The Biden administration issued a new eviction moratorium on Tuesday after progressive lawmakers turned up the pressure as protections for millions of vulnerable renters lapsed over the weekend.
The national moratorium on evictions, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first put in place in September 2020, expired on July 31 without further extension.
The CDC’s new moratorium targets counties with elevated rates of COVID-19 infections and will last for 60 days.
“This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
“It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission,” Walensky continued. “Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.”
Roughly 3.6 million adults in the United States reported they were within two months of eviction as of June, including 2 million households with kids, according to recent census data. Those individuals and families were left to rely on individual state and city policies as of Sunday. Only a handful of states have their own eviction moratoriums in place.
Until now, the White House has been adamant that it did not have the “legal authority” to extend a national ban on evictions — not even a more targeted one — citing a month-old Supreme Court ruling.
“On this particular issue, the president has not only kicked the tires, but double, triple and quadruple checked,” White House adviser Gene Sperling told reporters just Monday.
Notably, the Supreme Court ruling from June did not ban the White House from extending the moratorium. But in his concurring opinion allowing for the moratorium to stay in place through July, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that he believed any further extension would need congressional approval.
President Joe Biden, acknowledging the coming announcement from the CDC after a speech on vaccination rates on Tuesday, still raised concerns about whether this new moratorium will pass legal muster.
“At a minimum, by the time it is litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we are getting that $45 billion out to people who are in fact behind on their rent and don’t have the money,” Biden said.
Congress has passed $46 billion in rental assistance over two COVID-19 relief bills in the last eight months. States and cities have been extremely slow in getting that money out, however. As of June, only $3 billion of those funds had been distributed, according to numbers from the Treasury Department.
As the end of the moratorium approached late last week, the White House called on Congress to extend the moratorium — a move that surprised Democratic leadership. House Democrats couldn’t muster enough votes even among their own ranks to extend the measure. Then, on Friday evening, the House attempted to extend the moratorium unanimously but Republican lawmakers blocked the effort. The bill never even made it to the Senate and most House members went back to their home districts for August recess.
On Monday, the Biden administration called on states to reimpose eviction moratoriums for at least two more months as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads rapidly across the country. The administration also urged landlords to hold off on evictions for at least 30 days.
Meanwhile, a group of the House’s most progressive lawmakers, led by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), has been staging a protest against the end of the moratorium by sleeping on the Capitol steps. On Monday night, the group was joined by Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign, who was in the area protesting for civil rights and higher wages.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised Bush and fellow progressive lawmakers like New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mondaire Jones for their activism Tuesday night.
“I applaud the CDC for imposing an eviction moratorium for the vast majority of the population," Schumer said in a statement. "I particularly applaud Rep. Cori Bush who understands what it’s like to be evicted and who took her passion and turned it into amazingly effective action. And I am proud of my Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate for keeping a spotlight on this issue and giving a voice to the millions of Americans who, through no fault of their own, are at risk of being evicted from their home."
Bush claimed victory Tuesday evening.
“This is why this happened. Being unapologetic. Being unafraid to stand up,” the Democrat told reporters.
Members of House Democratic leadership have always maintained that the White House and CDC had the power to act on their own on the eviction moratorium.
On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated it was up to the Biden administration to extend the moratorium, signaling that the political dynamics in Congress were too difficult to get anything done. Any eviction moratorium passed through Congress would have needed at least 10 Republican supporters.