WASHINGTON (AP) — Hours before a nationwide eviction moratorium is set to expire, Congress raced Friday to try to extend the ban in a long-shot effort to prevent millions of Americans from being forced from their homes during a COVID-19 surge.
A House panel convened to consider emergency legislation to extend the ban, which expires Saturday. However, no vote has been set. Congressional leaders and the White House struggled to rally support.
More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has implored colleagues to act, calling it a "moral imperative" to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation.
However, facing difficulty in quickly passing a measure through Congress, Pelosi on Friday urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue the moratorium, despite President Joe Biden's announcement ruling out administration action. She was preparing legislation that would direct the CDC to extend the ban through Oct. 18, in line with the health emergency. An earlier proposal that would have continued the moratorium through Dec. 31 lacked support.
"It is our hope that we could pass a bill extending the eviction moratorium to that date immediately," Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues.
Biden said Thursday that the administration's hands are tied after the Supreme Court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month.
Pelosi said Friday at the Capitol that the sight of families' belongings piled on the street is "wrenching" and must be prevented as the states struggle to distribute some $47 billion in federal funds to renters and landlords.
Congress must "meet the needs of the American people: both the families unable to make rent and those to whom the rent is to be paid," she said earlier in a letter.
Not all lawmakers are on board with an extension, and the House is preparing to leave Friday for a scheduled recess. The Senate is also considering emergency legislation, but passage in that 50-50 chamber would be even more difficult.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the Financial Services Committee chair who wrote the emergency bill, urged her colleagues to act.
"Is it emergency enough that you're going to stop families from being put on the street?" Waters said as the Rules Committee met to consider the bill. "What the hell is going to happen to these children?"
But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington, the top Republican on another panel handling the issue, said the Democrats' bill was rushed.
"This is not the way to legislate," she said.
Congress pushed nearly $47 billion to the states earlier in the COVID-19 crisis to shore up landlords and renters as workplaces shut down and many people were suddenly out of work.
However, lawmakers said state governments have been slow to distribute the money. On Friday, they said only some $3 billion has been spent.
By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 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.
Some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.
The ban was initially put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters.
"It's incredibly important to move forward," deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the White House briefing. She said the administration backs the congressional effort "to extend the eviction moratorium to protect these vulnerable renters and their families."
The White House has been clear Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. However, there are also concerns that challenging the court could lead to a ruling restricting the administration's ability to respond to future public health crises.
The administration is trying to keep renters in place through other means. It released more than $1.5 billion in rental assistance in June, which helped nearly 300,000 households. Biden on Thursday asked the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs to extend their eviction moratoriums on households living in federally insured, single- family homes through the end of September.
On a 5-4 vote last month, the Supreme Court allowed the broad eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was "clear and specific congressional authorization."