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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – The Madison County Commission met Wednesday morning to discuss a number of items, one of which is the county’s Emergency Rental Assistance program.

It was created to help renters struggling during the pandemic and as of today, it can help even more people who have found themselves in a bind.

“Today we just put our foot on the gas,” County Commissioner Violet Edwards said.

The commission voted unanimously to expand its Emergency Rental Assistance Program eligibility to Huntsville city residents in addition to county residents and also reimbursing certain utilities, like garbage pickup.

“It’s a win-win for both the renters and the landlords. We know the landlords,” Edwards said.

The state, Huntsville city, and Madison County each received separate allocations from the federal government earlier this year to help their residents struggling to make rent during the pandemic. Madison County opened its applications on June 1, but so far, less than 300 applicants have applied.

“We received $5.2 million and right now we’ve spent just under $85,000,” Edwards said.

Edwards said part of the reason for small numbers, she thinks, is not because of a lack in need, but because many are confused on their eligibility, and if they need to apply for state, county, or city assistance. Now, at least in the Huntsville-Madison County area, it is streamlined.

‘”The city of Huntsville had a small waitlist, and we don’t have a waitlist so now they can apply to us and we can get it moved through,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the urgency to expand is partially because of a looming deadline. The U.S. Treasury Department has alerted municipalities if they have not spent the majority of their funding by September 30, there is the chance for re-evaluation to send that money to places with greater need.

“The sky is now the limit, but again, this helps with outreach and it helps with marketing because we can speak to everyone freely,” Edwards said.

Since the planning process for the ERA ended in April, the 90-day grace period for just Madison County residents has ended, meaning Huntsville city residents can apply immediately.

Edwards says this also allows officials access to see where the biggest areas of need are in the community, as they see applications coming from all over the city and county.