COVID-19 has impacted Arkansans in a variety of ways. For families who have lost partial or full wages due to layoffs and shut downs, the stress of keeping a roof over their heads has been especially hard. With help from a variety of government assistance programs, residents in central Arkansas have found some help paying their monthly rent.

One such program – the Arkansas Fresh Start Program – has helped the state’s 15 Community Action agencies provide relief to renters and landlords alike, who are losing income due to COVID-19. All of this is in response to the 2020 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention moratorium that stopped eviction orders by landlords on tenants who say they can’t pay their rent.

Melissa Allen, Community Programs Director at the Community Action Program for Central Arkansas, said the agency has provided $340,000 in rental assistance to 259 households in the agency’s coverage area of Faulkner, Cleburne and White counties. Funds were distributed through two rounds of assistance – one in late 2020 and a second round that is currently underway with some funds still available. To apply, visit https://arfresh start.com.

According to the Arkansas Community Action Agencies website, the Fresh Start program is funded partially by the federal CARES Act funds through the Arkansas State Legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office, along with additional money provided by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

The Fresh Start Program provides rent payment assistance for Arkansans who have fallen behind on their rent due to the health and economic impacts caused by the Coronavirus. Eligible applicants may receive benefits of up to 2.5 months of rent. Applicants must be behind on their rent and meet some income guidelines.

“If we help clients, the landlord cannot evict them. The program is created to be as simple as possible,” said Allen. “There is an income calculator on the website that will take into account how much you pay for rent, and that determines how much assistance you can get if approved.” Landlords then sign off on the application and enter into an agreement with the tenant. Funds are sent directly to the landlord.

Since landlords are losing income when tenants cannot pay their rent, the program has been a blessing to them as well. Allen said there are a “significant number of landlords we have sent funds to” in Central Arkansas.

“Everyone has been impacted by COVID in one way or another. Whether it’s because their kids are at home due to homeschool and they need more food, they have a higher electric bill, or they need better internet for work and school from home. There were so many scenarios we saw. The goal is to give clients a little stability so they won’t be so overwhelmed.”

Another program that has been offered through the CARES Act is the Emergency Solutions Grant. This program is not only for paying rent, but it also assists the homeless find permanent housing. This program is designed more for those in extreme poverty. Allen said CAPCA has received $400,000 designated to help the homeless find permanent housing, and $325,000 to prevent evictions.

Two other more local programs that can be used to help those in need are funds from the United Way and from Community Development Block Grants. United Way funds have been used to help with rental assistance, and CDBG grants are designed to help with emergency assistance of all kinds.

“Families come to us for help, and we can see which programs are best for them and which ones they quality for. For instance, if they need utility assistance and we can’t help, we can give them a food box, and the money they would spend on food can be spent on utilities,” Allen said. “We have tremendous community partners around here, and we also work with other nonprofits. No one should lose their house or go without utilities. There are so many things we can do to prevent negative things from happening.”

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