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Up to tens of billions still available

Picture of serious concentrated young brunette housewife paying bills for rent, gas and electricity, feeling frustrated.
shurkin_son / Shutterstock

The last two COVID stimulus packages passed by Congress — in December 2020 and March 2021 — set aside a total of $46.6 billion to help renters pay overdue rent and utility costs.

So far, between $25 billion and $30 billion of the aid has been paid out, the Treasury revealed on Friday. That means as much as $21.5 billion, or over 46%, of the funds are still available.

The cash is being provided by Washington, but it's being distributed through hundreds of agencies and organizations at the state and local levels. And many of them were slow to get moving, leading to holdups last year in many parts of the U.S.

With aid spread across many different housing authorities, each with their own resource and capacity constraints, renters in different places did not receive the same levels of service or responsiveness.

Now that the program is working better, officials say it has contributed to relatively low eviction numbers in the months since a national eviction moratorium ended in August.

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Some states run out of rental assistance

The stimulus aid available to renters can be sizable. In Illinois, eligible tenants and landlords have been able to apply for one-time grants of up to $25,000 to pay off a maximum 15 months of rent missed between June 2020 and August 2021.

The program in Texas has covered unpaid rent and utilities going as far back as March 13, 2020, and paid for up to two months of future rent and utilities. The relief for Texas renters capped out at $4,600 per month.

But the Lone Star State and a few others have already exhausted all of the federal money they were allocated through the program, according to The New York Times. That's contributing to the anxiety among renters.

More than a quarter of U.S. renters say they're not at all confident or only slightly confident that they'll be able to make their next rent payment, according to data from a census survey taken during the first half of December.

To provide more help for renters, the Treasury says it's encouraging states and communities to tap into billions in other stimulus funds that state and local government hasn't used up yet.

Alternative ways to find relief

Stressed-out young family
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

If you need help paying rent but either you don't qualify for the government relief or your state is already tapped out, you may have to get creative to give yourself some financial breathing room.

Many people have leaned too heavily on credit cards during the pandemic and are now stuck with high monthly bills. If that's you, you might consider rolling those balances into a single, lower-interest debt consolidation loan. You’ll pay less in interest and may wipe out your debt sooner.

You can save when you shop online by using a free browser extension that will automatically scan thousands of retailers for lower prices — and help you avoid overpaying.

Employers are struggling to fill job openings right now, so you might find a new, better-paying job to provide more rent money. Some companies are even offering educational opportunities so you can improve your skills, potentially opening up more career choices for you.

And even if you're strapped for cash, it can be surprisingly easy to wring some income out of the stock market. A popular app lets you invest in a diversified portfolio using just your "spare change" from everyday purchases.

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Noel Fletcher Former Reporter

Noel Fletcher was formerly the insurance and taxes reporter at MoneyWise. Prior to joining the MoneyWise team, Noel wrote for various U.S. and international business magazines, newspapers, syndicates and wire services, including Reuters. For fun, she writes books, takes photographs and enjoys adventure, travel, history and a good cup of coffee.

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