A $7 million rental assistance initiative is being launched for Rhode Island residents struggling to pay their rent amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Gina Raimondo announced during a news conference Friday the state is teaming up with the United Way to help up to 7,000 tenants in helping to pay back rent.
Under the Safe Harbor program launching Monday, tenants and landlords will have opportunities to work towards solutions outside of courts to avoid evictions, the governor said.
"It's for folks in danger of being evicted because they've lost income on account of the coronavirus," Raimondo said.
The funds are coming from the federal CARES Act and renters who meet income criteria can begin applying next week.
Although there hasn't been a massive spike in evictions due to the coronavirus yet, Raimondo said there are a "great deal" of tenants struggling to pay rent.
"It is obvious that $7 million is not going to solve the whole problem, but there are families struggling right now and we have to help them," she said.
During Friday's news conference, the governor also addressed an overcrowding situation a day earlier at Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly.
"During the COVID situation, we just can't do that," she said. "If you're going to go to the beach, keep your crowd small. If you're going to the pavilion to get a snack, put your mask on."
More on the Coronavirus in Rhode Island
As of Friday, there were two new deaths as a result of the new coronavirus for a total of 976 statewide, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. There were 45 new positive cases for a total of 17,312.
On Wednesday, Raimondo announced that state officials would be changing enforcement for some businesses after inspectors last weekend found only 20% of restaurants were taking names and numbers of people in a reserved party for contact tracing.
Inspectors found more than 90% of businesses were in compliance with mask-wearing and cleaning of high-touch surfaces, the governor said but added that there was too much "crowd mingling" and congregating at bars.
Going forward, the governor said businesses found to exhibit "egregious disregard for the rules" will be issued a compliance order or fine by the state's Department of Business Regulation. A second offense may result in a fine or shut down of the business.
Customers who see any compliance issues can also file a complaint on the Department of Business Regulation's website.