A US federal rental assistance program has 89% of its funds still waiting to be distributed as eviction moratoriums passed to help low-income households during the Covid-19 pandemic could potentially be expiring soon.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program gave out approximately $1.7 billion in July, according to US Treasury Department figures. That money brings the total amount of funds released to approximately $5.1 billion of the $46.5 billion rental aid program.
The White House, however, has defended the slow pace, with Gene Serling, who oversees pandemic relief programs, saying over one million payments have been sent to families, which equates to just over 10% of the total funds first authorized by Congress in December.
“It is starting to help a meaningful number of families,” he said, according to the New York Times. Though the program is federal, it is up to states to deliver the actual aid to landlords and renters that qualify, which has slowed down the distribution process in some states, which could become a serious issue once the fall deadline on eviction moratorium comes up.
Critics took to social media to express shock at the seeming lack of urgency from the White House on distributing funds and to blast it as “indefensible.”
Indefensible, especially when the government is now asking those struggling to essentially bootstrap their way out of rental debt. https://t.co/KYRgQdAnNL— Max Burns (@themaxburns) August 25, 2021
Yet the Biden administration decided to unilaterally extend portions of the eviction moratorium. Congress has already solved this problem. This money needs to be spent or returned. Small landlords can't continue to foot the bill for the government's bad policies. https://t.co/LVyDjXQg8w— House GOP Policy (@GOPpolicy) August 25, 2021
The majority of the funds remain unspent ahead of a potential Supreme Court decision this week that could bring an end to the federal eviction moratorium. The moratorium began last September under President Donald Trump in response to families struggling to make home payments during the Covid-19 pandemic. President Joe Biden has extended the policy multiple times, and received pushback for doing so as states have begun to reopen and many have headed back to work.
The White House asked the Supreme Court to keep the eviction moratorium in place this week, stressing it is “lawful” and “urgently needed.” The latest 60-day extension was introduced by the Biden administration on August 3, after Congress failed to enact an extension themselves. It is set to expire on October 3 if the Court does not strike it down first.
This temporary extension on a version of the ban that covers most of the US has been on shaky ground from the start, with Supreme Court justices having already warned the program should likely be winding down after allowing it to be extended beyond July. Critics have warned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and White House have likely legally overstepped their bounds in this latest extension.
“I went ahead and did it,” Biden said after passing the extension. “But here’s the deal: I can’t guarantee you the court won’t rule [that] we don’t have that authority. But at least we’ll have the ability, if we have to appeal, to keep this going for a month at least – I hope longer than that.”
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