United States Capitol Building

Congress deadlocked on more coronavirus relief

United States Capitol. Photo by pixabay.com

Negotiations between congressional leaders and the White House over a new coronavirus stimulus package are at a standstill. Congress will leave town in a couple of weeks for the final month of the campaign. Congress still needs to pass funding bills before September 30 to avoid a government shutdown. (Editor’s Note: The House passed passed a funding bill on Sept. 22 to keep the government operating through Dec. 11.) It is looking more likely that any pandemic relief that helps low-income renters may not happen until after the November elections.

Congressional action is desperately needed as soon as possible. The federal unemployment boost of $600 per week ended in July. Jobless claims are still high, with 30 million people out of work. Although the Centers for Disease Control recently issued a national moratorium on evictions, tenants are still on the hook for back rent. When the moratorium ends in January, millions of low-income renters will owe thousands of dollars that they cannot hope to repay.

Congress passed the bipartisan CARES Act last March. It provided a limited eviction moratorium for tenants in federally backed housing, about a quarter of all renters. It also provided a weekly boost of $600 to unemployment benefits. These provisions expired at the end of July.

House Democrats passed the HEROES Act in May to make sure that benefits would not lapse as the pandemic dragged on. The total cost of the bill would be about $3.4 trillion. One of the most important things the bill does for low-income renters is extend the $600 unemployment benefit through the end of the year. It also included three housing provisions critical to helping low-income renters.

The HEROES Act provides $100 billion for emergency rental assistance to help low- and moderate-income renters stay in their homes during the pandemic. It also includes a national moratorium on evictions that will run until the emergency is declared over. Finally, it also allocates $11.5 billion for homeless shelter providers for the extra costs of keeping people safe from COVID-19.

Senate Republicans refused to consider the HEROES Act. They said it cost too much and we have not yet seen how well the first round of stimulus funds are working. After first considering a $1 trillion bill, Senate Republicans ended up introducing a “skinny bill” of about $500 billion. The bill failed to reach the 60 votes needed to move forward.

Democrats have proposed coming down to $2.2 trillion as a compromise, but Republicans have refused to consider anything more than $1 trillion for the next stimulus package. The White House has recently signaled it is willing to go up to $1.5 trillion, leaving some hope there could be a last minute deal.

None of the Republican proposals include emergency rental assistance. They also do not mention extending the national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. They also do not provide any assistance for shelters trying to keep people safe and off the streets during the pandemic.

A new bipartisan stimulus proposal was introduced last week by 50 rank and file House members from the Problem Solvers Caucus. Their members are divided equally between Republicans and Democrats. The bill was introduced by co-Chairs Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY).

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) stands center at the podium last week to announce bipartisan COVID relief frameworks. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) stands next to Reed, on the left. Photo by Rep. Tom Reed’s Facebook page: facebook.com/RepTomReed/

The Problem Solvers proposal does include emergency rental assistance like the HEROES Act, but at a much lower level of $25 billion. This will only be enough to meet about one-quarter of the $100 billion estimated it will take to help the 30-40 million renters at risk of eviction.

The proposal also extends the federal unemployment boost, but at a reduced level. It would provide an extra $400 in unemployment for eight weeks, then $600 per week after that. It would also be capped so that workers could not collect more than they did when they were working. It would also provide another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for each adult, and $500 for each child. The bill is not likely to be adopted, but it may provide a framework for a larger compromise to be reached.

What is most likely to happen next, and when will Congress finally pass the relief that millions desperately need? It is very likely that Congress will pass and President Trump will sign a Continuing Resolution (CR) by September 30 to keep the government open. A CR is a temporary spending measure that keeps the government running at a reduced funding level for a short time. Neither party wants to see a government shutdown one month before the national election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have agreed not to attach a coronavirus package to the CRs that are needed to keep the government open after this month. It makes it harder to pass a coronavirus stimulus package because it must be approved on its own instead of being part of “must pass” funding legislation.

Each day without action makes it more likely that Congress will not tackle coronavirus relief until after the November election. Because of the CDC’s eviction moratorium, at least most low-income renters will not have to worry about losing their homes before then.

Without rental assistance, though, low-income renters will build crushing debt for back rent. The federal unemployment boost helped millions of households pay their rent and put food on the table. How many can hold out without it until after the election? Landlords will not be able to pay their own bills. Many small landlords, who own about half the units in the country, may face foreclosure themselves.

What can we do?

  1. Vote.

Election results will have an impact on what kind of relief happens. This will be especially true if the presidency or one of the chambers in congress changes hands. If no stimulus package gets passed before Congress goes on election recess, low-income renters can make their voices heard at the ballot box. Vote for candidates that support assistance for low-income renters.

Make sure you are registered according to the laws of your state, and that you are clear about your state’s voting options, including absentee or mail-in voting rules.

  1. Contact your Representative and Senators.

Politicians listen to voters. There is still time to push for a last-minute deal before the election recess. Contact your Representative and Senators and let them know that you or someone you know needs emergency rental assistance. Politicians want to get re-elected, and if a lot of their constituents demand something they often listen.

Contact your Representative and Senators by searching for your zip code here

You can also get help on how to send a message to your representatives in just two minutes via iMessage, Messenger, Twitter, Telegram, or text with Resistbot.

Find out how to use Resistbot here.