On Friday, Iowa launched a program to help people facing eviction or foreclosure due to hardship caused by COVID-19, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced at her daily press conference. But very few currently receiving unemployment benefits will likely qualify for help from the Iowa Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program.
The program is being administered by the Iowa Finance Authority, and Reynolds asked the agency’s director, Debi Durham, to outline it during the press conference.
“To be eligible for the program, Iowans must be a current renter or homeowner that has not be able to pay their rent or mortgage due to the COVID-19 related loss of income on or after March 17, 2020,” Durham said.
Applicants will need to provide documentation of income prior to March 17 — the day Reynolds signed the first emergency public health proclamation that closed some businesses in Iowa — as well as documentation of income loss after that date.
Because the program is using funds from the federal government provided through the CARES Act, it can only be used to address problems directly related to the pandemic. Iowa has received $1.25 billion in funding to pay for pandemic-related expenses through the CARES Act. Reynolds has allocated $22 million of that for the eviction and foreclosure program.
Evictions, foreclosures and utility disconnections were halted in Iowa on March 19, in accordance with an order issued by Gov. Reynolds. Those protections expired on Wednesday, after the governor decided not to extend them.
The program will provide up to four months’ worth of assistance paying rent or mortgage payments going back to the amount due on April 1. The maximum amount of rental assistance available is $3,200, and for mortgage assistance, the maximum amount available is $3,000.
In addition to being able to document a COVID-19-related loss of income, there is also an income limit for applicants. To be eligible, a person cannot have a current income of more than 80 percent of the median family income in their county of residence. IFA will determine if an applicant’s income is below that threshold.
And, as mentioned above, applicants “must not be receiving — and this is very important — they must not be receiving the additional $600 a week in additional unemployment funds as a federal stimulus benefit,” Durham said. She did not explain why that disqualified an applicant, but since Iowa Workforce Development is providing the supplemental $600 a week from the federal government to people currently receiving unemployment benefits, they will be ineligible.
Also ineligible for assistance is anyone who was needs assistance paying back rent or making up missed mortgage payments that occurred before March 17. It’s estimated that approximately 700 eviction actions had begun when the March 19 prohibition went into effect.
“Assistance will be granted on a first-come, ready-to-proceed [basis]. Which means it is critical that all requested information is provided in full at time of application,” Durham said. “Also, please note that applications for eviction prevention assistance will require an electronic landlord verification.”
Payments from the program will be made directly to the landlord, or to the bank or other mortgage service provider.
More information about the program, including how to apply, is available at IowaHousingRecovery.com. The applications can only be completed online, according to the site.
Applications must be submitted using the online application portal. Please contact a trusted friend or family member or your local library for assistance in applying. Applications submitted by email, U.S. mail, fax, or any other means will be ineligible and will not be reviewed. [Emphasis in the original.]
“Not everyone though, we know, in need of assistance is going to be eligible for financial assistance through this program because they don’t meet the timeline,” Durham said. “And so because of this, we have formed a partnership with Iowa Legal Aid, who will be able to provide free legal assistance for renters and homeowners who are at risk of eviction or foreclosure at this time.”
Asked what sort of assistance Iowa Legal Aid will be able to provide, Durham replied, “They’ll individually counsel each individual case, because every case is different. And what they will do is then identify service providers that can help them, whether that’s financial or I’m not really sure.”
Even though there are restrictions on how federal funds awarded through the CARES Act can be used, state funds could be used to assist people facing eviction or foreclosure who don’t qualify for the program. Gov. Reynolds did not mention this possibility, although she did begin the press conference by boasting about the state’s “very strong financial position.”
“Here in Iowa, because of fiscally responsible budgeting practices, we are fortunate to be in a very strong financial position prior to COVID-19 impacting our state,” Reynolds said. “When we closed the books in fiscal year , we had a budget surplus of nearly $300 million, our cash reserves were full and our labor participation rate was one of the highest in the country.”
The city of Cedar Rapids announced on Friday, it is launching an eviction protection program to help low and moderate-income household with rent and utility payments. The city allocated $623,757 to establish the program.
As of 10 a.m. on Friday, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting that another 289 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19, including one resident of Johnson County and two of Linn County. Those newly reported cases brought the state’s total to 18,791.
IDPH also reported another 20 people have died from the virus. As of 10 a.m., the state’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 520.
For the second day in a row, the governor was asked about IDPH policies regarding outbreaks of COVID-19 at businesses. The department has a very strict definition for what constitutes an outbreak in a business setting.
“The Department of Public Health will confirm an outbreak when we’ve identified at least 10 percent of the employees at a particular location, in particular types of locations, like congregate settings where social distancing is not possible at work,” IDPH Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter said at the governor’s press conference on Wednesday. The department also considers a 10 percent absentee rate in such a workplace setting to be evidence of an outbreak.
Employers are not required to report employees testing positive for COVID-19 or absenteeism rates to IDPH, which, as Reisetter acknowledged, can delay the identification of an outbreak. The governor has the power to order businesses to report that information and to change the IDPH’s definition of an outbreak, so the public will be informed earlier of a problem, but has shown no inclination to do so.
On Friday, Reynolds was asked if businesses should be required to report absenteeism to IDPH when it reaches that 10 percent threshold. The governor replied at length, but did not answer the question.
The governor began her reply by saying, “We have announced each time there’s been an outbreak in a business.”
That statement is, at best, misleading.
As Reisetter explained on both Wednesday and Thursday, it is IDPH’s policy not to confirm the existence of an outbreak at a business unless asked if one is occurring by a reporter. All the confirmations of business outbreaks from either the governor or IDPH have come in response to questions from reporters.
Reynolds was also asked on Friday about the impact of the delays in informing the public about outbreaks caused by IDPH’s policies. Since the governor believes it is up to each Iowan to determine what constitutes safe behavior during the pandemic, doesn’t the delay in alerting a community to a growing number of cases at a meat processing plant or other business endanger the public?
“That’s why we’re providing the information that we are on the [IDPH COVID-19] website, so Iowans can go in and kind of see the numbers and what it looks like,” Reynolds said.
The governor reminded reporters and others listening to the press conference, “I said this to you yesterday, since about March 11, we have been in substantial spread of the virus. Which means that Iowans should practice the same requirements and take the same proactive measures that we’ve asked them to do from the very beginning.”
Actually,the governor said yesterday that the state had been experiencing “substantial spread” since March 8, the day the first three cases of COVID-19 in Iowa were confirmed. The governor didn’t inform the public that community spread of the virus was occurring until March 14. When she made that announcement, the governor also said it was too soon to take any major actions regarding the virus, such as closing businesses or schools. It was only recently Reynolds began using the phrase “substantial spread.”
The governor announced on Friday that she is discontinuing her weekday press conferences on COVID-19.
“Iowans are gradually getting back to life and business as usual, and it is time for me and my time to do the same thing,” she said.
Reynolds said she will move to twice-a-week press conferences on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Little Village will continue to cover the governor’s press conferences.