Friday, September 22, 2023

Budget writers OK emergency rental assistance

by CLARK CORBIN / Idaho Capital Sun
| March 19, 2023 1:00 AM

The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee signed off on a $32 million supplemental funding request for emergency rental assistance on Friday after children’s advocacy groups spent weeks advocating for the funding.

JFAC voted 14-3 to approve a supplemental funding request for the Division of Financial Management, where the emergency rental assistance request was housed. The funding comes from federal American Rescue Plan Act COVID-19 relief funds specifically for Idaho.

The emergency rental assistance funding is for an Idaho Housing and Finance Association program that provides assistance to Idahoans who live outside of Ada County, which has its own rental assistance program, who need help with their rent or utilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year the Idaho Legislature approved $38 million for emergency rental assistance, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. But that funding ran out earlier than expected, and the Idaho Housing and Finance Association stopped taking new applications for the emergency rental assistance program in late December.

If the Idaho House and Senate approves the emergency rental assistance supplemental funding, that will allow Idaho Housing and Finance Association officials to resume taking applications for the program and spend down the money to help families stay in their homes.

Under the assistance program, payments are made directly to the landlord or utility company.

On Jan. 23, the founders and advisory board members from the nonprofit organization Idaho Children Are Primary wrote a letter to legislative leaders and JFAC members asking them to approve the supplemental funding request. They hoped legislators would vote on the supplemental funding by the end of January so they could resume the program, but continued to make the case for the program after their initial deadline passed without JFAC taking action. In their letters, Idaho Children Are Primary board members and founders said many of the families that would benefit from the emergency rental assistance are low-income families with children. Without the supplemental funding, they would be at risk of becoming housing insecure, evicted or homeless.

“Idaho’s children are disproportionately impacted by housing instability and will benefit greatly from emergency rental assistance,” the Jan. 23 letter states.

The 2023 supplemental funding request for the Division of Financial Management will be written into a budget bill that still must be passed by the full Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate and then go to Gov. Brad Little’s desk for final consideration if it passes both legislative chambers.

Idaho’s 2023 legislative endgame remains unclear

JFAC did not meet its target deadline to finish setting the 2024 state budget Friday, meaning budget setting will continue next week at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise. That fact adds additional uncertainty to Idaho Legislature’s ability to meet its nonbinding target date to adjourn the session for the year on March 24 — in just two weeks.

Celebrations and honors associated with former Gov. Phil Batt’s funeral affected scheduling for JFAC and floor sessions on Thursday and Friday, with the joint budget committee holding shorter meetings both days to allow JFAC members to honor Batt. The Idaho House did not convene a traditional daily floor session on Friday.

Budget-setting is one of the most important factors driving the length of a legislative session, as legislators cannot adjourn for the year without setting a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. This year, there are 108 different budgets to set.

As of Thursday, JFAC had spent about $2.4 billion of the fiscal year 2024 budget compared to Little’s request for $4.8 billion, said Keith Bybee, a budget division manager with the Legislative Services Office.

“This committee still has a lot of work to do between now and when we adjourn (for the year) sine die from the committee,” Bybee told JFAC members Friday.

JFAC will not meet Monday, but is expected to take up the K-12 public schools budgets on Tuesday, which are among the largest budgets the Idaho Legislature will consider this year.

There is no requirement to adjourn the legislative session by a certain date, and if GOP leaders who control a supermajority in the Idaho Legislature aren’t prepared to adjourn March 24, the session will simply continue.

As a rule of thumb, it costs between $20,000 and $30,000 each additional day the Idaho Legislature is in session, between payroll for seasonal employees who only work during the sessions, security costs, per diem for the 105 legislators, mileage and other costs, although expenses do vary.

This story was originally published March 10, 2023 by the Idaho Capital Sun.

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