Many states have spent billions of dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide rental assistance to vulnerable Americans. Unfortunately, the process has not gone as smoothly as everyone had hoped. In several states, officials have admitted that they have overpaid some renters.
In Massachusetts, for example, the state is now requesting that people repay $5.3 million in financial assistance that was given out in error. The money was sent in error to renters who did not qualify for the assistance, and the state has asked those renters to repay.
Other states have been dealing with similar issues. In Virginia, officials admitted to overpaying more than $1 million in rent assistance. In some cases, Virginians who received the money were not even renters. Michigan officials have reported similar issues, saying that they overpaid people to the tune of $8.2 million.
The mistakes that have been made during this process are understandable, but they are still inexcusable. Officials have the responsibility to ensure that taxpayer money is being used for its intended purpose. This includes making sure that the funds are going to the right people and that no one is overpaid.
Now that these mistakes have occurred, states are embracing the importance of making people whole. Massachusetts has declared that people in the state who received overpayments will be responsible for paying back the state, but the state will not prosecute them for criminal fraud. Rather, it will communicate with them, and work to create a payment plan if the entire amount is not paid off immediately.
Michigan, meanwhile, is making similar efforts. Debt collectors are being brought in to help recover the funds, but these efforts are being tempered by a sympathetic attitude. The state recognizes the difficult situation that many renters have been thrust into during the pandemic, and are open to making arrangements that work for those facing hardship.
Ultimately, these states are saying that they messed up, and they’re taking steps to make things right. While it may not be an ideal situation for those who have received overpayments, at least efforts are being made to ensure that the money is repaid in a way that takes into account the current pandemic situation.