Washington — House Democratic leaders are putting pressure on the Biden administration to extend theas they face mounting frustration within the party to stave off a looming eviction crisis. But the White House said it is on Congress to act to keep people from being kicked out of their homes amid the pandemic, and called on states and localities to institute their own eviction freezes in lieu of a federal ban.
The back and forth over who must act comes after the federal moratorium expired Saturday night and millions are living in fear of becoming homeless. More than 7.4 million households are behind on rent, according to the latest Census Bureau survey data from early July, and some housing experts put that number higher. Of those 7.4 million, more than 3.6 million said they would likely have to leave their homes in the next two months due to eviction.
On Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Democratic lawmakers encouraging them to help get more than $46 billion in emergency rental assistance already allocated by Congress out the door. She also once again said it was on the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend the federal eviction moratorium.
"Overwhelmingly, our Members agreed to extend the moratorium and universally, to distribute the funds. But the House passing the eviction moratorium without the Senate acting does not extend the moratorium. Instead, the money must flow, and the moratorium must be extended by the Administration," the letter read.
In a last-minute scramble, House Democrats moved late Friday to pass an eviction moratorium extension through October 18. But when Majority Leader Steny Hoyer brought the bill up for a vote by unanimous consent, Republicans objected. The House is now in recess.
While Democratic House leaders push the administration to act, the White House on Monday outlined actions it was taking to prevent evictions, including directing every federal agency to look at whether they have any other authorities to prevent evictions, calling on state and local governments to put in place their own eviction bans for at least two months and examining why state and local governments have failed to distribute rental assistance.
"This president wants to do everything within his power. We are still investigating what that legal authority is, whether there are any options we can have on eviction moratoriums beyond what we've seen," said White House senior adviser Gene Sperling on Monday.
The administration claimed last Thursday its hands were tied with extending the federal moratorium due to a Supreme Court ruling in June, and President Biden called on lawmakers to extend it. Sperling said Monday the president has "quadruple checked" whether he has legal authority and asked the CDC if there could be targeted eviction moratoriums in areas with higher eviction rates.
In a statement, Pelosi welcomed the administration examining its legal authority, saying Democrats are hopeful the initiative to extend the moratorium will be successful. But Congresswoman Maxine Waters said the CDC should just extend it, questioning who was going to stop them.
"I don't buy that the CDC can't extend the eviction moratorium — something it has already done in the past!" Waters tweeted.
Over the weekend, progressive Democrats voiced growing frustration with both House leaders and the administration. Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri, who was once homeless, has been, urging her colleagues to return to Washington and vote on an extension. She was joined by Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Democrats cannot blame Republicans because Democrats are in the majority. She also criticized the White House for waiting until just days before the moratorium's expiration to call for congressional action.
In her letter Monday, Pelosi appeared to acknowledge the outcry within her caucus, saying she was "grateful to Members for all that they are doing to call attention to this need, as we await a decision from the Administration."
On Monday, Senate Democrats focus on infrastructure legislation in an effort to pass the bipartisan bill before their own August recess. Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin addressed the expired eviction moratorium in an interview on MSNBC on Monday, saying "someone dropped the ball." But he would not point fingers with whether the blame fell on Congress or the White House.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on state and local governments to distribute the money allocated to help hard-hit individuals pay back rent and utilities. Of the $46 billion approved by Congress, only $3 billion has been paid out in the first half of the year, with $1.5 billion of it being distributed in June alone.
"The president is clear, if some states and localities can get this out efficiently and effectively, there's no reason every state and locality can't," said Sperling. There is simply no excuse, no place to hide for any state or locality that is failing to accelerate their emergency rental assistance fund."
Biden administration officials have been calling on state and local governments to accelerate the pace of getting funds out since early July as some programs did not open until May or even early June. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will give a presentation for lawmakers on the distribution of emergency rental assistance on Tuesday.