President Biden is pushing Congress for a second consecutive one-month extension of a moratorium on residential evictions, as the White House struggles to stand up a $47 billion rental relief program plagued by delays, confusion and red tape.
White House officials, under pressure from tenants’ rights groups, agreed to a one-month extension of the ban, which was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just before June 30, its previous expiration date. The freeze is now set to expire on Saturday.
Last month, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge by landlords, saying the moratorium could be extended to July 31 to give the Treasury Department and the states time to disburse cash to landlords to cover back rent that tenants did not pay during the pandemic. But Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote in concurring with the majority decision that any future extension of the moratorium would require Congressional action.
On Thursday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, cited the steep rise in coronavirus infections around the country and called on Congress to extend the freeze one more month to avoid a health and eviction crisis.
“Given the recent spread of the Delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the C.D.C. to further extend this eviction moratorium,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Mr. Biden “calls on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay,” she added.
It is not clear whether there are enough votes in the Senate, which is divided 50-50 on partisan lines with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as a tiebreaker, to pass another extension to the moratorium.
The Biden administration’s effort to head off a crisis gained modest momentum in June, with 290,000 tenants receiving $1.5 billion in pandemic relief, according to Treasury Department statistics released last week.
But the flow of the cash, provided under two pandemic relief packages, remains sluggish and hampered by confusion at the state level, potentially endangering tenants who fell behind in their rent over the past year.
Ms. Psaki, in her statement, included a plea to local officials to accelerate their work.
“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not to promptly deploy the resources that Congress appropriated to meet this critical need of so many Americans,” she said.
Tenants’ groups have been urging Mr. Biden to extend the eviction moratorium, but White House lawyers argued that challenging the Supreme Court’s conservative majority on the case could eventually result in new restrictions on federal action during future health crises.
The moratorium was initially imposed by the C.D.C. last fall, during the Trump administration, because of the danger of virus spread that could arise from a wave of evictions stemming from economic shutdowns and job losses during the pandemic.
Earlier this week, the country’s biggest trade group for residential landlords sued the federal government over the national moratorium, claiming that it had cost owners around $27 billion that was not covered by existing aid programs.
The suit by the group, the National Apartment Association, cited industry estimates showing that 10 million delinquent tenants owed $57 billion in back rent by the end of 2020, and that $17 billion more had gone unpaid since then.