Mississippi is now accepting applications to help struggling renters, three months after President Trump signed a COVID-19 stimulus bill. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Mississippi is now accepting applications to help struggling renters, three months after then-President Donald Trump signed a massive COVID-19 stimulus bill, including $25 billion for rental assistance.

On Monday, the same day the state opened the program, President Joe Biden’s U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a federal halt on evictions to June 30th. It had been set to expire at the end of March.

Mississippi Home Corporation is taking applications from needy renters, as well as landlords who file on behalf of tenants, at ms-ramp.com. The home corporation program, called the Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program (RAMP), received $186 million of the $200 million U.S. Department of Treasury allocated to Mississippi through the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Harrison and Hinds Counties secured a total of $14 million for themselves. Anyone living in Harrison should apply through the Open Doors Homeless Coalition at 228-604-8011. Hinds has not begun administering its portion, home corporation director Scott Spivey said, but Hinds County residents may apply to RAMP.

The assistance is meant to help renters who were financially impacted by COVID-19.

The Mississippi Home Corporation first began administering RAMP in July using $18 million the state received through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Solutions Grant. But the agency stopped offering rental assistance through the program in January, Spivey said, due to federal guidance. Spivey explained that because an eviction moratorium had begun Sept. 4, the federal government suggested renters were no longer at a great enough risk of homelessness to qualify for the grant.

That program also came with strict eligibility guidelines that caused several thousand to be denied, but the treasury money is more flexible. For one, the program announced today raises the income limit for eligibility from 50% to 80% of the area’s median income. In Hinds County, families of four would qualify if they earned under $56,700, instead of the previous $35,450.

Today, individuals can apply to the program for help paying up to 15 months of back due rent, which should help to reduce debts and the number of evictions to come once the moratorium is lifted. Applicants can also secure help to pay for the following utilities and energy costs: electricity, gas, water and sewer, trash removal and fuel oil. The program will not pay for telephone, cable or internet bills.

Renters will be eligible for the assistance if at least one person in the household meets three requirements: they qualify for unemployment or faced financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, are at risk of homelessness or unstable housing and pull no more than 80 percent of the area median household income.

The home corporation also directs applicants to call 601-533-8401 or 1-888-725-0063 to speak to a representative.

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Anna Wolfe is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who covers inequity and corruption in government safety net programs, nonprofit service providers and institutions affecting the marginalized. She began reporting for Mississippi Today in 2018, after she approached the editor with the idea of starting a poverty beat, the first of its kind in the state. Wolfe has received national recognition for her years-long coverage of Mississippi’s welfare program, in which she exposed new details about how officials funneled tens of millions of federal public assistance funds away from needy families and instead to their friends, families and the pet projects of famous athletes. Since joining Mississippi Today, she has received several national honors including the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, the Livingston Award, two Goldsmith Prizes for Investigative Reporting, the Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, the Sacred Cat Award, the Nellie Bly Award, the John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award, the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, the Sidney Award, the National Press Foundation’s Poverty and Inequality Award and others. Previously, Wolfe worked for three years at Clarion Ledger, Mississippi’s statewide newspaper, where she covered city hall, health care, and wrote stories about hunger and medical billing, earning the Bill Minor Prize for Investigative Journalism two years in a row. Born and raised on the Puget Sound in Washington State, Wolfe moved to Mississippi in 2012 to attend Mississippi State University, where she currently serves on the Digital Journalism Advisory Board. She has lived in Jackson, Mississippi since graduating in 2014.