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The federal government has given the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) the go-ahead to turn over more than $80 million in unspent emergency rental assistance (ERA) funds to higher performing metro-Atlanta governments.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday approved the DCA’s petition to hand over $80.6 million in unspent funds from the $552.3 million it received one year ago in the first round of ERA money. So far, the DCA has disbursed only about $68 million of its ERA1 allocation. 

The state agency will release the funds to five metro-Atlanta counties which have already spent most or all of their ERA1 funds: $25 million to Fulton, $25 million to DeKalb, $15 million to Henry, $9 million to Clayton, and $6.6 million to Hall counties.

The move, termed “voluntary reallocation,”comes because the state agency has fallen short in disbursing the almost $1 billion it was allotted in federal ERA funds–$552.3 million in the first round and then an additional $437 million–as part of a nationwide effort to prevent evictions amid the pandemic.

Georgia is one of 12 states that will voluntarily reallocate a portion of ERA1 money, along with states such as Indiana, which will transfer more than $130 million to local governments, and Wyoming, which will yield $1 million to a Native American tribe.

Because the DCA had failed to spend its ERA1 money on pace with Treasury Department time requirements, it risked forfeiting some of the unspent funds to the federal government for reallocation to other, more efficient jurisdictions. 

DCA Commissioner Christopher Nunn and other agency officials instead opted to “proactively” reach out to “high performing” counties to keep the money in Georgia, according to internal emails obtained by Atlanta Civic Circle through an open records request.

Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA), a nonprofit that has criticized the DCA’s sluggish distribution of its ERA cash, said the Treasury Department’s approval of the DCA’s reallocation plan is “certainly a victory” for renters and landlords struggling to navigate the pandemic.“But they still have hundreds of millions of dollars that they have to get out,” he added in an interview with Atlanta Civic Circle.

The DCA had directed roughly $68 million of ERA1 cash to households in need, as of the end of 2021. Even with $80.6 million now bound for metro Atlanta counties, the state agency still retains $400 million in unspent ERA1 money.

Marks wants the DCA to voluntarily send additional money to local governments across Georgia, adding that the Treasury Department has the authority to reallocate additional DCA funds as it sees fit, without the agency’s buy-in.

The Treasury Department anticipates “multiple rounds of ERA1 reallocation,” according to a press release.

DCA officials did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s inquiries for this story by publication time.

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