," said Hahn. "The County is in a position to lose a lot of money at the end of March. We urge the County to do everything in its power to increase processing capacity to get as many of these households that are in the application backlog." 

As of Monday at 5 p.m., Crumley said the County has 357 open cases. A total of 185 are pending citizen completion, 139 are under staff review and 33 are under auditors' review.

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