In the wake of three cases of alleged theft in the COVID-19 rental assistance program, Hall County officials said the third-party contractor handling these files has tweaked its processes.
Three people have been charged by law enforcement in two separate alleged scams concerning the rental assistance program. The Hall County Sheriff’s Office said both cases involved more than $20,000 each.
A committal hearing in one of the cases was scheduled for Monday, Oct. 11, but was delayed until Monday, Oct. 18, according to Magistrate Court Judge Margaret Gregory.
Hall County was granted $6.15 million to help renters and landlords financially affected by the COVID pandemic
Before the rental assistance program was launched, Hall County financial services director Dena Bosten said they worked with the third-party contractor to have safeguards in place to prevent misuse.
“This was actually caught as a result of having those (safeguards) in place,” Bosten said.
The Sheriff’s Office said in one case that the “personnel processing paperwork became suspicious after noticing the most recent application in the series included months” for which the suspect had already received checks.
In the wake of these arrests, Bosten said the contractor has assigned additional personnel.
While the review process was handled by committee in the past, Bosten said one person’s sole responsibility now “is making sure that process is followed detailed every day.”
The county had a deadline to meet by Sept. 30 to dole out 65% of the $6.1 million to retain the funds.
That bar was cleared, as the county has spent $4,873,563.84 so far. Of that money spent, $377,718.37 was spent on administrative and marketing costs.
The county has until Sept. 30, 2022, to spend the rest of the first round of funding.
As of Oct. 7, Hall County had 1,944 case files in the program, and 922 cases were paid out.
Bosten said she felt there has been a “pretty good mixture” between local landlords and leasing companies that have received the financial assistance.
Beginning Oct. 4, utility assistance was added to the emergency rental assistance program. Bosten said the payment is made directly to the utility provider.
“We realize that the COVID-19 pandemic financially impacted a number of Hall County residents in a multitude of ways, and they need help not only paying their monthly rent but also paying for essential utilities,” said Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Higgins in a statement announcing the utility assistance. “This new component of Hall County’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program will allow us to offer tangible help to those who need it.”
Bosten said the average rental assistance application is taking roughly two weeks to process.
Anyone who may be eligible for rental assistance can go to hallcounty.org/1119/Emergency-Rental-Assistance.