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- Georgia ranks 12th-slowest among states for paying out $552 million in federal COVID-19 rental assistance that must be spent or given to other states.
- Only $57 million— roughly 10% — had been distributed between April and mid-December even as state officials spent more than $11 million on internal costs.
- The federal government could give millions of Georgia’s rent-assistance dollars to other states to spend on their residents if local officials don’t use it soon.
It’s not just the lengthy application that has slowed down Georgia’s rental assistance. Once approved, there’s also a delay in approved Georgians actually receiving their rent payments. As of mid-December, DCA officials said more than 8,500 Georgia tenants and landlords had received rental assistance – but that around 33,000 applications total have been approved as of mid-November.
Pat Reagan, who said she was approved for rental assistance in March, went months without any word on when she would receive payment. Behind on rent, she was forced to take out a $12,000 loan to make up the difference, which prompted DCA to disqualify her from obtaining a rent payment -- even though her application was approved months earlier.
“I am now in horrible debt, facing not being able to renew my lease,” the 60-year-old Reagan told State Affairs. “I have no plan B. And it’s Christmas time.”
Braden, who applied to the state in July after she had to pause work due to contracting COVID-19, said she filled out DCA’s online application and uploaded paperwork like her lease and income documents, then was met with silence from the state. She filled out the same application for DeKalb County’s assistance program, as well as for the city of Atlanta. She says there’s been no word for months from any of those three governments about the status of her application.
“I left messages after messages after messages,” said Braden, who works half the day stocking shelves at Walmart and the other half in Emory’s hospital. “Still haven’t had anybody call back or nothing. It’s trash.”
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta estimates show Georgia risks losing a portion of its unspent rental assistance dollars in the near future. (Credit: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)
Getting all the needed paperwork together to apply for rental assistance has also snarled the process, according to local advocates, renters and former temporary state staff who reviewed rent applications. Most applicants don’t turn in all the documents needed to gain approval, such as lease agreements, eviction notices, income statements, proof of pandemic-related hardships and self-attestation forms that applicants can submit if they’re missing certain records. The back-and-forth between applicants and DCA processors to nail down every piece of paperwork can cause delays, said Daphne Walker, DCA’s housing-assistance division director who has led the rent program since May.
“The biggest thing is we cannot pay an applicant without documentation,” Walker said. “Until we get the documentation, we just simply can’t assist.”
That explanation has raised eyebrows among some housing advocates who point to other states’ success rates for rolling out rent payments. Michael Lucas, the executive director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation, pinned blame more on communication gaps between DCA and nonprofit groups that could pitch in more to hand-hold residents as they work through their applications.
“It's hard to believe our landlords and our tenants are just so much less sophisticated than those in other states under the same Treasury guidance that have gotten this funding out,” Lucas said at a Dec. 1 meeting of the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum. “That’s not pointing the finger. That’s saying there is some disconnect, and we need to work harder together to keep asking these probing questions about how it is actually working on the ground.”
A study committee of Georgia senators took a decisive step Tuesday toward ending a longstanding and contentious law that regulates how and where new medical facilities are located in the state.
The committee’s decision centers on the 44-year-old Certificate of Need law. It was created to control health care costs and cut down on duplication of services and unnecessary expansions. It determines when, where and if hospitals need to be built. Opponents have said the law prevents competition and enables big hospitals to have a monopoly, often shutting out small and private medical outlets.
On Tuesday, the Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform effectively said the law needs to be repealed. The committee approved, in a 6-2 vote, nine recommendations.
“Based upon the testimony, research presented, and information received, the Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform has found that the problem Georgia’s CON law was intended to combat no longer exists,” the report said.
However, the head of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals said Tuesday that repealing the law would be a bad idea.
“It would have a devastating financial impact on hospitals and the quality and access to health care,” Monty Veazey, the alliance’s chief executive, told State Affairs.
Veazey said he has not seen the recommendations yet but his organization has sent its own set of recommendations to the senate and house study committees.
“We believe that the certificate of need really does need some modernization and we look forward to working with the committee to work through those recommendations and see if we can reach a compromise position during the upcoming legislative session,” Veazey said. “We still want to see what the House committee recommends before moving forward.”
Here’s what the senate study committee recommends, according to a draft:
- Repeal CON requirements for obstetrics services, neonatal intensive care, birth centers and all services related to maternal and neonatal care across Georgia.
- End requirements for hospital-based CON on Jan. 1, 2025.
- Reform CON laws to eliminate CON review for new and expanded inpatient psychiatric services and beds that serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured.
- Repeal all cost expenditure triggers for CON.
- All medical and surgery specialties should be considered a single specialty, including cardiology and general surgery.
- Multi-specialty centers should be allowed, particularly in rural areas.
- Remove CON for hospital bed expansion.
- Revise freestanding emergency department requirements such that they must be within 35 miles of an affiliated hospital.
- Remove CON for research centers.
The committee will present its recommendations to the Georgia General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
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ATLANTA — The first step in the 2023 electoral redistricting process occurred Monday when Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville, chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, released a draft proposal of new Senate district maps.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia to redraw its state House, Senate and congressional district maps, adopted in 2021 by a majority-Republican-led Legislature, after finding they violated the Votings Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. The Georgia General Assembly is charged with submitting new maps to comply with Jones’ order by Dec. 8, and will be meeting in an eight-day special legislative session to do so, starting on Wednesday.
The proposed Senate maps would create two Black-majority voting districts while eliminating two white majority districts in metro Atlanta now represented by Democrats. The districts of state Sen. Elena Parent, chair of the Senate Democratic caucus, and Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves, a freshman, would become majority-Black if the redrawn maps make it through the redistricting process, a change that could invite considerably more primary challenges.
The proposed maps do not significantly alter the district lines for Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, and Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, whose districts Jones ruled did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. It will be up to Jones to decide if the new maps pass muster.
As it stands, the proposed Senate map will leave Republicans with a 33-23 advantage in the Senate.
On Wednesday legislators will plunge into their redistricting work during a special session at the Capitol. In addition to the state Senate maps, lawmakers must also redraw electoral maps to create Black majorities in one additional congressional district in west-metro Atlanta, and in five additional state House districts in Atlanta and the Macon-Bibb County area.
The proposed Senate maps (and all proposed maps to be submitted by legislators) are available on the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office’s website. Written comments can be submitted (and viewed) by the public through the portal available on the Georgia General Assembly website. Most of the reapportionment and redistricting committee’s hearings are open to the public; the daily legislative schedule is available here.
“The committee encourages public participation and values the input of the community in this vital democratic process,” Echols said in a statement released on Monday.
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