|SARASOTA COUNTY – After nearly two years of providing emergency financial assistance to the citizens of Sarasota County, the Sarasota County Emergency Rental Assistance Program successfully distributed all funds to the community as of March 22 and the program is now closed.
Since Sarasota County’s ERAP began accepting applications on May 5, 2021, the program has disbursed over $20 million in rent and utility assistance. These funds helped 1,151 households pay over 13,800 months of rent and 5,640 months of utilities.
In addition to paying existing rent and utilities for residents, ERAP helped 65 Sarasota County households move into new rental locations. U.S. Department of the Treasury guidelines allowed the program to provide financial assistance to qualifying applicants for some of the large upfront costs required when moving. Several of these applicants were homeless prior to receiving assistance from ERAP and are now stably housed.
“The Sarasota County Emergency Rental Assistance program has undeniably made a difference in the lives of Sarasota County residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis. “Our Board of County Commissioners set clear expectations at the beginning of the process and staff delivered on those expectations.”
The Sarasota County Board of County Commission established the program after receiving an initial direct allocation of $13.1 million from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to provide direct rent and utility assistance to renters impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first Sarasota County ERAP payment was issued on May 11, 2021, just days after applications opened. “Throughout the program our goal has been to provide as much assistance as quickly and responsibly as possible. ERAP was able to help pay 13,800 months of rent and 5,640 months of utility payments, and staff worked incredibly hard to see those applications and payments through,” said Sarasota County Emergency Rental Assistance Program manager Laurel Varnell.
To help applicants, program ambassador offices opened at six locations across the county. The ambassadors served as an in-person support and application location. They were valuable resources in the community, as they answered questions about the program and the process. Ambassadors had more than 6,000 interactions with applicants during the time they were open, through the end of the program.
“Being there to see the applicants through this process was impactful for both the applicant and the ambassador,” said Sarasota County ERAP Ambassador Supervisor Carolyn J. Mason. “We were honored to help our neighbors right here in our backyard.”
In December 2021, Sarasota County started funding out of a second round of funding from the Treasury, which provided Sarasota County ERAP an additional $9.2 million over three payments. These additional funds allowed the program to expand eligibility requirements and provide additional months of assistance to approved applicants.
The Sarasota County Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller’s office were a critical partner throughout the process, helping to prevent fraud before funding was disbursed.
“As the County Comptroller, my office is responsible for auditing payment requests prior to making a disbursement of county funds. Our focus was on processing payments quickly for those entitled to financial resources as defined by the U.S. Department of Treasury. To that end, my office audited approximately 14,300 payment requests made for utility and rental assistance that were accompanied by proof of need,” noted Karen E. Rushing, Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller. “We appreciate the professionalism of county government staff as we worked together to ensure that federal guidelines were met and those in need received resources provided by the federal government.”
Sarasota County staff worked diligently over the course of nearly two years to review applications, allocate funding, work with applicants, landlords and utility companies to process applications and disburse program funds into the community.
For more information, call 311 or visit scgov.net/rent.