A Community Connector bus drives past 22 Ohio St. in Bangor on June 4, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is making even more people eligible for a massive rental assistance program as a federal eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of July.

The state has approved more than $46 million in rental assistance since March, according to the Maine State Housing Authority, benefiting nearly 9,300 households. As of mid-July, another 5,900 applications were still being processed.

Beginning Aug. 2, MaineHousing is expanding the program to make anyone who experienced financial hardship during the pandemic eligible, rather than requiring applicants to prove that their financial troubles were caused directly by the coronavirus. The program will also be expanded to cover up to 18 months of rent, up from 15, for eligible applicants.

The changes come as a federal eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of July. President Joe Biden, who had established the moratorium via executive order, called on Congress to take action Thursday after a court ruling earlier this year indicated the policy may be unconstitutional, but nothing is expected in the next few days.

MaineHousing will also be funding two legal aid organizations to assist tenants facing eviction, the agency said.

“Often, a third party can help resolve disputes and help stabilize good tenants,” said Daniel Brennan, director of MaineHousing. “This is another way we are helping tenants remain housed and by extension, helping landlords get the money they’re owed.”

Two stimulus bills allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for rental assistance in Maine earlier this year. But a more strenuous proof-of-income requirement compared to last year’s state rental assistance program have made it difficult for the local community action agencies that administer the program here to keep up with the volume of applications. Maine was not alone, as many states were slow in getting assistance to tenants this spring.

With the updates to the program, local community action agencies will automatically apply the new eligibility criteria to existing applicants. The groups are also instructed to reach out to applicants who were previously declared ineligible but may be eligible under the new criteria, MaineHousing said.

Information about how to apply for the program is available on MaineHousing’s website.