Congress lets evictions moratorium lapse

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) said that she planned to sleep outside the US Capitol to pressure Congress to extend the nationwide moratorium on evictions set to expire Saturday.

“Many of my Democratic colleagues chose to go on vacation early today rather than staying to vote to keep people in their homes,” Bush tweeted. “I’ll be sleeping outside the Capitol tonight. We’ve still got work to do.”

“As the eviction moratorium deadline approaches tomorrow, I call on all state and local governments to take all possible steps to immediately disburse these funds given the imminent ending of the CDC eviction moratorium,” said President Joe Biden, who also urged state governments to $46.5 billion in federal rental relief to prevent a tidal wave of evictions..

Only $3 billion, out of $46.5 billion in COVID-19 rental relief funds appropriated by Congress, has been distributed to renters by states, which have dawdled on disbursing that money. New Jersey

About 110,000 struggling New Jersey residents seeking rental relief applied for the state’s $100 million rental assistance program began more than a year ago, but only one in ten applicants had received any assistance as of last month.

Although Gov. Phil Murphy said, “no family should fear losing their home as a result of financial hardship due to COVID-19,” when he announced the rental assistance program in May 2020,

The Covid-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program was supposed to provide up to six months of emergency rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households that had been affected by coronavirus, which left more than 1 in 4 New Jerseyans unemployed and thousands unable to pay their rent.

Under former President Donald Trump, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a national public health emergency and created a federal moratorium in August 2020 to get around congressional gridlock, but the Supreme Court recently said the Trump-era CDC moratorium must expire July 31.

Rep. Maxine Waters blamer Republicans and said, “The eviction moratorium ends tomorrow at midnight. That means that millions of families and children could devastatingly lose the roof over their heads at a time when this deadly pandemic is surging once again. Throughout the last 24 hours, I worked with House leadership to respond to President Biden’s unexpected lack of effort and refusal to use his authority to extend the moratorium on evictions. At the very last minute, the Biden Administration indicated that it would be up to the Congress to protect struggling renters and prevent a wave of evictions.” 

“This is a full-scale failure by the Biden Administration,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee, who sought to shift blame to Democrats. “Congress could have addressed this preventable problem a month ago.”

On September 1, 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order titled Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19, which went into effect on September 4, 2020, and was extended on December 27, 2020. The CDC’s latest order extends the residential eviction ban through July 31, 2021. The CDC said in its June 24, 2021 press release that this is intended to be the final extension of the eviction ban.

Bush, 45, who experienced a period of homelessness nearly two decades ago, sent a letter to her colleagues earlier Friday calling on them to stay in Washington DC a little longer before starting their August recess to pass an extension to the moratorium.

“I’m urging you to please hear me out on this issue because as a formerly unhoused Congresswoman, I have been evicted three times myself,” she wrote. “I know what it’s like to be forced to live in my car with my two children. Now that I am a member of Congress, I refuse to stand by while millions of people are vulnerable to experiencing that same trauma that I did.”

In a separate letter later Friday, Bush invited her colleagues to join her “in solidarity” outside the Capitol.

“[W]e must reconvene to protect people from violent evictions during an deadly pandemic …,” she said. “We need to get this done, and we must not let up.”

While some supporters praised Bush for the campout on Twitter, others called the congresswoman out for what they saw as a publicity stunt.

The eviction moratorium, meant to prevent Americans from being forced out of their homes during the pandemic, was initially put in place by the CARES Act enacted in March 2020, at the height of the outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed a similar ban that September after the initial moratorium expired. Congress initially extended the CDC’s order by 30 days before the agency unilaterally extended it twice more.

Last month, the Biden administration extended the moratorium through the end of July. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to turn aside a challenge to the latest extension from a group of landlords. However, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted to deny the landlords’ petition, wrote in a concurring opinion that extending the moratorium beyond July 31 would require “clear and specific congressional authorization.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday that the administration’s hands were tied by the Supreme Court ruling and called on Congress to “extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay.”

With the clock ticking Friday, President Biden called on state and local governments to speed up the distribution of the remainder of nearly $47 billion in emergency rental assistance funding. Lawmakers have said that only around $3 billion has been spent.

“[T]here can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic. Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can,” said Biden, who added that “State and local governments should also be aware that there is no legal barrier to moratorium at the state and local level.”

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats failed to find enough support to extend the moratorium. An attempt to approve an extension by unanimous consent, without a formal vote, was objected to by House Republicans.

On the Senate side, aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY) and Sen. Sherrod Brown, (D-Ohio) the chair of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the two were working on legislation to extend the moratorium and were asking Republicans not to block it.

By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

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