Cobb sends $17 million in emergency rental assistance to Fulton County

Cobb County commissioners unanimously agreed last week to send $17 million of its federal emergency rental assistance back to the state, so it can be turned over to Fulton County.

Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs allocated the federal ERA funds to various local jurisdictions earlier this year after the state agency failed to distribute the vast majority of it at the height of the pandemic, when the need was greatest.

Cobb, which had already spent most of its rental assistance funding, applied for and received $40 million of the state’s allocation earlier this year to help the state distribute the funding. But only $7 million of the $40 million received in April has been dispensed thus far, “due to slowing applications and applicants not being able to establish a COVID-related hardship,” Debbie Blair, the deputy county attorney, said to the board.

To prove a “COVID-related hardship,” applicants have to show documentation demonstrating that they lost their income source due to COVID-19, received unemployment benefits after March 2020 or suffered other pandemic-related situations that caused them to lose income.

“We knew it was going to be an uphill battle,” said Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt. “By the time we got the $40 million, it was difficult for applicants to provide a COVID hardship that would qualify them.”

ERA funds not distributed to renters by Dec. 29 will be reclaimed by the federal government, which is why the state “requested that we reallocate a portion of those funds to a local jurisdiction in order to keep the funding in Georgia,” Blair said.

The federal ERA program includes two levels of funding. ERA 1 funds must be distributed to those facing hardship due to COVID-19. ERA 2 funds — of which Cobb received $7 million in April — do not share that requirement.

Once the money is rerouted, Cobb will have $16 million in ERA 1 funding left to be distributed through the December deadline. The county outsourced the application process to nonprofits. Individuals who qualify can apply through the nonprofits, which work with the county to approve applications and distribute the funds.