Act 1 Creates New Rental and Utility Assistance Program To Disburse Millions in Federal Aid
On Friday, Feb. 5, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law SB109, now known as Act 1, directing more than $900 million in federal pandemic aid to struggling businesses, private schools, landlords and tenants unable to meet rent or utility bills because of economic downturn related to the failure to stop the spread of the disease. Thank you to lawmakers who voted unanimously to create a more streamlined program for getting aid to the most vulnerable and to advocates who pressed for months to alleviate the suffering and anxiety in their communities.
The majority of this aid, $570 million will be allocated to counties based on population to assist people struggling to pay their rent and utilities. Landlords, utilities, and tenants can apply, but priority under federal guidelines is for low-income households or those where someone is unemployed. The money must be spent by Sept. 30 or be returned to the federal government. It may not be until March that the money is ready for applicants. The previous $750 cap for a renter has been eliminated, and money received can be applied to utility bills.
“We are grateful that this relief, an essential first step in addressing the deep need in our communities, was the first law enacted in this term, and that it was enacted in unanimous bipartisan fashion,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. “It is our prayer that loving concern for our neighbors will prevail, and that lawmakers might continue to seek opportunities to work together for the common good of the commonwealth.”
The Associated Press has reported that “reports from utilities on file at the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission show a modest year-over-year increase in the number of customers who are behind on bills, as of December. Those same reports, however, show a much bigger increase in the amount of money those customers owe.” Rita Dallago, executive director of the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association, said 32% of her members’ units were in arrears, about 10 times the normal rate. “So we’re looking to this as being a big help,” Dallago said.
Act 1 also provides needed assistance to hard-hit businesses in Pennsylvania. Of the total, $145 million will come from a state worker’s compensation fund that will be available through the counties in grants up to $50,000 for bars, restaurants and hotels. It is important to note that these businesses cannot be publicly traded. “Business owners and employees have worked hard to protect their customers and their communities during this pandemic,” Governor Wolf said. “But the pandemic has been hard on businesses, and they need and deserve our support.”
Private schools also stand to benefit from Act 1. Approximately $197 million will be distributed to private schools and other educational institutions that did not receive assistance from the $2.2 billion in federal coronavirus aid that public and charter schools are receiving from Congress.