Many of the houses along Loren Street in Phelps Grove are long-term rental properties. (Photo by Rance Burger)

There were thousands of transactions to keep roofs over heads and keep lights on for some of Greene County’s most vulnerable residents.

Greene County Budget Officer Jeff Scott presented some not-quite-final numbers to the Greene County Commission about Emergency Relief Assistance, or ERA. His office oversaw distribution of more than $19 million to more than 4,000 Greene County households for help with rent and utility costs.

Scott tracked every transaction.

“Our database currently has 19,389 lines of award information, and we’re not quite done yet,” Scott said. “We’ve done our best to address the needs and the challenges that the federal government placed on us.”

Temporary programs are designed to end at one point or another. For Greene County, ERA will likely run out of funding by the end of June, and there is no plan to replenish the funds. Scott says he is glad Greene County could stretch the funding as far as it did.

“It is a shame that the program has to come to an end, but to be completely honest, the original purpose of the program was to fix the instability caused in the housing market by COVID-19,” Scott said. “Those people who lost a job because of COVID-19 or a business shut down — they’ve had three years worth of benefits to where they could help correct their situation.”

How it happened: COVID-19 economic relief

In 2020, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed, appropriations for the CARES Act. The omnibus spending bill was packed with federal relief funding in response to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the public health safety measures taken in the effort to reduce the spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus.

Emergency rental assistance funds were allocated and extended a second time when Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March 2021.

“The program was originally put in place to keep renters who were living paycheck to paycheck in their homes, even if COVID-19 caused an interruption in their incomes,” Scott said.

The Greene County group made its first ERA funding awards in January 2021.

“We’re looking at a good period of time that this program has been in place to address the interruption of income during COVID-19,” Scott said. “What the public might not realize is the county wasn’t set up to distribute these passthrough funds. While CARES was taking up a lot of our resources, we had the opportunity to do ERA, and we knew that would mean a lot more applications and a lot more checks going out than we could handle.”

The Greene County Budget Office quickly contacted six partner agencies with experience working with renters in need of help: the Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC), Consumer Credit Counseling Services, Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, the Council of Churches of the Ozarks and the Salvation Army.

“We started from there as a whole to develop a program,” Scott said. 

Second District Commissioner John C. Russell credited Scott with spearheading the idea of bringing partner agencies into the process of distributing funds, and doing it very quickly in 2021.

“Because of that idea, millions of dollars were distributed out into Greene County,” Russell said.

Dollar figures and distribution

The two congressional acts allotted more than $34 million in rental assistance to Greene County based on its population, but that came with a catch. Only 45 percent went to Greene County for direct allocation. The remaining 55 percent went to the state of Missouri, which set up an online application program for rental assistance.

Scott says the state funding pool created a disparity that sent more assistance funding to Kansas City and St. Louis, and left less money for less-populated counties overall.

“Unfortunately, there was a glaring difference in the amount of funding that we received in Greene County per capita than what happened in Kansas City and St. Louis,” Scott said. 

About $19.1 million went to the state’s internet-based application program. Of the $34 million allocated to Missouri based on Greene County’s population, Scott said about $21.9 million made it to Greene County. That means about $12.9 million in rental assistance ended up in other parts of Missouri. About $6.2 million, Scott said, was the direct result of a sub-award program the Greene County Budget Office operated.

“Our group, through dealing with our neediest clients, our citizens, knew that there were a bunch of citizens that would qualify for this that didn’t have the means, the knowledge or the capabilities of filling out an internet application,” Scott said.

The Greene County group set up 26 case managers to take appointments and provide application assistance through the six partner agencies. Scott said this process also stressed “preventing fraud,” and serving “cases with the most need.”

“I think without our local program stepping up and taking that opportunity from the state, our citizens would have suffered even more,” Scott said. “The majority of the funds that the state did spend ended up going to St. Louis and Kansas City, where I’m sure they have great need and the programs were more locally located.”

Rance Burger

Rance Burger is the managing editor for the Daily Citizen. He previously covered local governments from February 2022 to April 2023. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger