TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As rental prices increase across the United States and Florida, wages have not kept pace. In a year of economic extremes, the importance of money for things like housing, healthcare and food intensified.

While programs were put in place to provide assistance during the pandemic, those helping hands have all but closed.

Stimulus, unemployment and jobs

CARES Act money was used to fund generous unemployment benefits for those who were laid off or fired as businesses were shuttered amid the virus. The federal government also paid out three separate stimulus checks to assist a wilting economy and stock market uncertainty.

First, $1,200.

Then $600.

For a third time, $1,400.

Even if you include the amount that those on the enhanced unemployment benefits could receive, and the three economic booster shots that were the stimulus checks, some states pursued additional relief options as others blamed the so-called handouts for hurting businesses and encouraging people to stay home instead of finding new jobs or returning to their old ones.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity already had noted issues with connecting Floridians in need to unemployment benefits during the pandemic. With unemployment a necessary factor for rent assistance, those issues were compounded.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium expires on July 31, and the CDC says it won’t be extended again.

Florida already has a higher minimum wage than the federal government requires. While the U.S. requires that hourly workers make a minimum of $7.25 an hour, Florida passed legislation in 2020 through a ballot measure that increased wage minimums to $8.65 per hour. The legislation also created a path to a total of $15 minimum by 2026.

Still, if you’re only earning the state’s minimum wage of $8.65, you’d have to work 93 hours a week to earn enough to rent a 1-bedroom rental home at Fair Market Value, or 2.3 full-time jobs, according to a study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that across the country, wages have actually decreased 2.8% from May 2020 to May 2021, but hourly earnings increased 0.6% in the average workweek. All considered, BLS reports an average weekly decrease of 2.2% in real average weekly earnings, when accounting for inflation.

Weekly, the average worker makes $1,058.52, as of May 2021. BLS says this is a 0.2% decrease from April to May, when seasonally adjusted.

Now, many of the enhanced benefits have ended across the U.S.

Rent and utilities assistance

Billions of dollars were appropriated for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and then adjusted by the passage of the American Rescue Plan.

$60 billion was appropriated to address short-term reductions in homelessness and prevent eviction or housing loss during the pandemic, from a combination of federal programs, according to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

$46 billion was targeted to fund ERAP from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and ARP, with an additional $4 billion in COVID-19 Homeless Emergency Solutions Grants from the CARES Act, and another $10 billion from the ARP, split evenly between Emergency Housing Vouchers and the HOME Investment Partnership Program.

Through ERAP, applicants who qualified would be able to receive up to 12 months of assistance per household for rent owed going back to March 13, 2021. Still, to qualify for ERAP assistance, certain requirements must be met.

For rental assistance eligibility, applicants have to be a resident of where they’re applying, and must have already qualified for unemployment due to COVID-19, have experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs due to the pandemic, or experienced a financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

Applicants must demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, such as an eviction notice or utility shutoff, past due rent notice, past due utility notice, or other unsafe or unhealthy living conditions or housing stability problems.

Even if you have all of the above requirements met, income level is also an important factor. Priority for ERAP will be given to tenants who make less that 50% of the area’s median income and have been unemployed for 90 days, and have a household income at or below 80% of the Area Median Income.

Additionally, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation received $250 million in CARES Act funding. Of that $250 million, $120 million of the federal funds were set for rental assistance. Reports in the beginning of July showed that $99 million was returned after the state program “struggled to disburse the money,” according to the Associated Press.

ERAP in Tampa Bay

As of May 31, 2021, total ERAP money awarded to the state of Florida was counted at $871.2 million.

If you look at local numbers, the ERAP compliance data shows The City of St. Petersburg received $8 million and the City of Tampa got $18.2 million. Separately, Hillsborough County got $32.4 million and Pinellas County got $21.4 million.

Other Tampa Bay counties that got funding:

County NameDollar Amount
Manatee$12.2 million
Pasco$16.7 million
Polk$21.9 million
Sarasota$13.1 million
(Source: ERA Compliance Report from June 30; data through May 31, 2021)

Not all of Tampa Bay’s counties made it into the report. Citrus, Hardee, Hernando and Highlands counties were not included.

That being said, the counties did have some assistance programs in place for rent or mortgage payments, and other loss of employment-caused needs.

In Citrus County, the Citrus County CARES program made funding available for residents suffering from “economic hardship…caused directly by COVID-19.” The eligibility in Citrus County was based on those earning less than 120% of the area median income.

Hardee County created their own program, the COVID-19 Emergency Financial Relief Program, to help residents “experiencing a financial setback due to loss of their job, significant loss of hours, or have an increased financial burden as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Hernando County set up the Hernando CARES Housing Assistance Program for COVID-19 relief to households hit hard by the pandemic. However, the opening for applications has already expired, with the county stating on the program site that “All applications would have to have been submitted and approved by December 31, 2020.”

In Highlands County, their Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program stopped taking applications for assistance in September 2020. Assistance was available for those who had been affected by an event between March and July 2020, and covered rent or mortgage payments from July to December.

Florida ended the increase in unemployment benefits at the end of June. While ERAP is still available, not all communities have access, putting roofs over heads in jeopardy and recovery at risk.

Rising rent, decreasing wages and decreased housing inventory, in addition to a variety of different costs of living are on a collision course post-pandemic, jeopardizing a potentially stronger economic recovery.

At the center of it all, unemployment, wages, rent increases and low availability of housing units point to one thing, in the U.S. and in Florida, where rental costs are above the national average.

The math does not add up, and Americans are paying the price.