Millions of people in this economy still need help paying their rent. And after the Supreme Court annulled President Joe Biden’s eviction ban, distribution of around $ 50 billion in emergency rental aid went rather slowly.
Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Jessica Thomasson, executive director of policy at the North Dakota Department of Social Services, about how her office handles the distribution of rent relief and the complications involved in the rent relief. process. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kai Ryssdal: Why – and I’m going to ask you to speak, sort of, maybe outside of North Dakota – but the larger question seems to be: why is it so difficult? And I wonder what you see.
Jessica Thomasson: Part of the challenge of providing emergency rent assistance during this time is trying to get it right, and making sure you’re getting the right dollars to the right people at the right time – and that they are responding to the needs. basic eligibility criteria that have been established by the federal government. And you have to do all of this very quickly, usually in systems that weren’t designed for it. So while conceptually this seems like something that should be pretty easy to pull off, it has been a logistical challenge to make sure all the pieces work together at the right time.
Ryssdal: How long do you think it might take before it works properly? I mean, there [is] with the moratorium on evictions expiring, there are benefits that are disappearing – all of those things.
Thomasson: You know, I actually think we’re seeing signs of it right now. I think over the last few months, I know that in our state and others as well, people have been working really hard to refine what awareness looks like. It sounds counterintuitive, but often people filter themselves out. They think they don’t qualify, they think they haven’t really had a hard time because maybe they haven’t, you know, lost their job or been hit with unemployment directly. But in fact, they have struggled, and a lot of households are struggling even more now. And I think it really helps them understand what the opportunity is for them to get back on their feet by participating in this emergency rent assistance program. So I think we’re starting to see the benefits. Hope we all are – I wish it was faster – but I think we’re starting to see it.
Ryssdal: You used an interesting word: “awareness”. Those of us who follow the news closely or work in the news industry are familiar with these programs. Not everyone is glued to, you know, their phones or laptops or whatever. And I guess you have to do some marketing to make sure people know that these programs are available.
Thomasson: More than any of us expected. I would say – and I guess I will speak only for myself – but we are a largely rural state. It takes a real, concerted effort to make sure people understand that this is something worth asking and trying to get help.
Ryssdal: Is there an opportunity here? And I’m sure you’ve explored that for community organizations, public-private partnerships, that sort of thing. Because what you got here is a communication problem, not a problem, you know, let’s write the checks.
Thomasson: Yeah, 100%. We really see it. In North Dakota, we call it an app counseling network. So we are working with community organizations across the state who are making that connection within the community, in person or by phone, email or SMS, for someone who might be struggling to get all the way to through the process. And it’s that connection point that we believe will make all the difference and then allow us to make sure that we deal with whatever happens to us as quickly as possible to connect that assistance to the people who need it.
Ryssdal: Take a step back and frame this in terms of North Dakota’s economy, and people can make their own inferences based on the national economy. But people don’t get rent assistance, can’t concentrate at work, they can’t make that paycheck, they can’t shop for groceries, they can’t do all of these trickle-down things. on the economy at large, right?
Thomasson: I think for all of us during the pandemic it became more and more evident that in order to be actively engaged in the workforce you need to have some stability in your day to day life, whether it is on guard duty. children, family or stable responsibilities. lodging. I think we all come to understand that this is directly related to your ability to stay engaged in the workforce, which is what people want to do. This is how you run your household budget.
Ryssdal: Jessica Thomasson, she is the Executive Director of Policy in the North Dakota Department of Social Services. Miss Thomasson, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
Thomasson: Thank you for.