On Feb. 9, the U.S. Treasury OK’d Fla.’s plan to distribute federal money to help homeowners, though the state has not yet released its distribution plan.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – There’s good news and bad news for Florida homeowners who fell behind on their mortgage payments because of the pandemic.
The good news is the U.S. Treasury Department on Feb. 9 approved Florida’s plan to distribute $676 million in federal homeowner assistance funding included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan enacted in March 2021.
Florida submitted its plan for approval as required six months ago, on Aug. 20.
The not-so-good news: Florida’s program is being administered by the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), and the agency has not yet announced when or how it will begin accepting applications.
“Now that the [plan] has been approved, DEO will launch the program,” department Press Secretary Morgan Jones said by email. “DEO will provide additional information once the program is operational and available for homeowners in need.”
But Jones provided no further information about when the program will launch or how homeowners will be able to apply.
Still, news that Florida’s program had passed a key hurdle was welcomed by Wendy Longley, a Margate resident who has been waiting since August for an opportunity to apply. That’s when she exited forbearance, an emergency grace period that enabled homeowners to suspend their mortgage payments with no negative impact on their credit histories if affected by the pandemic.
“I have waited for this for months. Endless worry,” said the mother of two, who says her mortgage lender is asking her to repay in a lump sum all of the months that she missed. Longley says she signed up for email-status reports as directed on a department webpage posted last fall.
“I check my email every day,” she said. But as of Wednesday, she has received no notifications, she said, and the webpage still does not include a launch date for the program or tell homeowners how to apply.
Based on information provided so far and included in the distribution proposal submitted to the Treasury Department, the state plans to rely heavily on third parties, as it did during a pilot program launched on Nov. 8, to notify eligible homeowners about the available assistance.
For the pilot program, the department “began utilizing 10% of the allocated funding to launch the [program],” Jones said. “Through the pilot program, DEO works with service providers in banking, property insurance, and utilities industries to identify customers who may be eligible to receive assistance. DEO, in turn, works directly with those homeowners to determine eligibility for the program and provide assistance.”
So far the pilot program has distributed more than $1 million to 135 homeowners, said Emilie Oglesby, the department’s director of communications and external affairs, in an email.
Numerous other states have recently launched their programs following Treasury Department approval of their distribution plans.
Oglesby wrote, “DEO has worked proactively to assist homeowners through the pilot program while waiting 6 months for the federal government’s approval of the HAF plan. It is my understanding that the states [that launched their programs] received approval of their plans long before Florida received its approval just seven days ago.”
Kentucky opened its online application portal on Feb. 7 for homeowners to apply for up to $35,000 to help with delinquent mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, utility costs and homeowner association fees. After applicants are approved, funds are sent directly to the companies, tax collectors or homeowner associations that are owed, according to news stories in Kentucky.
Other states accepting applications include Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Alabama, New Jersey, and Georgia. New York launched its program in January and will stop accepting applications after Friday.
© 2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
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