MISSOULA — The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program (MERAP) has helped thousands of Montanas already since its launch a year ago. In fact, over $30 million has been awarded to 4,700 Montana families.
“The program is just a godsend for many people,” said Jim Morton, Human Resource Council executive director in Missoula.
The rental assistance program helps people pay for not only past due rent and utility bills, but those current and future bills — helping clear people from their debt due to COVID.
“The family does need to self-attest to having a financial hardship due directly or indirectly to COVID,” said Montana Housing Division administrator Cheryl Cohen.
But in the near future, the need to be affected by COVID-19 could change.
"However, we're working right now to expand the program to use a second bucket of money that the state's received from the federal government," Cohen told MTN News. "And under that program, the family just needs to attest that they've experienced a financial hardship during the pandemic."
Cohen says there is a robust use of the Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“Families can receive up to $2,200 a month in rental assistance for rental arrears and future rent going all the way back to April of 2020," Cohen told MTN News. "And we can provide up to 15 months of assistance.”
Along with rental assistance, the program can help pay up to $300 a month for utilities. And with home energy costs rising, that can be a big help. But how do you know if you are eligible?
The program’s website has a step-by-step checklist to help guide users through the application process. The first step is to check eligibility. All you have to do is input your county and household size. Then the online tool automatically gives you your income limit.
“So the federal government limits eligibility to households at 80% of the median income and below,” said Cohen.
“In Missoula County, a family of three can make up to around $54,000 annually," said Morton. "In Ravalli County, a family of three can make about $51,000.”
The program is also available for landlords to initiate the application on behalf of renters. If you or someone you know needs help with the application, you can always call your local Human Resource Center.