WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Monday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was “unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium” and asked that states and local governments put in policies to keep renters in their homes.
Mass evictions could potentially worsen the recent spread of the COVID-19 delta variant as roughly 1.4 million households told the Census Bureau they could “very likely” be evicted from their rentals in the next two months. Another 2.2 million say they’re “somewhat likely” to be evicted. The prospect of mass evictions has led to criticism that the Biden administration was slow to address the end of the moratorium, which expired over the weekend.
But the White House says it lacks the authority to extend a national moratorium. That’s largely because the Supreme Court signaled in a 5-4 vote in late June that it wouldn’t back further extensions, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing that Congress would have to act to extend the moratorium. The White House noted that state-level efforts to stop evictions would spare a third of the country from evictions over the next month.
The Biden administration emphasized in a statement that $46.5 billion has been provided to keep renters in their homes, but “too many states and cities have been too slow to act.” It’s still investigating any additional legal options to forestall the evictions, but Gene Sperling, who oversees the coronavirus relief plans, put the burden on states and local governments to get out federal aid and stop evictions.
“The president is clear: If some states and localities can get this out efficiently and effectively there’s no reason every state and locality can’t,” Sperling told reporters at Monday’s White House briefing. “There is simply no excuse, no place to hide for any state or locality that is failing to accelerate their emergency” rental assistance.
Sperling said the administration will keep looking for additional legal avenues to keep people in their homes. Yet he also stressed the complexity of the problem by also saying that the Trump administration developed guidelines for providing aid to renters and landlords that were unworkable. Those guidelines which required extensive documentation were changed once Biden was in office.
“This is not an easy task,” Sperling said. “We as a country have never had a national infrastructure or national policy for preventing avoidable evictions.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday it’s “unfathomable” that Americans will be ousted from their homes during the COVID-19 crisis, and backed by the Congressional Black Caucus intensified pressure on the Biden administration to immediately extend the nation’s eviction moratorium.
Pelosi and the Democratic leadership has called it a “moral imperative” to reinstate the eviction ban as some people were at risk of losing their homes as soon as Monday. They called on President Joe Biden’s administration to extend the moratorium through Oct. 18.
“It is unfathomable that we would not act to prevent people from being evicted,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues, later saying that she welcomed the administration’s urging of states and cities to impose their own moratoriums.
Pelosi said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen would hold a virtual briefing Tuesday with lawmakers as they push to more quickly ensure the states distribute the federal aid.
Rep. Maxine Waters, the powerful chair of the Financial Services Committee, has been talking privately for days with Yellen. She said in a statement that she urged Yellen to use her influence to urge states to push the money out the door and the treasury secretary has personally committed to doing so.
The CDC put the ban in place as part of the COVID-19 response when jobs shifted and many workers lost income. The ban was intended to hold back the spread of the virus among people put out on the streets and into shelters.
Democratic lawmakers said they were caught by surprise by Biden’s decision on Thursday, days before the moratorium was set to expire, creating frustration and anger and exposing a rare rift with the administration.
Congress was unable to pass legislation swiftly to extend the ban, which expired at midnight Saturday, and the House Democratic leaders have said it was now up to Biden’s administration to act.
But the administration has responded so far by saying that states, local governments and even landlords should use the federal aid to stop evictions.
Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and said that burden belonged as much to the private sector as to the government.
“No landlord should evict without seeking that rental assistance, and states and localities need to get that money out urgently, and they can do that,” Deese said.
Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.
Lisa Mascaro And Josh Boak, The Associated Press