County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program on pause while staff awaits more funding from U.S. Treasury Department

Through Sept. 16, county had provided $15.4 million to 1,070 county households

All of the money in the first “pot” of federal funds provided to Sarasota County for its Emergency Rental Assistance Program has been disbursed, so applications no longer are being accepted, county staff announced on Sept. 16.

Those funds were referred to as the “ERA1 tranche,” as staff has pointed out to the County Commission.

Additionally, the second tranche of federal money distributed to the county — ERA2 — is nearly gone, staff added in an advisory to the news media.

While awaiting an update on another round of ERA2 funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, staff has stopped accepting new applications for assistance; that pause went into effect at noon on Monday, Sept. 19, staff reported.

Further, as of Wednesday, Sept. 21, the county ceased issuing payments.

In a Sept. 16 email to all of the applicants and landlords who have been involved in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, staff wrote, “The U.S. Department of Treasury has not provided Sarasota County its next distribution of Emergency Rental Assistance 2 (ERA2) funds. The county made its initial request for its next distribution of funds on Aug. 16, 2022, and has since been actively engaging the Treasury to release the much-needed funding for the community. Our federal representatives have been helpful trying to get us those funds faster.”

The pauses in the program will continue until the next ERA2 payment has been received from the Treasury Department, staff wrote in the Sept. 16 advisory to the news media.

The ERA1 and ERA2 programs have been among numerous federal efforts to help people negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The money has been given to those in the Sarasota County community in need of not just rental assistance but also help with utility bills, as staff has explained.

Households were eligible for the funding if the residents were renters in Sarasota County and their total income was at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI); the residents could demonstrate financial problems during or because of the COVID-19 pandemic (from March 13, 2020 to the present); and they were facing homelessness or housing instability.

The rental assistance could not be duplicative of any other federally funded aid that a household received, as the county program pages note.

As for the AMI figures: For eligibility purposes, 80% of the figure that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development set for the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton Metropolitan Statistical Area ranges from $48,350 for a household with one person to $69,050 for a household with four people to $91,150 for a household with eight people, a county website chart shows.

As of Friday, Sept. 16, the county had disbursed more than $15.4 million to 1,070 households, staff reported.

During a July 12 update to the County Commission, Laurel Varnell, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program director, pointed out that, as of that date, the disbursements totaled $13 million. She added that 950 households had received help, with the federal funding covering 4,000 months’ worth of utility bills and 9,200 months of rent payments.

Staff also stressed the following in its notification to applicants and landlords: “If you are in need of immediate assistance, please call 2-1-1 to be connected to other resources.”

Further, staff wrote, “Existing applications will still be worked on during this period so the program can issue payments as soon as [more] funds are received.”

Finally, the staff correspondence to applicants and landlords said, “For any questions regarding allocations or when the county will receive funding, please contact the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance email at

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis provided a copy of that correspondence to the county commissioners, so they would be aware of the situation.

As more information becomes available about further federal funding, county staff told the news media that it would provide additional updates.