Two days have passed since Congress and the White House allowed the federal eviction moratorium to lapse, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still holding out hope that President Joe Biden will do something about it. Biden’s administration isn’t budging.
In a letter to House Democrats Monday, Pelosi again said it was on the president’s administration to extend the moratorium as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues surging throughout the United States.
“The money must flow, and the moratorium must be extended by the Administration,” Pelosi wrote, referring to rental assistance included in coronavirus relief legislation that hasn’t yet reached people who need it.
The White House has maintained it cannot act on the issue. The moratorium expired on Saturday.
“On this particular issue, the president has not only kicked the tires, but double-, triple- and quadruple-checked,” Gene Sperling, a senior adviser to Biden, said Monday, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been “unable to find legal authority” to extend the moratorium even in a more targeted manner.
In an announcement Thursday that surprised lawmakers, the administration made clear it was up to Congress to extend the moratorium, citing a Supreme Court ruling from a month ago.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing the federal eviction moratorium to stay in place through July, but indicated that any further extension would need congressional authorization.
But with only three days’ notice, the House could not muster enough votes among Democrats alone to pass an extension, since Pelosi and other top Democratic lawmakers have called on the administration to just do it on its own.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday afternoon that the White House is encouraging states and cities to establish their own eviction moratoriums for the next two months and urging landlords to delay evictions for at least 30 days. The White House is also looking into why states haven’t been able to distribute rental relief funds, approved by Congress last December and again in March, faster.
Psaki’s comments came after a statement from Biden last Friday urging states and localities to distribute the rental relief funds as fast as possible.
While an extension on the executive level — essentially forcing the Supreme Court to rule on the issue again, as Pelosi is calling for — could buy renters some time, legal challenges would likely come immediately.
Sperling noted that on a “personal” level, he is concerned pushing a conservative-majority court to decide the fate of the moratorium once again could put other public health orders at risk.
Pelosi, in her letter Monday, said Congress would continue working to address legal concerns raised by the courts, but indicated her hands were tied.
The politics of extending the moratorium through Congress are extremely fraught. Even if House Democrats had reached an agreement to extend the ban, Senate Republicans have repeatedly objected to the policy.
On Friday evening, the House attempted to pass an extension by unanimous consent, but it was blocked by House Republicans. The bill never made it to the Senate. The House is on recess through August, with lawmakers back in their home districts.
Congress’ failure to act has spurred outrage from the party’s progressive wing. Democrats like Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) protested the moratorium’s expiration through the weekend, sleeping on the steps outside the Capitol.
In the June Supreme Court ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote he would allow the moratorium to stay in place for another month to allow more time for rental relief funds from the American Rescue Plan and COVID-19 relief bill passed in December to be distributed.
States and cities have ramped up the distribution of those funds recently, but it has been an extremely slow process. From January through June, only $3 billion of the $46-billion fund approved by Congress had been distributed, according to the Treasury Department
States have reported serious backlogs due to outdated programs that could take months to streamline.
In her letter, Pelosi also encouraged lawmakers to spend their time at home working to “urge the immediate disbursements of funds to tenants and landlords.”
Meanwhile, low-income renters who have faced severe economic hardships during the pandemic are left as yet another casualty of partisan infighting in Congress.