Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the funding "will provide...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the funding "will provide Suffolk's most vulnerable residents the financial aid necessary to keep a roof over their head." Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Suffolk County received $7.58 million in federal rental assistance funding and is exploring how to maximize payouts by partnering with the state government, Deputy Commissioner of Economic Development and Planning Rebecca Sinclair said.

Under an emergency rental assistance program, the state is slated to receive about $1.3 billion, with the Suffolk County government getting $7.58 million and the Suffolk region cumulatively taking in about $40 million through the municipal and county governments, according to Suffolk County estimates. The money may be used to cover rent, utilities and other housing costs for those who have lost income or otherwise suffered a financial hardship because of COVID-19.

"With renters clamoring for relief, this influx of federal funding will provide Suffolk’s most vulnerable residents the financial aid necessary to keep a roof over their head," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement.

The county will prioritize those who make less than 50% of the area's median income — $44,350 for a single person or $63,300 for a family of four. But families earning up to 80% of the area median may qualify. Long Islanders who have been unemployed for at least 90 days will also be given greater consideration.

Qualified renters may receive up to 12 months of assistance — plus an additional three months if necessary for housing stability, under federal guidelines to state and local governments.

"The health side of this is to keep people in their current unit," Sinclair said. "We don't want a mass amount of renters moving around; we don't want people being destabilized in that way when we’re having a public health crisis."

Sinclair said the county would like to create uniform qualification policies with towns that receive federal funding, as well as Nassau County and the state. Standardization would ensure Long Islanders receive the same opportunities, she said.

Suffolk may be able to reduce administrative costs and maximize relief by collaborating with the state on an application and case management platform, Sinclair said.

"If you're in distress and your household is facing challenges, having to navigate a myriad of municipal pathways and portals and rules is not helping you," she said. "We're looking to standardize the experience."

Suffolk County may be poised to start accepting applications for its share of the funding by mid-February, according to Sinclair's estimates.

The county launched a $600,000 rent relief program in late 2020. More than 200 households applied, she said.

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