Members of the “Squad” and some of their far-left Senate allies introduced legislation Tuesday that would give the Health and Human Services Department the power to impose eviction moratoriums.
The bills were introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, as millions of Americans face potential eviction after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from continuing the COVID-19 eviction ban.
A wave of evictions has yet to materialize since the ban expired at the end of September, though the threat remains real for renters who haven’t made payments, in some cases since the moratorium began in March 2020.
“Today we return to the Capitol steps with renewed courage and determination to introduce life-saving legislation. The Keeping Renters Safe Act will protect renters from eviction and curb the spread of COVID-19,” Ms. Bush said at a press conference in front of the Capitol.
Ms. Bush also led a protest on the Capitol steps in August demanding an extension of the moratorium that was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court held that the Biden administration overstepped its authority when imposing the ban and that an extension of the moratorium must be authorized by Congress.
The Democrats’ bill would fix that hang-up by directing HHS to impose a moratorium and rewriting the Public Health Service Act to give permanent authority to HHS to order implement eviction bans for public health crises.
“The Supreme Court said the administration does not have the authority to issue an eviction moratorium. So what are we going to do? Give them that authority. That’s all we want to do,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat.
Other members of the Squad who voiced support for the bill included Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, both of New York, also attended the press conference.
The lawmakers argued that the surge of the delta variant of COVID-19 necessitated a new eviction ban to help stop the spread of the disease.
“We are in a COVID crisis. We are in an eviction crisis and the eviction crisis is making the COVID crisis worse. This pandemic is not over,” Ms. Warren said.
Congress allocated roughly $46 billion for rental aid but only about $5 billion of the funds have been disbursed, according to the Treasury Department.
The bill, however, will have an difficult pathway to passing, with opposition expected from both Republicans and some moderate Democrats. A House GOP aide told The Washington Times that Republicans are likely to take issue with the bill given the labor shortage the country faces.
“There are some moderate Republicans out there that might [support it], but I think the conference as a whole is going to take a lot of issues with that, especially when you have 10 million open jobs and only 8 million people unemployed,” the aide said.
Ms. Bush touched on her own experience of being evicted as a renter and suffering homelessness, a personal story she put front and center of her protest last month.
“I will never forget the fear that rushed through my mind when I saw the eviction notice posted on my own door,” Ms. Bush said. “The fear that comes with not knowing how I will be able to keep my children safe, keep a roof over our heads or keep a job.”
Further underscoring the human tragedy of eviction, Ms. Bush brought several renters on the brink of eviction to the press conference.
The White House stepped in to extend the initial moratorium following pressure from the protest led by Ms. Bush and her liberal allies after Congress failed to muster enough support to hold a vote for an eviction ban.
About 1 in 6 renters are reported to be behind on their rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.