Financial assistance for utilities, rent available to those in need – Maui News

As we begin to move out of the health crisis associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see the many ways the virus has taken a toll on our community, our state and our nation.

Each of us has dealt with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, whether financial, emotional or even spiritual as many churches, temples and synagogues closed their doors to keep worshipers safe.

Depression, boredom, loneliness and other mental-health struggles were, and still are, an issue for many, especially for unemployed and underemployed workers who continue to struggle with earning enough to pay their bills every month.

In many cities and towns throughout the U.S., the numbers of homeless seeking refuge in their cars, in tents and in makeshift shanties has grown. While many of the chronically unsheltered suffer from mental health and drug addiction issues, the number of individuals and families seeking shelter is expected to increase further as eviction moratoriums expire and rental costs remain high–if housing is even available.

The Maui County Emergency Rental Assistance Program (MERA) offers assistance to low-income households on Lanai, Maui and Molokai that have been financially impacted by COVID-19 and need help with current, future or overdue rent or utility bills, or both. Internet-service bills will also be considered.

Priority for MERA funding will be given to households with income less than 50 percent of the area median income for Maui County (less than $51,250 per year for a family of four) or having one household member who has been unemployed for at least 90 days at the time of application. For more information and to access the online pre-screening application, visit www.mauicounty.gov/2438 or call 873-4673.

Households can apply for rent back to March 13, 2020, if needed, and up to three months of upcoming rent at one time. A total of 12 months of support is available for those who qualify.

I would also like to point out that the council created a new “long-term rental” exemption and classification, effective Jan. 1, 2022, which is designed to increase the supply of long-term rentals for residents. According to Ordinance 5159, if rental property is “under signed contract to lease for 12 consecutive months or more to the same tenant, as of that date of assessment, by an individual or individuals,” a real property tax exemption will be available.

To apply for the long-term rental exemption, visit www.mauicounty.gov/1953.

The county also offers mortgage assistance, which is administered by Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) and Family Life Center. To apply for these funds, visit www.meoinc.org.

As we cautiously proceed into the second half of 2021, we can malama our ‘ohana, friends and neighbors by staying connected with, and tuned in to, their needs. We will heal not in isolation, but as a community.

This has been especially true for my family and me as we experienced the passing of our loved ones. Had it not been for the community coming together and supporting us in practical and compassionate ways, we would not have been able to make it through.

E malama kakou, let’s continue to take care of one another.

* Tasha Kama is chair of the Human Concerns and Parks Committee. She holds the council seat for the Kahului residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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