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$22 million in COVID-19 relief available for renters, homeowners in Atlanta

The money was earmarked by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to help people struggling in the pandemic, but they're having trouble giving it away

ATLANTA — There's $22 million in federal funding available for people who live in the city of Atlanta who have fallen behind on their rent or mortgage payments as a result of the pandemic

However, the people who are responsible for overseeing the program say they are having trouble getting the money to the people that it is intended for. 

The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act is a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March to help Americans hurt financially by the coronavirus pandemic. 

One effect of the act is that it created a moratorium on evictions through December 31, 2020. However, when that deadline hits, tenants and homeowners who have benefitted from the moratorium will be responsible for paying any back payments they owe -- in full.

The program was also designed to give each family who needs it, up to $5,000 toward the housing payments. 

"Some people would rather be evicted than just come talk to you just out of fear of being judged," said an applicant to the program. 

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The applicant said that some people who are struggling through the pandemic may not want to admit that they are in need of assistance. Others may simply not believe that they can get $5,000 and come up with nothing in return. 

"People are like, 'is this a fluke?'" said Tameka Askew, with the non-profit CHRIS 180. "And we're like, no, this is true -- there really is money out here to help you."

Askew is the Westside Empowerment Program Manager for CHRIS 180. She spends time walking people through the application process.

"People have that stigma that it's just 'lower-income,'" she said. "No; it's all of us who have been impacted by COVID."

They started going out to low-income apartment complexes when they realized no one was applying for the program. The program is designed to help people with back rent, mortgages, and utilities.

"Very few of us, even with a good job, could pay a full five months of arrears in rent," Protip Biswas said. "So, we are really worried about the problem. We would love people to apply."

Biswas is the vice president for homelessness at the United Way of Atlanta and admits there are barriers to applying. 

It's difficult to upload all of the information needed by smartphone, and people need to provide a lot of documentation. But he said the program is offering real relief.

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"The money doesn't go to the family. It actually goes to pay your rent directly. For the family, it reduces the rent burden, creates stability," he said. "It creates peace of mind. One parent said she has this peace of mind. She goes for walks now that there's no stress of having to pay her rent."

They say people are so relieved to learn help is available.

"We've had people who have really become emotional -- that have just started crying," Askew said. "And are just so grateful and humbled, and appreciative that someone is actually out here, really trying to help."

There are a lot of different ways people can access the program. 

Online, the program is the first thing you'll see on the United Way of Atlanta's website

Otherwise, to find information, interested persons can call 211 for more information. 

The United Way is hosting open enrollment sessions at the Loudermilk Conference Center, at 40 Courtland Street in downtown Atlanta, six days a week to help people walk through the steps of signing up.