Despite $200 million in assistance, Mississippi is still behind on its rent – National & International News – TUE 29Jun2021

Thousands of Mississippi renters are waiting for rental assistance. What's the hold up?

Mississippi renters slow to receive help. Climate change, sinkholes eyed in Miami disaster. North Koreans “heartbroken” at Kim’s “emaciated” looks.



Mississippi renters slow to receive help

When the newly-extended CDC eviction ban ends on July 31, time will run out for thousands of Mississippi renters. According to the Census Household Pulse survey, about 1% of Mississippians (about 37,266) fear they will be evicted in the next two months. Many more than that (7.8%) are behind on rent or mortgage payments and have little confidence of meeting next month’s payment.

The state received $200 million from Congress to help struggling renters. But in most cases, the money is not getting to the people who need it quickly enough.

There are currently three different programs in the state distributing rental assistance. The largest is the statewide Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program (M-RAMP), while Hinds and Harrison Counties have their own programs. The three programs have had drastically different degrees of success.

So far, M-RAMP has only given out about 2% of the $186 million it received from the state. The Hinds County program, which received $7 million, has only distributed about 3% of their funds. In contrast, Harrison County’s Open Doors Homeless Coalition has been more successful, handing out about half the $7 million they received.

Lack of outreach

Part of the reason for this disparity is the differing levels of outreach by the three organizations. Harrison County’s Open Doors Homeless Coalition has an extensive community outreach program. Open Doors also invites residents to bring in their applications for a preliminary review, which was has sped up the application and approval process.

In contrast, outreach by the Hinds County program has been limited to radio ads and an online information session. The program is run by the Florida-based Integrity Group, which only recently hired someone to help renters through the application process in-person. But renters can only receive that help in downtown Jackson.

Scott Spivey, the director of the Mississippi Home Corporation, which administers M-RAMP, says his organization has been reaching out to landlords. Spivey said, “We’re trying to tell them, it’s counterproductive for landlords to give up rent. If they evict, they’re not entitled to the past rent that they were due”.

Other than that, M-RAMP’s outreach has been minimal. Spivey said that there are plans to boost the program’s marketing, possibly with a “road show”. But these efforts may come too late for many.

Slow processing

Despite the poor outreach, M-RAMP and the Hinds County program have received thousands of applications. But both organizations have been slow to process them. The Hinds County program has only distributed aid to 52 families in the state’s most populous county. According to Spivey, M-Ramp has received 15,000 applications for assistance. Other reporting puts M-RAMP’s number of completed applications at 5,316, with only about 900 having been approved.

Spivey says the state has only recently put systems in place to speed up the review and vetting of applications. With the new systems, Spivey says M-RAMP will be able to handle hundreds of applications a day from now on. They will have to if they are to prevent thousands of evictions after July 31.

Click here a three-minute video report (opens in new tab).


Climate change, sinkholes eyed in Miami condo collapse

The death toll in Thursday’s collapse at the Champlain Tower complex in Surfside, FL, has reached 11. Rescue efforts continue, as does speculation as to the causes of the collapse.

Structural engineers who have viewed the video of the collapse believe that the failure must have started at ground level, or possibly the basement, triggering a domino effect. Some think it is possible that one of the concrete pilings gave way due to corroded rebar and deteriorating concrete.

The husband of a woman still missing in the collapse says he was on the phone with her just before the disaster. The woman, who lived on the fourth floor, called to tell her husband that the condo’s pool deck had collapsed, leaving a gaping hole. Then the call cut off.

Others have mentioned the possibility of a sinkhole, but it will be some time before experts can confirm or eliminate this as a cause.

Both the building’s rapid deterioration and the possible sinkhole could be effects of climate change. In recent years, sea levels have risen and local weather has become more severe. As a result, Miami has seen seawater bubbling up from drains and the ground itself with increasing frequency. The water is not only a nuisance, but it also affecting infrastructure in the area.

Harold Wanless, a geographer at the University of Miami, says, “Every sandy barrier island, every low-lying coast, from Miami to Mumbai, will become inundated and difficult to maintain functional infrastructure. You can put valves in sewers and put in sea walls but the problem is the water will keep coming up through the limestone. You’re not going to stop this”.

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North Koreans “heartbroken” at Kim’s “emaciated” appearance

North Korean media, which usually shies away from any talk of the Dear Leader’s health, has been making much of Kim Jong Un’s recent weight loss. Kim once tipped the scales at over 300 lbs. It’s difficult to judge from photos, but observers estimate Kim may have recently lost between 20-40 lbs from his still-ample frame. No one knows from sure whether Kim’s weight loss is the result of disease and stress, or his doctor’s advice.

Whatever the case, North Korean media quoted an unnamed North Korean citizen as saying “Our people’s hearts ached most when we saw [Kim’s] emaciated looks. Everyone says their tears are welling up in their eyes naturally.”

North Korea is currently undergoing a food shortage, though this is likely unrelated to Kim’s weight loss. International observers believe that national media are trying to unite North Koreans behind Kim by commenting on his weight loss. The reports paint Kim as a “devoted, hardworking” leader, working tirelessly to steer the country through the crisis, even to the point of skipping meals.

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