Congress has failed to pass an extension to the federal eviction moratorium, which expires Saturday night, leaving millions of Americans to face the possibility of homelessness in coming weeks.
After a last-ditch scramble to extend the moratorium past July 31, lawmakers were unable to find enough votes to do so. House lawmakers went home to their districts for August recess and the Senate has returned to debating the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
House Democrats attempted to pass their bill through unanimous consent, which Republicans blocked on the floor. House Democratic leaders had spent the day trying to whip their caucus behind an extension, but ultimately didn’t have broad enough support among their ranks.
More than 3.6 million adults reported they were likely less than two months away from eviction as of June, including 2 million households with children, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey.
Unless the White House reverses course and decides to pursue executive action, the moratorium will expire. So far, Biden officials have given no indication that they will do that.
What’s left is a patchwork of local eviction moratoriums in only a few cities and states across the country, several of which are in the process of phasing out.
“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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday evening. “There 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.”
Meanwhile, as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly, state and local governments have struggled to get out federally approved rent relief funds to tenants and landlords. Of the $46 billion allocated toward rental assistance between two COVID-19 relief bills, only $3 billion has been spent this year, according to data from the Treasury Dep.
Up until Thursday, Congress was under the impression that the White House would be extending the eviction moratorium on its own.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put in place a federal eviction moratorium last September and has extended it four times since. More recently the protections for renters have faced legal challenges. Just last month the Supreme Court allowed the moratorium to stay in place, but Justice Brett Kavanaugh indicated he would not support the moratorium, without congressional authorization, past July 31.
Citing Kavanaugh’s opinion from June, the White House said Thursday it would not extend the moratorium and punted the issue to Congress with only a three-day lead time to protect millions of vulnerable renters.
The effort in Congress seemed doomed from the start. Republicans in the Senate have been against the policy for some time, and the House had its own challenges getting a consensus in a razor-thin Democratic majority.
“The eviction moratorium is a bad idea,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters Friday, killing any prospect of a unanimously agreed-to extension in the Senate from the get-go.
And there was little to no time to negotiate. The White House’s statement sent lawmakers into a frenzy Thursday and Friday, with late-night letters encouraging Democrats to back an extension and long meetings between leaders.
All the while, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats were encouraging the White House to take action.
“We would like the CDC to expand the moratorium. That’s where it can be done,” Pelosi told reporters Friday morning.
Lawmakers and their staff were frustrated with the last-minute punt from the White House. Biden’s administration has known about the Supreme Court ruling for a month, and they were aware of the deadline. Congress, too, has had a full plate with a major bipartisan infrastructure package under negotiations and an even larger budget resolution in the works.
“It is still within their reach to extend the moratorium to prevent people from getting evicted on Monday,” a Democratic aide told HuffPost in the late afternoon Friday. “This was very last minute.”
Democrats also emphasized the need for states to get out rental assistance as fast as possible. State and local governments have been ineffective at getting funding out in an efficient manner, many plagued with shoddy programs and backlogs that may take weeks or months to resolve.
“The effort is to make sure that there’s more impetus on local communities and local and state governments to get the money out,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. “They’re the ones not doing their jobs.”
Now, it seems, for millions of Americans, that is their only hope for any kind of housing protection.
Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.