Columbus Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens doesn’t know how many renters in the city qualify for a federal COVID-19 relief program that provides up to 15 months in rent and utility payments for those negatively affected by the pandemic.
“I really couldn’t imagine how many people that would be,” Mickens said. “But whatever that number is, it goes even farther than that. You’re not only talking about people who have fallen behind on their rent or may not be able to make the next month’s payment, but the landlords, too. So, this program isn’t just for the renters. It’s for the landlords who haven’t been able to collect rents. It’s a win-win for everybody. It really is.”
Mickens said he became aware of the program when the Mississippi Home Corporation, which is administering Mississippi’s portion of the federal funds, held a two-day clinic in Aberdeen in August, where more than 300 renters applied for rental/utility relief at the request of state Sen. Hob Bryan.
“When I heard what they were doing in Aberdeen, I got in touch with (Sen.) Angela Turner-Ford and (Rep.) Kabir Karriem to see if we could get something like that in Columbus,” Mickens said.
On Wednesday, Mickens, along with Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones, announced two clinics where renters can apply for rental and utility assistance through the Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program (RAMP) — Sept. 11, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., at East Columbus Gym and Sept. 19, 1-6 p.m., at Sim Scott Community Center.
The Department of Treasury has provided $186 million for the RAMP program. But as of mid-August, only $15 million of those funds had been directed to qualified renters. Mississippi Home Corporation has been holding application clinics around the state, using its staff, partner organizations and local volunteers to guide applicants through the process.
The clinics in Columbus are being staffed by local officials as well as volunteers from the Mississippi Housing Partnership, which is working with the MHC to help enroll qualified participants.
To qualify, an applicant must be a low-income renter who has been affected by COVID-19. Those who attend the clinic should bring as much documentation as possible, including copies of their lease, utility bills, pay stubs or other proof of income, unemployment records and any other items that could confirm qualifying status.
For more information on requirements, visit https://ms-ramp.com/era.
“I think people are beginning to find out about this program, but the application process can be pretty hard,” Jones said. “I think that’s what makes these clinics so helpful. People can get some help signing up.”
Mickens said he encourages people to attend the first clinic, if possible.
“If you go to the first one and find out you don’t have everything you need, then you can go back and get that information and come back to the Sept. 19 clinic,” Mickens said. “We want to get as many people as possible through the application process.”
In addition to RAMP, low-income residents can also apply for broadband assistance through another federal pandemic relief program, the Emergency Broadband Relief Program, which partners with broadband providers to offer a $50 per month discount that will extend until the pandemic’s end.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]