Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Montana’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program is coming to an end in a few weeks, and two of the state’s top officials were in the KGVO studio on Friday’s Talk Back show to discuss it.

Scott Osterman, Director of the Montana Department of Commerce described the purpose of the Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program to KGVO listeners.

The State Emergency Rental Assistance Program is Ending

“The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program came out of the COVID pandemic as rental assistance for those people especially that were hit by not able being able to work,” began Osterman. “That started in the spring or winter of 2021. it has gone through two iterations called MERA. we call it MERA 1 and MERA 2. People have maybe heard this saying; ‘nothing is as permanent as a temporary government program’ and now we're winding down to the end.”

MERA, which is ending, is a temporary federal program administered by the State of Montana. Montana's other rental assistance programs are not ending, only MERA, which was temporary from the beginning as it was a pandemic-era federal program.

Cheryl Cohen, Administrator for the Montana Housing Division provided important statistics on how successful the program has been.

The Program Boasted Impressive Numbers of those Receiving Assistance

“We just want to share the success of the MERA program,” said Cohen. “When we originally designed the program, we had estimated we would be able to serve about 7,850 Montanans based on the federal eligibility of the program, and we thought also our assumption was then we'd be able to disburse about $44 million. However, the MERA program has exceeded our expectations on both fronts. We've now served 12,900 families with over $114 million of assistance.”

Cohen said the Montana administrated program was highly efficient and wasted no resources.

“It was certainly a lean and mean program,” said Cohen. “We employed about 25 staff that we onboarded. We used an online application platform to make it as simple and expedient as possible. And we were also responsible stewards of these funds. We prevented over $48 million of potentially fraudulent applications from being funded. So we're very proud of our efforts in this area.”

Cohen understands how fearful many Montana families might be due to the sunsetting of the Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and provide information on how to get more help with rising rents.

“I just want to add for families that we know housing is a struggle for a lot of families in Missoula and throughout the state, and that we do have other programs that can assist families even with the wind-down of the MERA program,” she said. “For example, families can apply to the Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section Eight voucher, go to housing dot mt.gov. select rental assistance, and then Housing Choice Voucher and folks can apply to the waitlist. We also administer a variety of other programs that they can check out on housing.mt.gov and connect with their local Human Resource Development Councils for additional assistance.”

 Interesting - The Administration will Consider the Pandemic Over in June

Click the links to connect with programs that may help with further rental assistance once the MERA program ends.

The Biden Administration has stated that all federal COVID assistance will end in June, meaning the government will officially consider the pandemic over at that time.

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