Help may be on the way for people who are having a difficult time paying their rent and utility bills during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) is a new program providing rent and utility assistance to households experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19, according to a news release from the City of South Haven.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), which is administering the program, began accepting applications on March 15.

CERA provides up to 12 months of past-due rental assistance, three months of which may be used for future rent. Included in the program is assistance for past-due residential utility services when they are tenant supplied, including electricity, home heating (with any fuel), water, sewer, and also garbage services if garbage services are billed along with another utility. CERA funds may be used towards future utility bills. Applicants may also have access to a $300 internet stipend if qualified.

The CERA program is available through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which provided the state of Michigan nearly $285 million in funding. Those eligible to apply include tenants whose 2020 household income did not exceed 80 percent of the area’s median income and meet the following conditions:

Households, where at least one individual has qualified for unemployment benefits or has experienced a reduction in household income;

Households where at least one individual has incurred significant costs or has experienced financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the coronavirus outbreak; and

Households with at least one member can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability evidenced by a past due utility or rent notice.

To learn more about the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance program, the qualifications, and the application process, visit the CERA program’s website at www.michigan.gov/cera.

Area residents struggling with their bills can also log onto mi211.org or call 2-1-1 for additional funding resources.