Emergency Rental Assistance Program has disbursed $10 million in its first year, county staff announces

More than 867 households assisted

Image courtesy Sarasota County

As it approaches its one-year mark, Sarasota County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) has disbursed more than $10 million to county residents, helping those who have faced financial hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic stay in their homes or obtain funds to move into new rentals, the county has announced.

“These funds assisted more than 867 unique households,” a news release points out.

“We are proud of our program’s ability to continue to provide assistance directly to those in our community throughout the last year,” said Sarasota County ERAP manager Laurel Varnell in the release.

Sarasota County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program launched on May 5, 2021, after receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury. In the first three months after applications were made available, the release continues, the program provided more than $1 million in rent and utility assistance.

During a Jan. 25 update to the County Commission, Varnell pointed out that, as of that time, the ERAP had covered 5,687 months of rental help and 2,058 months of utility payments. More than 1,500 applications had been processed, she added, with another 115 under review as of that date.

Recently, the program has been averaging disbursements of approximately $250,000 every week, the latest county release points out.

Laurel Varnell addresses the county commissioners on April 20, 2021. File image

Since the launch, “ERAP’s staff of application reviewers and program ambassadors, working in close collaboration with the Sarasota County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court and County Comptroller’s Office, have worked thousands of hours to assist with the disbursal of a total $10 million so far,” the release notes.

“The dedication the ERAP staff has shown is part of why this program is so successful,” Varnell pointed out in the release. “They work tirelessly to try and get assistance out as quickly as possible.”

During her Jan. 25 presentation to the County Commission, Varnell explained that the federal government had approved a second emergency rental assistance program, dubbed ERA2. The county had received $4,145,260.92 for that initiative, she said, with the potential that the allocation could rise to $10 million.

ERA2 “has a little bit broader [set of] criteria” than the original program, she pointed out.

The deadline for disbursing all of the funds in the original program — ERA1 — is Sept. 30. For ERA2, she said, the deadline is Sept. 30, 2025.

Applications for the Sarasota County ERAP still are being accepted, the news release says. To learn more about the program, how to apply for help, and how to get assistance from the program’s ambassadors, visit scgov.net/rent or call 941-861-RENT.

For more information on the funding sources, visit the U.S Department of Treasury ERA website.

The following is a list of the program milestones:

  • July 2021 — $1 million disbursed.
  • September 2021 — Total climbs to $3 million.
  • November 2021 — Disbursements reach the $5-million mark.
  • February — Total disbursements add up to $8 million.
  • Officially, ERA1 has disbursed $9,550,907, or approximately 81% of the money the county has received from the Department of the Treasury for that program. The funds went to 835 households for rental and utility expenses.
  • ERA2 has disbursed $493,866, assisting 120 households.
    County staff to the news release the following comment it had received, to underscore the importance of the aid to residents:

“[We] just want to let you know how appreciative we are that you and your team have helped us. Without your help we would right now likely be living under a bridge. We are both older and with previous health conditions so we would probably not survive for very long in such a situation.

But we wanted to say Thank You to both you and your team. The program, and your efforts to help us, have really made a difference in our lives. We don’t really know how to thank you so we are just sending you this email, if you want to share it with your co-workers to let everyone on the team know that the work you are doing really helps people.”