PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Officials in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and across the region want to make sure residents know one thing: no one should get evicted from their apartment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pennsylvania has received more than a billion dollars in federal funding for rental assistance. That means counties across the state have millions of dollars waiting to help people stay in their homes.
"They offer that sanctuary, that safe place," said Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia of the importance of having a safe place to stay.
Ellis-Marseglia and other leaders from across the county and state gathered for a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to let residents know about available funds under the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services' Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
"Once an individual is homeless, it is 10 times harder to secure a new place to live in," said Erin Lukoss, the executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council.
Homelessness is a real possibility for many as the COVID-19 pandemic took lives and livelihoods.
"More than 225,000 Pennsylvania adults are living in households where they were somewhat likely or very likely to be evicted in the next two months," said Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Meg Snead. "This was especially true in communities of color."
Now, Bucks County is letting all residents know there is help available from the Bucks County Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or BERA.
"We have essentially no waitlist for the BERA program and we are processing applications as they come in within one to two days," said Jeffrey Fields, Bucks County's director of housing & community development.
Counties across Pennsylvania also have funds available.
According to Department of Human Services data, Bucks County has about $22.6 million to give; Chester County has about $18.9 million in funding; Delaware County has $10.5 million; Montgomery County has nearly $30 million and Philadelphia County has nearly $17 million. It's all to help people pay the rent if they've been impacted by COVID-19.
"This program was deliberately designed to help people dig out of what may be some very deep financial holes," said Snead.
People in need can get up to 18 months of help.
There's no maximum amount but there is a maximum income: $73,210 for a family of four. That number could vary by county.
Other states are also trying to prevent a "wave of evictions."
Delaware has $137 million to give in rental assistance. Qualified applicants could receive up to $2,000 per month.
If the funds go unused, they'll return to the federal government.
Snead has hailed Bucks County's program as groundbreaking. More than 1,000 people have been helped by BERA. Bucks County's program includes a law that people who apply for rental assistance can't be evicted while they wait to find out if they're approved. Landlords are eligible to apply for rental assistance too. It's a fund that local officials hope people use.
"The last thing we need is a wave of evictions as the new Delta variant looms," said State Sen. Maria Collett (D - Pennsylvania 12th District).