Officials Advocate for Expansion of Benefits in Homeowner Assistance Program
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact homeowners in New Hampshire, state officials are working to expand a critical assistance program that has seen lower-than-expected participation rates. The Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR) has requested approval from the Executive Council to increase the maximum payments per household for the New Hampshire Homeowner Assistance Program.
The program, which was established in March 2021 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, aims to help homeowners who have experienced a COVID-19-related reduction in income or an increase in household expenses. Any homeowner who earns less than 125 percent of the area median income is eligible for the program, which uses federal funding to provide financial assistance.
Despite its noble intentions, the program has struggled to gain traction, with just $5.5 million spent out of the $40 million set aside for homeowner assistance since its inception. To help address this issue, state officials hope to expand the maximum payout amount for eligible homeowners from $20,000 to $40,000 for delinquent property taxes, homeowner association fees, homeowner insurance, and co-op maintenance. In addition, the per-household cap on assistance for utilities and internet would increase from $3,000 to $5,000 under the state’s proposed changes.
The proposed changes come after a review of six months of program data by GOFERR officials, who also considered feedback from program partners and stakeholders. According to GOFERR Deputy Director Chase Hagaman, the program’s assistance caps appear to be too low, and more money should be allocated to utility relief, given the high energy and heating costs in winter. As such, the proposed changes would double the amount of money allocated to utilities, from $3 million to $6 million.
If approved, the proposed changes could significantly increase payouts under the program and provide much-needed assistance to homeowners across the state. While the program has seen 1,816 applicants since its launch, with 1,026 approvals and 148 denials, there are still 642 applications that have not been approved or denied. With the proposed changes, state officials hope to make the program more accessible to those who need it most and ensure that federal funding is being used effectively to support struggling homeowners during these challenging times.