After huge response, application portal for aid program closed after just 20 minutes

Updated: May. 4, 2021 at 7:03 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federally-funded program for Oahu residents who need help covering rent, utility and other bills stopped taking applications 20 minutes after coming online Monday afternoon because of tremendous demand.

It’s the second time the city has started and then stopped accepting applications for its rental and utility relief program, which launched last month.

The first go-around, 8,000 people signed up in four hours, prompting officials to pause registration so the non-profits handing the claims wouldn’t get overwhelmed.

“We want to make sure and set an expectation with the community that we will be able to process these applications in a timely way,” said Amy Asselbaye, executive director of Honolulu’s Office of Economic Revitalization.

On Monday, another 4,000 people were allowed to sign up.

But even if you got through, getting awarded any money could take awhile. The city confirms less than 10% of the people who applied in April have gotten some of their bills paid.

One applicant told HNN she’s frustrated about what she described as a lack of communication.

In an email, Honolulu resident Jaime Lee Miyazaki said her application is “100% complete” and that she’s submitted everything her case manager has requested but “hasn’t heard anything since.”

Miyazaki says, “I understand they have a lot of applications to process, but it would be nice to get an update as to what’s going on and where we stand.”

Officials admit the system isn’t perfect, but say it’s getting better.

“We just appreciate everyone’s patience as we improve our speed and ability to get applications funded as soon as possible,” said Asselbaye.

Of the initial 8,000 applications, the city says as of last Thursday about 600 households had received assistance totaling nearly $5 million.

Meanwhile, a little more than 2,300 completed applications were pending.

And some 150 had been denied or disqualified.

The city says the rest ― close to 5,000 applications ― are still incomplete.

“There are email reminders that go out to those people that say don’t forget. Please submit your documentation so we can work with you to get the funding out,” said Asselbaye.

“But there’s a lot of folks who haven’t done that.”

Although the process seems to have gone slowly, it is getting money out more quickly than a similar state-run program did last year.

Applicants who qualify can receive up to $2,000/mo. for rent paid directly to the landlord and up to additional $500/mo. for utilities.

The city says so far the average household has been awarded $7,700 in assistance.

Officials say the city will start taking applications again June 7.

Beyond that, people will be able to sign up the first working Monday of each month as long as funds are available. Altogether, the city has $114 million to distribute.

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