PHOENIX (3 On Your Side) -- Arizona has doled out just a small fraction of its nearly $300 million emergency rental assistance fund and some renters have reported trouble accessing the available money, but after a 3 On Your Side report aired, a renter and landlord received payments almost immediately.
As 3 On Your Side reported last week, Theresa Cunningham and her landlord, Alan DiCicco had applied for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) through the Arizona Department of Economic Security together, just like the state requires. They say they sent in required paperwork and spoke with several people at the agency, receiving different information every time. Cunningham was months behind on rent for her home in Golden Valley and her electricity had just been shut off.
"I'm just trying to keep going but running into nothing but road blocks," Cunningham said.
DiCicco had his own bills to pay and was worried about Cunningham's health and safety without propane or electricity, so he reached out to 3 On Your Side for help.
DES promised to look into the application, and within hours of our report airing, the agency contacted both Cunningham and DiCicco. DiCicco has already received a check for back rent, Cunningham's utilities were restored just in time for her to get to work over the weekend, and she has been approved for additional assistance through June.
"DES was extremely apologetic about what we had gone through with them and really admitted that it was fairly ridiculous," Cunningham said. "Even if it was a new program, we should not have had to go through what we did go through."
"We're all really grateful," DiCicco added. "You don’t expect things like this to happen, you know, where somebody helps like that, and it’s a lot of money to someone like Theresa and myself. It’s a lot."
Tasya Peterson, a spokesperson for DES, said the agency is not able to comment on individual cases, so it's unclear why Cunningham faced delays with her application.
"While we cannot comment on specific applications, DES encourages landlords and tenants to work together when submitting their applications for payment in order to prevent any delays in processing," Peterson said in an email to 3 On Your Side. "If the information does not align, for example, the amount of rent a tenant pays or the outstanding balance, it will result in a request for clarification. Additionally, utility bills may require additional communication if the account owner is not clearly identified, or if DES does not have sufficient information on where to send the payment."
Peterson said it is also important for applicants to regularly monitor emails and phone calls from DES, which may come from numbers without visible caller ID.
Arizona’s $289 million dollar emergency rental assistance program is administered by DES and is available to people who live in 12 of the state’s rural counties to help pay for rent and utilities. The state has received 1,676 applications. Just 597 of them have been completed by both the landlord and renter.
According to the agency, it has issued about $443,000 in rental and utility assistance to date, and is in the process of sending out another $600,000. The payments and pending payments represent less than half a percent of the money that is in the state's emergency rental assistance fund. Peterson said the agency is doing outreach to let Arizonans know about the help that is available.
"Last week, the Department reached out to an additional 74,000 existing DES clients within the service area with information about ERAP, totaling more than 124,000 direct communications with potential applicants," Peterson said. "We will continue to provide communication and outreach to the areas we serve, and further collaborate with our county partners to ensure individuals in need are aware of the availability of the program."