Backlog for Kansas rent, utility assistance program leaving thousands in limbo

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kansas residents are getting fed up with a program designed to help folks get back on their feet from the pandemic. 

It’s called KERA, the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance program, funded by federal coronavirus relief money. But it’s facing a major backlog with processing applications, leaving residents struggling to survive.

In neighborhoods across Wyandotte County, many families are struggling to bounce back from the pandemic.

“I’ve come to realize there are other people in this area in WyCo and in the state of Kansas that are suffering as much as I am, and some more,” said Louise Lynch of Kansas City, Kansas.

Lynch and her daughter are both COVID long-haulers, suffering debilitating symptoms months after getting the virus. 

The health problems have been so severe, they’ve been unable to work. Like many, they’ve been fighting with the Kansas Department of Labor to get all the unemployment benefits they’re owed and are now facing potential utility disconnection. 

“This is not humanity. This is not about politics. But people that are responsible whether it’s commissioners, whether the governor, whether it’s our state representatives, our senate representative whoever — time’s up,” Lynch said.

In March, she applied for KERA, which can cover up to 12 months back due rent and utilities. Lynch said the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which runs the program, has been helpful and sent her a pre-approval letter.

But now, more than two months later, she’s yet to see a dime of that money and is having to make impossible decisions to survive. 

“Nobody should have to choose who eats, who gets medicine and who gets to live another day,” Lynch said. 

Wyandotte County Mutual Aid was able to provide some temporary support to her, but the group said many more families like Lynch’s are struggling as they wait for KERA dollars to come through.

“BPU & Evergy alike should probably reinstate their moratoriums,” said Dustin Hare, co-founder of Wyandotte County Mutual Aid. “When they ended them in March & April, I wasn’t too distraught over it because I thought the assistance programs were going to be there. But they haven’t been, so I think it’s time for them to reevaluate and recognize that.”

Kansas was awarded $200 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to fund the rental and utility assistance program. FOX4 asked how much of that has actually been spent so far to help those in need.

The state said it’s gotten 4,038 fully completed applications, but only 167 have been approved and funded, for a total of about $1.1 million, so there’s a huge backlog to get through. 

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