FILE – Apartment rental sign

(The Center Square) – Gov. Mark Gordon said Wyoming has a strong rental assistance program and is actively tending to the needs of its residents.

Gordon's comments came after Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who chairs the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, criticized the state's handling of COVID-19 rental assistance.

The state of Wyoming received the minimum grant award for both Emergency Rental Assistance 1 ($200 million) and Emergency Rental Assistance 2 ($152 million). Of the ERA2 funds, Wyoming has received the initial 40% disbursement, or $60.8 million. 

“It’s clear Congressman Clyburn does not understand the issues that matter here in Wyoming, because if he did he would work to help us use those funds to develop affordable housing,” Gordon wrote in a letter to the subcommittee.

Rachel Girt, who handles communications for the Wyoming Emergency Rental Assistance Program, told The Center Square that the state "did not have an existing housing agency and had to build and staff a new program to administer these funds."

"The Wyoming Department of Family Services crafted all necessary program policies, developed an online application portal, set up a call center, recruited and trained a statewide network of nonprofits to provide direct assistance to applicants and funded much-needed housing stability services," she added.

Through Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), Girt said, Wyoming has issued $9.2 million to local nonprofits, renters and landlords in just four months, a feat that is unheard of within Wyoming’s social safety net. 

This is higher than annual benefits payment rates from federal programs administered by Wyoming, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Low Income Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program, according to Girt.

"As of Sept. 16, ERAP has approved a total of 1,553 applications, or 45% of submitted applications, paying a total of $5.2 million in assistance," Girt said. "Because Wyoming received the minimum grant award, which exceeds the need in the state, we have not had to institute caps on assistance or limit program eligibility. We anticipate being able to serve all eligible households who apply."

Girt said eviction filings across Wyoming amount to about 1,000 annually, including during the pandemic.