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Alaska pandemic rent, utility program draws large interest

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — About 60% of applications for a pandemic rent relief program are still awaiting processing, nearly three months after the application deadline.

The pending applications are among 25,257 that cleared initial income and documentation hurdles for the program administered by the Alaska Housing Finance Corp, KTOO Public Media reported.

The program is aimed at helping people who qualify by covering up to a year of rent and utility payments. The application deadline closed in early March.

Given the high level of interest in a different relief program last year, the corporation built its paperwork and review process with speed in mind, officials said.

Daniel Delfino, who directs the corporation’s planning and program development department, said stopwatch tests were used to determine how quickly workers processed different versions of paperwork.

Nonetheless, Delfino said it’s no consolation for those awaiting the help “that we’re one of the fastest states in the country to get the money out the door if they can’t pay their rent or their utility bill.”

The program receives about 600 to 800 phone calls daily, mostly from people asking about the status of their applications, Delfino said. A website status checker shows about 800 unique user visits a day.

Karla Pineda, a single mother who settled in Juneau last year after coming to the city seasonally for years, said getting help through the program would be significant.

She said she has managed to pay rent by working for a home cleaning company and as an on-call elder-care facility assistant aide, but can’t really save money, citing the cost of living.

“The rentals are expensive, especially if you want to live in a secure place, especially with a kid, it’s not easy to find,” she said.

The program provides payments to landlords, property managers or utility providers.

About $242 million in federal funds are available, a figure that includes the corporation’s share and similar funds for Anchorage and 148 tribal entities that the corporation is administering the program for.

So far, about $26 million has been paid out statewide on behalf of more than 10,000 households.

Delfino said he doesn’t see a challenge in exhausting the money.

“We received a massive response. It’s, I believe, over 10% of our state are represented in the households that applied to this program, that’s 78,000 and change,” he said.

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