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Louisiana COVID-19 rent help stopped after 40,000 apply

July 19, 2020 GMT
People line up at the Covid-19 testing site at the Southern University's FG Clark parking lot, Tuesday July 7, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP)
People line up at the Covid-19 testing site at the Southern University's FG Clark parking lot, Tuesday July 7, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana suspended an emergency rent assistance program Sunday to help with the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 after more than 40,000 people started filling out applications for the help in less than four days.

The Louisiana Housing Corporation set aside $24 million of federal money for the program and will try to find more money after the flood of applications, said E. Keith Cunningham, the agency’s executive director.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to meet the needs of renters and landlords and are hopeful that additional federal dollars will become available as soon as possible,” Cunningham said in a statement.

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The agency estimated they had enough money to help about 10,000 tenants, paying the aid directly to landlords.

The Louisiana Housing Corporation said it will continue to process applications and take more applicants once additional money is available.

When the program was announced Thursday, housing advocates said it was a good start, but was far too little money, especially with the boosted $600-per-week federal unemployment payments expiring at the end of the month.

“Families could be forced into the streets at a time when Louisiana is facing record high temperatures, community spread of coronavirus, record levels of unemployment and food insecurity, and at the beginning of hurricane season,” Camille Manning-Broome, president of the Center for Planning Excellence, said in a statement last week.

To be eligible, a person must have lost income because of COVID-19, be at risk of eviction and have income that is at or below 30% of the area median income. That’s $13,500 for a single-person household or $19,300 for a family of four. Anyone who receives other government housing assistance is unable to receive the aid.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said the overwhelming number of applications shows the pandemic is more than just a health crisis.

“The response to our state’s emergency rental assistance program proves how significant the economic burden of COVID-19 is for our citizens,” Edwards said in a statement.

More than 3,400 Louisiana residents have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the state health department. More than 91,700 people in Louisiana have been confirmed infected with the coronavirus since March, and the health department says more than 53,000 are presumed recovered.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.