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The Future of Federal Financial Management

Transformation Stories

Bureau of the Fiscal Service Rushes Emergency Rental Assistance to Tenants and Landlords

Along with unemployment, COVID-19 resulted in another economic stress for many Americans: the inability to pay their rent. The fear of losing their homes has weighed heavily on millions of Americans. According to Moody’s Analytics, by the end of January 2021, nearly 12 million renters in the U.S. owed an average of $6,000 in late rent and utility payments.

Earlier this year, the federal ban on most evictions was extended. While a temporary solution, it left many landlords out in the cold. Forty-nine million rental units in the U.S. are owned by individuals, not large property management companies. More than 70 percent of rental properties are mom-and-pop landlords who earn income from their properties. Eviction bans may keep some tenants from losing their homes in the short term, but many landlords still owed the banks to pay their mortgages.

When a long-term solution was on the way, Fiscal Service was there to help.

Second Round of Relief

As part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), on January 5, 2021, the Department of the Treasury launched a $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program to assist households that are unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the program, Treasury provided the funding within 30 days to state, local, municipal, and tribal communities, which would then distribute the relief to applicants. Eligible households could receive up to 12 months of assistance, plus a potential additional three months.

Fiscal Service's Role

As a Treasury bureau, Fiscal Service immediately went to work to disburse the funds as quickly as possible. The bureau recruited employees from the Administrative Resource Center (ARC) who had worked on the implementation of portions the CARES Act earlier in the year. Their experience was invaluable — the previous year, they had expeditiously disbursed $150 billion in payments to state, local, municipal, and tribal communities. They knew how to stand up the payment systems in the shortest amount of time possible and knew the areas where they could improve the process.

The Process

Balancing accuracy and speed were critical to the success of this operation. The team quickly established a standard operating procedure based on lessons learned during the implementation of the CARES Act. ARC employees knew what to look out for early in the application process that could create a barrier down the road and found ways to improve the system to quickly vet applications. Emergency Rental Assistance team members were trained and got to work.

There was a tight deadline to get this done. Recipients only had until January 12 to complete their applications to meet CRRSA’s mandate. Treasury’s website provided clear information showing eligibility, the methodology used to determine recipient allocations, and the information needed for applicants to receive payments.

Treasury set up the application process within days of enactment of the CRRSA. The system allowed for eligible housing assistance entities, such as state housing authorities, to fill out an application online. An ARC team reviewed the applications and quickly converted the applications into payment requests for electronic disbursal to the requesting housing authorities. Within six weeks of the bill’s enactment, more than 1,000 electronic payments valued at nearly $25 billion were disbursed to housing authorities as far north as Point Hope, Alaska and as far south as American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the South Pacific.

The Vision in Action

Fiscal Service's vision is to meet Americans’ expectations: to be an efficient steward of federal financial resources; to provide accurate financial information; and for financial interactions to be modern, seamless, inclusive, and secure. Treasury, Fiscal Service, and the ARC team's fast implementation of the Emergency Rental Assistance program shows how agile financial management enables the federal government to quickly respond to the needs of Americans in times of crisis.

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Last modified 03/16/21