Aging Division calls for local organizations to help aging and disabled renters – Casper Star-Tribune

The Wyoming Department of Health’s Aging Division needs more local partners — including health care agencies and home modification providers — to help carry out a coronavirus relief program for aging and disabled renters.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), established by the federal CARES Act, assists Americans struggling to pay rent because of the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury allocated $352 million for Wyoming’s rental aid program. Community organizations have given out $21.6 million of that to landlords, renters and utilities companies so far, according to the Department of Family Service’s website.

But not all rental aid money goes toward rental assistance; $1 million has been earmarked to pay for home disability access and personal care services.

Most seniors and people with disabilities want to stay in their homes as long as they can, said Jeff Clark, community living section manager for the aging division. They often find it more comfortable, and cheaper, than moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home, he said.

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But houses, apartments and trailers aren’t usually designed to accommodate people with mobility problems. They require additional modifications — which can be pricey for people already having trouble with rent.

That’s why the Housing Stability Services program was created. The program, which launched last summer, pays for a variety of services aimed at keeping Wyomingites in their homes. It serves adults ages 55 or older and people with disabilities, as long as they’re eligible for ERAP.

In addition to household renovations, it funds things like trailer repairs, cleaning services, skilled nursing and transportation.

Each applicant is eligible for up to $5,000 of assistance. A grant of about $2,000 is typical, said Mark Kelly, Housing Stability Services program manager. In total, the program has doled out about $15,000 so far, Kelly estimates.

As of Tuesday, it had served 27 people. Another 39 applications were pending, Kelly said.

Some of those 39 won’t have to wait long for help, Kelly said. But a lack of county-level partner organizations is causing a backlog of applications in some parts of the state.

When someone requests a service through Housing Stability Services, the aging division has to find a local business or nonprofit to carry it out.

Say a 75-year-old man in Cheyenne applies for disability modifications for his rental unit. The aging division could pay a group like Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County to do the necessary renovations: adding ramps, railing, a walk-in shower and anything else he needs. The group would then be reimbursed with ERAP money.

But until such an organization agrees to provide that service — and the aging division verifies the organization is a good fit for the program — that man can’t be helped.

There’s an especially steep need for partner organizations in Albany, Campbell, Natrona, Big Horn and Uinta counties, Kelly said.

There are enough groups out there that’d be right for the job, but not all of them have the person power or time to take on additional clients, Clark said.

Senior centers, for example, provide a lot of the services applicants ask for, he said. A lot of them are hurting for staff right now. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated frustrations over stagnant wages, leading to widespread employee shortages — not least for those who work in the social services and health care industries.

In counties where there are enough community partners, the program is going fairly smoothly, Kelly said. Some applicants can be helped in a matter of days.

“It can be a quick process once all the ducks are in a row,” he said.

For information about how to apply for the Housing Stability Services program, or how your business or organization can become a local provider, visit health.wyo.gov/aging.

To apply for ERAP rental assistance, visit dfs.wyo.gov.

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