By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming saw a 285% increase in rental assistance requests and a 95% increase in utility assistance requests in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a federal report.
The latest federal emergency rental assistance program report released by the office of Gov. Mark Gordon’s office said the state had 2,717 rental assistance requests and 2,913 utility assistance requests in 2020 as recorded in calls to Wyoming 211.
Wyoming 211 is a central number people can call to find out where they can go to obtain assistance through various state and federal programs.
The spike in demand for rent and utility assistance has continued this year, the report said, with requests received by 211 in the first six weeks of 2021 amounting to more than double the average of requests received during a six-week period in 2020.
So far this year, Wyoming 211 has seen 668 rental assistance requests and 678 utility assistance requests.
Around 40%, 899, of applicants to the state rental assistance program were denied, though, the report said.
“We believe that the federal program will apply to a wider net of families in need,” the report said.
A survey of landlords across the state showed they were owed an average of $6,800 in past due rent, totaling $458,000 owed to 72 respondents.
The respondents also reported an average of $583 owed in past due utility bills, totaling $34,000.
One utility company reported $1.6 million owed in past due utility bills from its customers since April.
Earlier this month, Gordon issued an executive order to allow the Wyoming Department of Family Services to distribute federal emergency rental assistance.
The federal government has provided the state with $200 million in funding to cover rent and utility costs for Wyomingites struggling financially due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
One county relief agency reported providing financial assistance to 349 area families unable to cover rent in the final quarter of 2020, even though 77% of such households were at least partially employed.