Arkansas turning down remaining federal rental assistance

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday said he was refusing most of $146 million in federal pandemic rental assistance the state was to receive, citing the state’s low unemployment rate and economic climate.

With Hutchinson’s decision, Arkansas joins Nebraska in turning down the latest round of pandemic rental assistance funds.

Hutchinson, a Republican, asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the state be allowed to use 39% of the funds — about $60 million — for “housing stability” programs offered by nonprofit groups that would include job training, education and treatment as well as some rental assistance.

Arkansas still has about $20 million from the first round of rental assistance that was given to states.

“Our economy has returned, there’s jobs aplenty out there and we have existing programs in place for rental assistance that were pre-pandemic,” Hutchinson told reporters at a news conference at the Capitol.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, turned down the funding and earlier this month vetoed legislation that would have forced him to apply for the money.

States and localities have until September to spend their share of the first $25 billion allocated, known as ERA1, and the second $21.55 billion, known as ERA2, by 2025. Treasury says $30 billion had been spent or allocated through February.

Hutchinson said he planned to talk with the White House about his proposal.

Housing advocates and Democratic lawmakers said the move would hurt renters around the state.

“Instead of refusing to put money in the pockets of Arkansan families in need, we should be making it easier for families to stay in their homes and make ends meet,” Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said.

Democratic Sen. Greg Leding said the decision didn’t make sense, considering that other states are accepting the assistance.

“There are still people who are struggling to make rent,” Leding said. “I think there’s just still a lot of variability in our economy.”

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