Ben Diamond urges DCF to hurry up with allocating federal rent aid

Rep. Ben Diamond is urging the Florida Department of Children and Families to expedite the distribution of federal rental assistance.

In a letter sent Thursday to DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris, Diamond pleads for the department to address issues with the state’s federally funded emergency rental assistance program, known as OUR Florida.

“Hundreds of thousands of Floridians face the terrifying prospect of losing their homes in the middle of this pandemic. Many of these families are my constituents. With the cases of COVID-19 rising in Florida, it is absolutely critical these emergency relief funds get to those Florida families who so desperately need it,” Diamond writes in the letter.

Diamond’s push comes after the Tampa Bay Times reported the state had only disbursed 2% of its federally funded rent aid as the federal eviction moratorium expires.

According to the report, as of July 13, the state had distributed just $3.9 million of the $870 million sent to the state. As of last Friday, the department said in an email that it had distributed only $18.3 million to about 4,300 applicants.

The state expects to receive a total of more than $1.56 billion as more money is distributed.

“We absolutely must do a better job of getting these resources into the hands of struggling Floridians.” Diamond wrote in the letter. “With Florida now the epicenter of our nation’s COVID-19 surge, a looming eviction crisis could quickly devolve into an even more catastrophic public health crisis. We simply cannot allow that to happen.”

Reports estimate that about 369,000 households in Florida are behind on rent, Diamond mentions in the letter, including 50,000 households in the Tampa Bay area.

“Through my experiences working with my constituents, as well as the organizations here helping Pinellas residents facing eviction, I have heard reports of the challenges with the OUR Florida program and the onerous documentation requirements needed to receive relief,” Diamond wrote. “While I recognize the need to prevent fraud and abuse, I believe an overly bureaucratic system is totally inconsistent with the objective of providing emergency relief.”

Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat also running for Congress, joins several other prominent Democrats calling for the department to quicken its disbursements.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried made a similar plea at a news conference Thursday.

“There is a lot of money there — almost $800 million — sitting there that can help with rental assistance,” Fried said. “That money needs to get dispersed and dispersed properly and timely because the last thing we need is for people to be now evicted.”

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