- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2021

The White House scrambled Monday to address rising evictions nationwide, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rebuffed President Biden’s request to extend a moratorium and the administration faced a growing political problem.

With lawmakers in his own party accusing Mr. Biden of ignoring his base, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House is “redoubling efforts” to prevent evictions. She said Mr. Biden had asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Sunday to grant a new 30-day moratorium focused on counties where the coronavirus is surging again.

“To date, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and her team have been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium,” Ms. Psaki said. “Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections.”

She said a new moratorium is needed “given the rising urgency of containing the spread of the delta variant.”

“This temporary measure would spur states and localities to ramp up Emergency Rental Assistance programs to full speed this month, giving every landlord the opportunity to collect the rent they are owed and ensuring no eligible family gets evicted,” she said.

Black lawmakers pressured Mr. Biden on Monday to extend the moratorium.

“Thousands of Black families and children could lose the roof over their heads at a time when the deadly pandemic is surging once again, and their lives are in disorder due to the pandemic,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

The group, made up of 57 Black lawmakers, called on Mr. Biden to extend the moratorium until Oct. 18.

Their statement came after House Democratic leaders on Sunday also called for the administration to extend the moratorium.

“Action is needed, and it must come from the Administration,” said a joint statement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus also urged Mr. Biden to act. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic delivered a devastating financial blow to Hispanic families — as well as many other Americans — straining their ability to afford basic needs like housing,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, California Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Presidential action is the fastest and most effective way to protect families from eviction and to keep them safely housed.”

The Supreme Court, ruling last month in a challenge of the moratorium brought by landlords had allowed the moratorium instituted to stay in place until Saturday. The court said it would take congressional action to extend it further. 

However, the House was unable to pass the extension before it left on a seven-week break on Friday, putting the ball in the administration’s court.

Mr. Biden focused last week on the fact that states have spent little of the $46.5 billion for rental assistance sent to them in December and March’s coronavirus relief packages. Housing advocates have said little of the money, which would also prevent evictions, has been spent because of paperwork and the states’ slowness in creating the assistance program.

But Ms. Beatty, of Ohio, argued the moratorium should continue even longer than the Oct. 18 date her group called for. 

“With billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance that Congress provided still not distributed to renters and landlords, an extension of the moratorium until the end of the year would have given support and reprieve to families struggling to make ends meet and teetering on the brink of homelessness,” she said. “Ensuring families have the relief they need is a national emergency and moral imperative to prevent people from being put out on the street.”

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, was asked by reporters Monday who dropped the ball on the eviction moratorium.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Mr. Durbin said. “It seemed to me there was plenty of money, but it isn’t getting out of the Treasury and into the accounts of landlords and others.”

Presidential adviser Gene Sperling said Mr. Biden “wants to do everything in his power” to stem evictions

“We are still investigating what the legal authority is,” Mr. Sperling said. “We have run into, so far, what seems to be a very difficult obstacle from the Supreme Court ruling.”

Congressional Democrats including Mrs. Pelosi have said the administration has the authority to extend the moratorium. Some Democrats have criticized the White House for failing to inform lawmakers last week that it wouldn’t stop the moratorium from lapsing.

Mr. Sperling said the White House and its Democratic allies aren’t divided on the issue. He blamed “excessive cautiousness” by state and local authorities in distributing billions in rental assistance.

“We share so much the goals of Speaker Pelosi and others on the Hill,” he said.

The administration had hoped that historic amounts of rental assistance allocated by Congress in December and March would help avert a crisis.

But the distribution has been painfully slow. Only about $3 billion of the first tranche of $25 billion had been distributed through June by states and localities. Another $21.5 billion will go to the states.

More than 15 million people live in households that owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords, according to the Aspen Institute. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Kery Murakami can be reached at kmurakami@washingtontimes.com.

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