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Community activists calling for change after county forced to return federal funds not given to renters in need

Fifty seven percent of renters who applied for rental assistance in Jefferson County were denied.

BEAUMONT, Texas — Community activists are calling for change after more than half of the applicant who applied to a program were denied leading to the return of unused government money.

Activists are upset with the Jefferson County Rental Assistance Program, which has been in place for almost a year.

More than $7 million was entrusted to the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission to help Jefferson County renters pay their bills. However, 1.6 million of the $7.6 million was reallocated by the federal government.

This means the money was taken back by the federal government and distributed to another another area of the country, because Jefferson County did not distribute the funds in time.

“Get the money out to the people so they won't get evicted from their homes, and or their lights won't be turned off,” Beverly Hatcher, community activist, said.

The return of the money upset activists because people who applied to the program and were struggling to pay rent were getting denied.

From May of 2021 until March of 2022, the planning commission approved 797 applicants for assistance and denied 1,047 applicant. This means 57 percent of renters who applied for rental assistance in Jefferson County were denied.

“I talked to one lady almost crying because she had applied and gotten through the red tape,” Hatcher said. “And they told her well you don't qualify. 'Why, I lost my job.' 'Well, you don't qualify because you don't have a job.' Are you serious?”

Hatcher said the woman got a job, reapplied and was denied again because her income was too high.

Jefferson County Commissioner Michael Sinegal admitted that he thinks officials were too concerned about fraud.

“I think we were too concerned in holding those funds back,” Sinegal said. “Yes, you have to vet that. Yes, you have to make sure they don't duplicate serve. Yes, you need documentation. But the majority, as I said in court, the majority of these clouds of poor."

The county is set to receive another $6 million for the same program, and activist are calling for accountability. With a new round of cash coming in, community members want to know what will be done differently to prevent the same issues from happening. 

“The buck stops with Jefferson County," Hatcher said. "The money from the CARES Act did not go to regional planning. It came to Jefferson county."

Hatcher said Jefferson County has already received 40 percent of the $6 million, but to her, it does not seem that the strategy for getting out the funds will be any different.

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