The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of the federal CDC’s moratorium on evictions last Thursday was expected by almost everyone. After all, the original moratorium was allowed to play out by the narrowest of court margins in June, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in supporting it, made clear the only reason he was doing so was that it would soon end anyway.
President Joe Biden, when he announced the extension of the moratorium early in August, acknowledged as much, saying his hope was merely to buy time for states to dole out more of the more than $46 billion made available to help keep tenants in their homes.
At the time, the states had done a woeful job of getting that assistance out to those in need. According to U.S. Treasury figures, overall, across the nation, 75 percent of the money has gone unspent.
New Hampshire’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program had doled out more than $37.6 million through Friday. But a U.S. News and World Reports study found the state had disbursed only 11.75 percent of the funds made available. (Still, that was better than many states; Vermont had disbursed only 2.67 percent.)
So the real barrier here has been the states setting up hurdles rather than getting money out to those in need — which includes the landlords to whom those payments would ultimately be made. Or, at the very least, doing a poor job of letting those qualified know the money is available and getting it to them. New Hampshire’s process, for example, gives a six-week timeline from applying to actually seeing money paid.
The court’s action, therefore, even if expected, and correctly ruled — and it was both — leaves millions at risk once again of losing their homes in the midst of a suddenly resurgent pandemic.
But it didn’t have to be. Biden acted a month ago under heavy pressure because the original CDC moratorium ran out. And that moratorium was on shaky constitutional grounds to begin with, as the court had noted in June.
The reason is, it’s not the CDC’s, nor any Executive Branch agency’s place to put in place such a moratorium. It’s up to Congress. But Congress, last year under a GOP majority in both chambers and with a GOP president, refused to act. To his credit, then-President Trump allowed the CDC to enact a moratorium on public health grounds, arguing putting people out on the street during the pandemic would worsen the spread of the virus.
The moratorium was extended to the end of July, but with the Democrats now in power, Congress again shirked its responsibility. Once it became clear, at the last minute, that the evictions would be back on the table, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others blasted Biden for not doing their job. Then they left for summer vacation.
Now Congress is due back in Washington, and the moratorium has been cast aside. The only way to keep families in their homes is for congressional action to occur at breakneck speed. Hey, it’s possible.
In the meantime, the leaders of every state — including ours — need to reexamine why so little rental assistance is getting to those who need it. Even with a new moratorium in place, the government can’t keep evictions at bay forever, nor should it. Many evictions are warranted and keep landlords from being the ones abused in a rental relationship.
These are extreme times, indeed, in many ways. But eventually, getting back to normal means allowing legal processes to continue as well.