A new watchdog report is revealing the federal government is missing data for more than a quarter of rental assistance payments made in 2021.
The Department of Treasury is responsible for managing the more than $46 billion allocated for the emergency rental assistance (ERA) program, which was put in place to help low-income families who faced hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) pointed to concerns about oversight since the findings show the Treasury Department is missing data for 26 percent of payments made to households in 2021.
“That kind of raises concerns from our standpoint that payments may be made to ineligible tenants for wrong amounts,” said Daniel Garcia-Diaz, Managing Director of GAO’s Financial Markets and Community Investment Team.
“Oversight of the ERA program would benefit from improved data collection and assessment of improper payment risks,” the report said. “Without better data collection and reporting, Congress and Treasury will lack information on the program’s outcomes.”
The report points out the program has been beneficial for families most in need, particularly low-income renters who were at risk of eviction.
Members of Congress have held Congressional hearings over the last few years about the need for this aid for low-income families.
“The fear of homelessness became a reality for me,” said Katrina Chism, a Georgia renter, during a Congressional hearing in July 2021.
“The program did help many people, some of the neediest families that are out there,” said Garcia-Diaz. “But while there’s a lot of benefits, recognize I think we still remain concerned about Treasury not doing enough to oversee this program and making sure that the right families are receiving the right amounts.”
The report said the Treasury Department has taken steps to improve data collection and reporting but said there is still more work to do.
It calls on the Department to provide a detailed assessment of improper risk payments and to publish complete data from all payments.
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In response to the GAO report, the Treasury Department said it will “continue to engage with Congress to resolve these gaps in recovery program administrative funds in order to safeguard program integrity.”