No matter what area of law you practice in public interest, if you’re working directly with clients, you know that a housing emergency places a client in a state of crisis. No other issue, no matter how important, can be addressed until the housing emergency is addressed. Many of us have watched a client on the brink of stability lose it all – not just a home, but a regular job, a good school for his or her children, a safe neighborhood – due to a housing emergency.
In Wisconsin, some clients experiencing a housing emergency may obtain a brief reprieve both legally and financially through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Family’s Emergency Assistance program (EA).
The Emergency Assistance Program
EA is a one-time payment that can help low-income parents pay an emergency housing or utility-related expense.
Families at or below 115 percent of the Federal Poverty Level with assets less than $2,500, and who meet the nonfinancial eligibility requirement may be approved for EA. Emergency Assistance may be obtained once every 12 months by clients who have at least one minor child in the household, and who are facing an emergency out of his or her control. Such emergencies include fire, flood, or natural disaster; homelessness or impending homelessness; or an energy crisis.
To apply, clients must visit a local W-2 Agency, complete a paper application and a video interview with an EA case worker, then provide any verifications requested by the EA case worker within the deadline provided by the EA caseworker. For specific eligibility information, review the online EA Manual.
The EA caseworker must determine eligibility within five working days after receipt of the completed EA application. Note that the client likely will receive a very short deadline to provide verification and complete his or her application. Some verification may be challenging to obtain, such as when a client’s housing emergency stems from being terminated by an employer who is going bankrupt. The employer cannot be found to provide written verification of the bankruptcy and termination.
If a family returns all verification paperwork, and the EA caseworker determines the family to be eligible, then most commonly, the family will use its payment either toward rent or late fees owed to a current landlord, or toward a security deposit or first month’s rent to a new landlord. EA payments include $516 for families with two to four members; $645 for families with five members; or $110 per family member for families of six or more.
Stays of Eviction
Although the EA payment can be life-altering, the application process itself can also be very helpful. While an EA application is pending, the client is entitled to a stay of a small claims eviction action for up to 10 days. Then, if approved for an EA payment, the client may request a reasonable amount of time to continue the stay so the client can use the payment.
Courts are required to stay eviction proceedings while the application is pending, but are not required to grant the reasonable amount of time for the client to use the EA payment. Generally, 30 days is a reasonable time frame for a client to request for a stay, as it is the time frame W-2 gives the client to use the benefit.
To obtain a stay while an application is pending, the client must file a “Petition for Stay of Eviction Based on Defendant’s Application for Emergency Assistance” (Wisconsin Court Form SC-5500VA), along with a date-stamped copy of the EA application, and provide the Court with an “Order on Petition for Stay of Eviction Based on Defendant’s Application for Emergency Assistance” (Form SC-5500VB). Forms are found on the Wisconsin Court System website.
The client must inform the court as soon as the client receives notice of a decision regarding his or her eligibility.
Denials and Reviews
If a client is denied an EA payment, the client may request a Fact Finding Review within 45 days of the denial.
If the client disagrees with the final Fact Finding decision, then the client may request a Fair Hearing within 14 days after the certified copy of the Fact Finding decision’s mailing.
Applying and obtaining EA can be an enormous benefit to clients experiencing a housing emergency. However, it can be complicated, especially during a time of crisis.
If you do not provide assistance to clients in housing emergencies, the following organizations may provide possible information, advice or legal representation related to a housing emergency: