Hundreds of payments meant to stop financially strapped renters in New Jersey are apparently missing, and now one lawmaker is asking why.
State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, asked Lt. Gov. Sheila Olivera fellow Democrat who serves as the head of the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), which administers the rental programs, to explain what the agency is doing to get the money to those who were approved for the programs but never got the payments .
“It’s important for us to have a level of accountability,” Singleton, chair of the state senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee, told NJ Advance Media. “We all expected some hiccups, but more than a year into these programs, there are still people waiting for their money.”
“We know right now that evictions have begun because of these delays through no fault of the tenant or the landlord,” he added.
While Community Affairs said it has successfully made some 200,000 payments for the programs, those who haven’t received the approved funds say they are frustrated by a lack of answers about when the money will arrive.
Many of the nearly 100 renters and landlords who have contacted NJ Advance Media about the payments, some of which were approved more than a year ago, said Community Affairs told them that their cases were being investigated, but the agency did not give them a timeline for a resolution. Some said the agency confirmed their checks had been mailed to a wrong address, but the funds would have to be recovered before the agency could cut another check.
Community Affairs has not yet responded to Singleton’s letter, the senator’s office said, but the agency told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday that “DCA does not have the resources to address the needs of all households that need rental assistance.”
It did not respond to specific questions, but spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said the agency has earmarked $500 million in state funds under the Eviction Prevention Program, which provides up to two years of rental assistance to more than 28,500 families.
Ryan also said it has provided assistance of more than $674 million to 66,000 families through the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program, known as CVERAP in New Jersey.
The agency also received additional funding worth $45 million for CVERAP earlier this month, which will be distributed by the end of September, she said.
A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy said the administration is “aware of the reports surrounding the rental assistance program and is working closely with the Department of Community Affairs to address them.”
Singleton, in his letter, asked how Community Affairs tracks the payments and what it’s doing to resolve outstanding issues with missing checks.
Ryan previously told NJ Advance Media that the agency could not tell how many checks have not been cashed because returned payments go into a state Treasury account that handles multiple programs.
Earlier this month, Ryan said 430 checks have been returned to the department as undeliverable since October 2021, and it has received 315 complaints about payment problems year-to-date.
“While quality control measures are in place, an error can occur if a caseworker inputs incorrect information, or (makes) an error in uploading information to the check processing system,” she said. “For returned checks or complaints about issues with checks, DCA and our vendor work with the tenant and/or landlord to resolve the issue.”
The agency did not respond to questions about whether direct deposit was offered, similar to how federal stimulus and child tax credit payments were received by hundreds of millions of people during the pandemic.
Singleton said the state has to “do a better job of handing the money out.”
“It’s clear our process could have been better,” he said, noting that adding more funding to rental assistance programs is “ripe for discussion.”
Tenants and landlords who have not received approved funds should call the agency at (609) 490-4550.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Brent Johnson contributed to this report.
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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at KPriceMueller@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @KPMueller.