President Biden is asking states and local governments to halt evictions for at least two months. A national moratorium on evictions expired July 31. (iStock/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday called on state and local governments to put their own pause on federal evictions for at least two months, and urged them to use $46.5 billion provided by the coronavirus relief package for tenants and landlords.
But the White House said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been unable to find the legal authority to reinstate a federal eviction moratorium that expired on Saturday.
The ban was put in place by the CDC to prevent renters losing their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, in which thousands have lost their jobs and millions of people have slipped into poverty. Millions of Americans are at risk of being evicted with the end of the moratorium.
“Given the rising urgency of the spread of the delta variant, the president has asked all of us, including the CDC, to do everything in our power to look for every potential legal authority we can have to prevent evictions,” said Gene Sperling, an adviser who is overseeing the president’s pandemic relief efforts, at an afternoon briefing.
Biden is also directing state and local courts to follow the Justice Department’s advice and “pause eviction proceedings until tenants and landlords can first seek to access Emergency Rental Assistance — making evictions a last, not first — resort.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during the news briefing that the administration was in touch with states such as Florida that had delays in getting relief to tenants and landlords.
Psaki said that “we have been in touch with state authorities and localities about what the holdup is and getting this funding out.” She did not go into specific conversations the administration had with governors.
According to the Treasury Department, more than $1.5 billion in rental assistance was delivered to eligible households in June.
Biden also directed the Department of Agriculture, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Housing Finance Agency to extend their foreclosure-related eviction moratoriums until Sept. 30.
Congressional Democrats are pushing the White House to extend the pause on evictions, including top leaders, but the White House has argued its hands are tied, pointing to a Supreme Court decision in June.
A 5-4 ruling found that the CDC could not extend the moratorium past July 31. The Biden administration last week then called for congressional action to extend the ban on evictions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Monday that she agreed with the administration’s steps and that the House would work on extending the moratorium.
“In addition, I am pleased that the President is urging the states and municipalities to distribute the $46.5 billion that Congress allocated in the December Omnibus and American Rescue Plan,” she said in a statement. “House Members are hard at work in their districts to ensure that these funds are immediately disbursed to the landlords and the families to avoid eviction.”
The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, urged the Biden administration to extend the CDC’s eviction moratorium to mid-October.
“(Thousands) of Black families and children could lose the roof over their heads at a time when the deadly pandemic is surging once again, and their lives are in disorder due to the pandemic,” Beatty said in a statement.
Democrats scrambled last week to get federal legal protections extended until December, but were unsuccessful, and the House now is out for recess until Sept. 20.
Beatty said that the Congressional Black Caucus has lobbied House leadership and the White House to “figure out a way to extend the moratorium on evictions.” She added that Congress provided billions of emergency rental assistance that still has not been distributed to renters and landlords, which “would have given support and reprieve to families struggling to make ends meet and teetering on the brink of homelessness.”
“The CBC believes that ensuring families have the relief they need is a national emergency and moral imperative to prevent people from being put out on the street,” she said.
Beatty added that the caucus was in support of Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who has slept outside on the steps of the Capitol since the moratorium expired in protest of Congress not extending protections for vulnerable tenants.
“Since Friday — when some colleagues chose early vacation over voting to prevent evictions — we’ve been at the Capitol,” Bush wrote on Twitter. “It’s an eviction emergency. Our people need an eviction moratorium. Now.”
Bush’s district includes St. Louis city and parts of northern St. Louis County. Since March 15, 2020, 5,104 evictions were filed in St Louis County and 3,308 were filed in St Louis city, according to Eviction Lab run by Princeton University.
“As someone who has been evicted and unhoused, I know the trauma that millions of families could face if we do not act immediately,” Bush said in a statement. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to protect the people we represent.”
She penned a letter on Friday, begging Democratic leadership to stay in session and extend the moratorium.
Progressives such as Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., also joined Bush as she slept outside the Capitol.
The chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., also called on Biden to extend the moratorium.
“Extending the eviction moratorium is a matter of life and death for the communities we represent,” she said in a statement. “I (am) imploring the Biden Administration to act with the urgency this moment demands.”
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