Arkansas is declining most of the $146 million made available in a second round of Emergency Rental Assistance from the federal government
Critics of the move predict the decision will hurt families still struggling due to the pandemic.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Treasury asking to take only 39% of the funds for "housing stability" programs. Hutchinson cited a strong economy and job market as reasons for rejecting the funds.
But Joyce Jones - a volunteer with Arkansas Renters United - said rental assistance has been a lifeline for lower-income families.
"This pandemic put a lot of pressure on a lot of families," said Jones. "A lot of families lost their jobs. Some people have recovered, in the sense of getting their jobs or getting a new job. These are minimum-wage jobs, and minimum wage does not pay the rent."
Arkansas still has $6.7 million in rental assistance left, but the state has closed its emergency Rent Relief Program application portal and there are no plans to reopen it.
A spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Human Services said the state hopes to get approval to use these federal funds for job training, education and other services for families at risk of housing instability.
In the meantime, rental prices in some areas of the state have grown more than 16% since March 2020. Jones said with money remaining in the emergency fund, her organization would like to see the state reopen the Arkansas Rent Relief Program.
"Some of these people end up living in their cars," said Jones. "And if we get these funds and keep distributing the funds to the people in need, then we're averting some of that disaster."
The state DHS says Arkansans can access other rental-assistance programs through the Emergency Solutions Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program - all of which are available through community action agencies.