Out of the $40 million set aside in spring 2021 for homeowner assistance, just $5.5 million has been spent in the past two years. (Getty Images)
State officials are hoping to expand payouts from a COVID-19-related homeowner assistance program, as the state continues to see lower-than-expected participation.
In a request due before the Executive Council Wednesday, the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR) is asking for approval to increase the maximum payments per household for the New Hampshire Homeowner Assistance Program.
Created in March 2021 after the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, New Hampshire’s program is open to any homeowner who makes less than 125 percent of the area median income and who “experienced a COVID-19-related reduction in income or increase in household expense,” according to GOFERR.
The program, which uses federal money, requires homeowners to apply for the funds.
This week’s changes would allow eligible homeowners to receive up to $40,000 in aid for delinquent property taxes, homeowner association fees, homeowner insurance, and co-op maintenance under the program – up from $20,000 currently.
The per-household cap on assistance for utilities and internet would also increase from $3,000 to $5,000 under the state’s proposed changes.
The proposal comes as the state continues to struggle to distribute the assistance money it was allocated. Out of the $40 million set aside in spring 2021 for homeowner assistance, just $5.5 million has been spent in the past two years, according to GOFERR numbers as of Feb. 13. The state has until Sept. 30, 2025, to spend down the rest of the funds.
Since the program launched, 1,816 people have applied, 1,026 have been approved, and 148 have been denied, according to GOFERR; 642 applications have been neither approved nor denied.
The new $40,000 upper threshold could significantly increase the payouts under the program. According to GOFERR, the state has distributed an average of $5,391 to households that have successfully applied.
So far a majority of the money – 55 percent – has gone toward property charges to aid with property taxes and association fees. Twenty-six percent has been awarded to mortgage assistance, and 19 percent has been given to help with utility payments.
But GOFERR officials say they have decided to focus more of the dollars on utility relief, particularly as energy and heating costs remain high during the winter. Their request this week would double the amount of money allocated to utilities, from $3 million to $6 million.
The increased payouts and the shift toward utility payments come from an analysis of data and trends by GOFERR, as well as “program partner and stakeholder feedback,” GOFERR Deputy Director Chase Hagaman wrote in a letter to the council.
“… These requested changes come after review of six months of program data,” Hagaman wrote. “… The program’s assistance caps appear to be too low.”
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