Families at all income levels can feel financial pressure under the right conditions, but some face the very real threat of eviction when they experience a rent increase, job loss or family emergency such as a medical setback. To help people keep their rent homes, some state and local governments sponsor emergency cash programs.
The state and local programs that supply emergency cash to prevent evictions have special guidelines that ensure only families or individuals in dire need receive funds. In general, to be eligible you must already receive assistance from another low-income program or received assistance in the past but your benefits expired. For example, the County of Los Angeles makes emergency cash available to residents who participate in the CalWorks program for low-income families. The state of Washington offers emergency cash to families that are already eligible for its State Family Assistance, Refugee Cash Assistance or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs. All of these programs use income as a guideline for eligibility and some also use family size or employment status to determine who qualifies for assistance.
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Emergency cash recipients can only use the money they receive for specific purposes. Besides paying overdue rent, they may generally use it to pay past-due utility bills to prevent service shutoffs. This includes gas, electric and water utilities, as well as sewer and trash pickup. It does not extend to optional services such as cable television or Internet service. Emergency cash programs also prohibit recipients from using their benefits to prepay rent or utilities; it is only for bills that are past due.
To apply for emergency cash for housing, you must complete an application and file it with your local department of public assistance or community housing. The application will ask for your reason for needing emergency assistance and may also require proof of the money you owe. This can be in the form of a past-due notice from a utility company or a notice from your landlord. Other items, such as a termination notice from your employer or medical bills that are the cause of your hardship, can also help demonstrate your need.
If your family doesn't already receive public assistance, you can still put together an emergency preparedness plan to prevent eviction. A separate bank account with one month's rent can serve as a safety net in case you lose your job or face eviction due to other expenses and bills. Another option is to prepay your last month's rent so that if you face eviction you'll have at least one month to find housing elsewhere. Discuss this option with your landlord and ask for a contract that explains the arrangement that you can both sign and attach to your existing rental agreement.