Explaining Florida’s Inexcusable Delay on Mortgage Aid

Florida homeowner help site — supposedly the magic portal to $676 million in mortgage relief and other help for Floridians whose finances have been ravaged by COVID — offers a reassuring promise.

“Help is there for homeowners affected by the pandemic,” it says, listing loan repayments, utility costs and overdue taxes as eligible for aid allocated through the Federal Fund. assistance to owners.

Nearly 23,000 Floridians have applied for assistance under the HAF program, and they learn that “support is here” actually means “support is here somewhere and sooner or later you might get some”. So far, the state has only distributed funds to more than 200 people, totaling more than $1 million, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity told Trevor Fraser of ‘Orlando Sentinels.

That’s less than a fraction of 1% of the money that’s supposed to reach struggling Americans to help them stay home.

What is the heist? Other states are far ahead of Florida.

New York has closed applications because it may be about to spend its allowance. Alabama distributed or committed nearly half of the money it received, allocating $47 million in aid to 845 homeowners. Arizona sent $8.2 million to 1,447 recipients. California processed $26 million for 804 households. Tiny Rhode Island processed $5 million in payments for 192 homeowners.

Meanwhile, nearly all Floridians who registered in February are still waiting to hear the status of their applications. Many of them are low-income seniors or working families. Some are facing increasing demands to catch up on loans that have been in a suspended status called forbearance. Some have already received pending foreclosure notices.

Of the 23,000 people waiting for help, how many have desperately scraped together enough money or worked overtime to hold on from month to month, holding on because they were promised help? Every week of delay means more residents at the end of their ability to hold on and in far worse financial shape than they would be if they had given up the fight months ago. If they are forced to leave their homes, they are not eligible for HAF assistance, and during this time their low-cost homes are taken over by investors who convert them into rental properties.

This inexcusable delay is reminiscent of another fiasco – the state’s administration of enhanced unemployment benefits, which saw millions of frustrated and increasingly desperate Floridians trying to navigate a finicky website that, for many, does not wouldn’t even charge. Once entered, many said they were wrongly denied or sent the wrong benefit amounts.

It may be a coincidence that the same agency that botched this program is in charge of this one: DEO, the utterly overstretched Department of Economic Opportunity, which also oversees job growth and economic development efforts. .

State Representative Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, wondered if the foot-dragging might be influenced by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desire to portray Florida as fully recovered from the pandemic. If so, it was a miscalculation. The more time passes, the more we will hear of the terror and anguish of Floridians who fought as hard as they could to cling to their homes, waiting for help that did not arrive in time.

But we see another possible philosophy at work, the same one that prompted DeSantis to reject an estimated $400 million in extended unemployment benefits that could have helped 500,000 Floridians. The state’s logic was starkly clear: Floridians needed to get back to work, and those who couldn’t (or, according to the state, wouldn’t) didn’t deserve help.

The governor knows the reality: Floridians are back to work. But many have fallen so far behind in the first year of the pandemic that it may take them years to regain their footing. They are also reeling from rising property and fuel insurance costs.

They deserve help. Instead, they face delays, uncertainties, and the growing risk of losing their greatest asset while knowing that Florida was sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars meant to help them.

DeSantis is expected to demand answers — and a plan to expedite assistance — from DEO secretary Dane Eagle. We hope the governor takes action before Floridians run out of time to save their homes.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board is made up of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Editorial Page Associate Editor Dan Sweeney, and Managing Editor Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board of Directors and written by one of its members or a designated person. To contact us, write to [email protected].