JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Branch NAACP is calling for an investigation into the "gross mishandling" of nearly $29 million of federal funds allocated to the City of Jacksonville to help residents make rent and utility payments.
In a letter addressed to Mayor Lenny Curry, City Council Members and the United Way of Northeast Florida, the Branch says the distribution of funds to those in need has been far too slow with the looming Eviction Moratorium expiring July 31. (Read the full letter at the bottom of this article)
Residents were able to apply for the City of Jacksonville Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) starting March 29, 2021. Applicants must have also provided proof of hardship due to COVID-19, including verification of unemployment benefits, a reduction in income or other financial issue that threatened the household’s ability to pay rent when due.
The city said priority for the funds would be given to households with incomes at or below 50% of the average median income, or with one or more members who have been unemployed at least 90 days.
The deadline to submit applications was April 9.
"Despite hundreds of people being helped, they remain thousands of Jacksonville residence who are still waiting for assistance," said The Jacksonville Branch NAACP. "The United Way of the northeast Florida claims that the backlog is due to the need for more staff to review the applications. The NAACP finds this explanation unacceptable."
The Jacksonville Branch NAACP says the delay in getting funding to necessary recipients will leave families vulnerable to evictions and will disproportionately affect blacks in low-income families who are in desperate need of help.
The city responded to First Coast News' request for a statement. In their statement, the city says more than $5.6 million has already been approved for rental assistance with an additional $1.5 million approved this week.
The city also says the federal government set the guidelines on who receives the money and when it is distributed. Those guidelines cannot be changed on the local level, according to the city's statement.
"The Jacksonville Branch NAACP has serious concerns regarding the rollout of nearly $29 million of federal funds allocated in March to the city of Jacksonville. The funds were meant to assist residents who have been unable to pay their rent or utilities. The Branch feels that the distribution of funds to those in need has been grossly mishandled and far too slow.
With the Eviction Moratorium expiring on July 31 it will leave families vulnerable to evictions and will disproportionately affect blacks in low income families who are in desperate need of help.
The relief program is a partnership between the City of Jacksonville and the United Way of Northeast Florida. Applications for assistance were accepted beginning on March 29 for families to receive up to 12 months of rent and utility payments. Despite hundreds of people being helped, they remain thousands of Jacksonville residence who are still waiting for assistance.
The United Way of the northeast Florida claims that the backlog is due to the need for more staff to review the applications. The NAACP finds this explanation unacceptable.
The city has an obligation to select and oversee agencies are responsible for the distribution of federal funds and should have chosen a partner capable of timely and administering the funds. Why should the family suffer due to inadequate staffing and poor management?
The Branch is calling for a complete investigation and accountability at the handling of this process and demand that the funding be distributed immediately to those that qualify. The city of Jacksonville and United Way owe it to residents to take swift action to make sure all the federal funds are distributed to prevent families from being evicted.
President of the Jacksonville Branch of NAACP"
Statement by the City of Jacksonville:
"All applications submitted during the application window at the end of March and early April have been through the initial review by United Way and its partner agencies. At this time, almost 2,000 households have been assisted through the City’s partnership with United Way to distribute more than $5.6 million in rental assistance and $163,000 in utility assistance. Another $1.5 million has been approved and will be delivered this week. For perspective, the amount of funding that United Way and its partner agencies have approved for payment at this point is 34% of the total funds available, which far exceeds the national average of 6% and the state average of 2%.
"The federal government set the guidelines for who was to receive these funds when they distributed the money. Municipalities and local governments were not at liberty to change those guidelines."