MESA, AZ (3 On Your Side) - Azeontoinette Williams is out of work, out of money, and behind on rent. "I have been so broke and scared," she told 3 On Your Side.
Williams says she attempted to tap into rent and utility assistance through the city of Mesa, but encountered road blocks along the way. "I tried to call so many times," she said.
Through the CARES Act, Mesa received $14 million worth of federal money to dole out for rent and utility assistance for city residents. The city partnered with the non-profit, A New Leaf, to get the money to the people who need it. Kathy DiNolfi, the chief program officer at A New Leaf, acknowledges there have been challenges distributing the funds.
According to DiNolfi, 3,500 Mesa residents applied for assistance. The majority of applications, approximately 2,800, are being processed, but there is currently a backlog of about 700 applications that have not had a first contact. There is also some confusion among clients about which application to use because the organization has both COVID and non-COVID related assistance programs, DiNolfi said. "That's where some wires are getting crossed with respect to how people get access to this money," DiNolfi told 3 On Your Side.
A New Leaf upgraded its phone system and hired 20 temporary workers to help cut through the backlog of applications. Despite processing dozens of applications a day, just $1.5 million of the $14 million fund has been distributed. Now, the organization is in a time crunch to disburse the federal money. "We only have until the end of the year to spend them," DiNolfi said. "The funds are available, they’re accessible. It’s just recognizing there’s a system and it’s a big complicated system for folks to navigate."
As it turns out, Wilson is one of the Mesa residents who had accidentally applied for the wrong type of assistance. Once 3 On Your Side flagged her case, the organization tracked down her application, got it to the right place, and approved her for the assistance that will help her stay in her home.
"It's just getting past that red tape and getting past that busy signal," Wilson said. "But once you get your application to where it is supposed to be, they are on it."
Mesa residents who have questions about the status of their rent or utility assistance applications should email MesaCares@turnanewleaf.org.