November 3, 2020

Community Action “Arkansas Fresh Start” Program to Offer COVID-19 Rental Assistance

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The state’s Community Action Agencies will soon begin offering rental assistance to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, through a new program known as “Arkansas Fresh Start,” made possible by $10 million in combined grants received through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and the Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee. The program, which will be administered by the Arkansas Community Action Agencies Association (ACAAA), is expected to begin in early November.

The Arkansas Fresh Start program can provide up to two & a half months rent to eligible Arkansans with a household income at or below 80% of their area’s median income. Once the program has begun, those interested will be able to apply through their local Community Action Agency (CAA). Arkansas has 15 such nonprofit CAAs, each of which provides assistance to certain portions of the state; every county in Arkansas is served by a Community Action Agency.

The Fresh Start program was developed by the Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee working in conjunction with ACAAA and AEDC. The committee—which was created to determine how CARES Act COVID-19 relief could best provide assistance to those Arkansans struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic—turned to the state’s network of Community Action Agencies based on their decades of experience providing various essential services to Arkansans in need. AEDC, a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce, provided not only a critical influx of additional funds, but their own invaluable expertise in community growth.

“The Fresh Start Program is a great way to leverage funds that will help both tenants and landlords during these challenging times,” said Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston. “We want to improve the lives of working Arkansans to every possible extent, and providing resources for short-term rental assistance is one of the ways we can accomplish that goal. I appreciate the Arkansas Community Action Agencies Association for their partnership in this initiative. The local Community Action Agencies will serve a vital role in connecting these resources to those who need it.”

Said ACAAA Chief Operations Officer Terry Bearden, “Arkansas is facing a growing crisis in rent arrearages. The devastating economic and health effects of COVID-19 have resulted in a deeply concerning number of Arkansans falling dangerously behind in their rent payments. The U.S. Census Bureau Pulse Survey estimates that as many as 139,000 Arkansas households are facing the possibility of not being able to meet rent payment obligations due to the economic and public health impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic.”

Bearden noted that although the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a moratorium on evictions until the end of the year in the hopes of minimizing further spread of the coronavirus as a result of increased homelessness, the moratorium was not accompanied by any sort of financial assistance to address the problem of accumulating back rent.

To be eligible for the Fresh Start program, an applicant must meet certain criteria, such as being a fulltime Arkansas resident; not being able to make his/her rental payment due to a COVID-19–related issue; and having a landlord’s stated willingness to accept the payment. Once the program is underway in November, those interested will be able to visit in order to locate their area Community Action Agency in order to make an application.

“We are thrilled to be part of this relief effort,” said Jennifer Welter, Executive Director of Conway’s Community Action Program for Central Arkansas (CAPCA) and President of the ACAAA Board of Directors. “The Community Action movement has always been about helping people to help themselves and giving them tools for developing self-sufficiency, so we feel honored to be able to play a role in providing the sort of assistance that’s so crucial to helping people maintain stability and security in the face of this unprecedented crisis.”

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The Arkansas Community Action Agencies Association serves the state’s Community Action Agencies, a network of nonprofit organizations that provide assistance to low- to moderate-income individuals across Arkansas. ACAAA’s mission is to provide education, advocacy, and a unified voice for the state’s agencies to reduce poverty and promote thriving communities in Arkansas.