A new federal program to help those struggling to make rent or utility payments because of the coronavirus pandemic will soon be available to New Mexicans. 

The New Mexico Emergency Rental Assistance Program will offer up to $170 million in financial aid for those state residents. 

Henry Valdez, spokesman for the state Department of Finance & Administration, which will oversee the program, said it is "geared to making sure rental and utility assistance aid is going to those who have financial hardships because of the pandemic."

He said his department does not know how many New Mexicans might be eligible for the funds but expects "this is going to be in high demand."

He said the fund is not related to CARES Act money but is part of the Biden administration's efforts to get more financial aid to people whose lives have been upended by the COVID-19 crisis. 

The key for those applying for the money, according to the federal guidelines, is to provide proper documentation, such as personal identification, a rental or lease agreement, or utility bills.

"Gather that paperwork now," Valdez said. "Some people may have suffered a job loss or a furlough or seen the place where they work close down. It's important they have those documents to back up their applications."

Other eligibility requirements — proof of a loss or drop in income — also need to be met. Renters must have proof they made lease payments through March 2020.

The funds would be paid in three-month increments for no more than 15 months to a landlord or utility company, not to the person applying for aid. 

The program is not available to homeowners who are having trouble making regular mortgage payments, Valdez said. He said he hopes upcoming federal coronavirus aid programs address that issue.

Valdez said New Mexicans living in temporary housing such as hotels or homeless shelters may be eligible.

"If you are homeless because of COVID — you lost your job, you lost your house, you couldn't pay rent and now you are homeless — we encourage you to apply," he said.

New Mexicans can apply April 5 through Aug. 31.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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