CONGRESSWOMAN Cori Bush has spent a night on the steps of the US Capitol to protest against the end of a Covid-related moratorium on evictions.
She was joined by other Progressive Democratic Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar.
The House Democrat said shortly before the freeze expired at midnight on Saturday that seven million people would be ‘at risk of evictions’ over unpaid rent.
The freeze was imposed 11 months ago, in part to halt the spread of infections through crowding in shelters.
Bush, who was once homeless herself, is demanding the measure is extended.
In a tweet early on Saturday, she wrote: ‘Good morning. The eviction moratorium expires tonight at midnight. We could have extended it yesterday, but some Democrats went on vacation instead.
‘We slept at the Capitol last night to ask them to come back and do their jobs. Today’s their last chance. We’re still here.’
The Democrat-majority House of Representatives adjourned for a seven-week recess on Friday without renewing the moratorium.
Extension opponents say many landlords are struggling with their mortgage repayments without regular rent money.
Bush, 45, said that, despite managing only an hour of sleep in a chair, she was now preparing to spend another night outside the Capitol in Washington DC.
On Saturday, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Jim McGovern, a House Republican, briefly joined Bush, Omar and Pressley to voice their full support for Bush’s action.
Millions of people across the United States could be forced out of their homes after the nationwide moratorium on evictions expired at midnight on Saturday amid a spike in coronavirus infections.
The expiration was a blow to President Joe Biden who, last Thursday, made a last-ditch request to Congress to extend the 11-month ban on removals after a recent Supreme Court ruling meant the White House could not do so.
Republicans, however, baulked at Democratic Party efforts to extend the ban through to October 18th, and the House of Representatives adjourned for its summer vacation last Friday without renewing it.
The moratorium was first put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020 to combat the spread of Covid-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic.
Congress approved nearly $47bn in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but this has been very slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments.
With the moratorium’s expiration, more than 3.6 million Americans are officially now at risk of eviction.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said last Saturday: ‘In every state in this country, families are sitting around their kitchen table right now, trying to figure out how to survive a devastating, disruptive and unnecessary eviction.’
‘We Democrats control the House, Senate, and White House. We must keep people housed,’ Cori Bush wrote on Twitter last Thursday urging Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to recall the chamber for a vote and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to extend the ban.
Ilhan Omar also tweeted: ‘So many people are at risk of homelessness in our district and many have already experienced it. We are out here for them.’
More than 15 million people in 6.5 million US households are currently behind on rent payments, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the Covid-19 Eviction Defence Project, collectively owing more than $20 billion to landlords.
Democratic legislators have warned that only $3bn of the $46.5bn in rental relief previously approved by Congress has been distributed to renters so far.
Landlord groups have opposed the ban on evictions and the US Supreme Court last month decided 5-4 to leave in place the CDC’s moratorium through to 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 authorisation’.
Just hours before the ban was set to expire, US president Joe Biden called on local governments to ‘take all possible steps’ to immediately disburse the funds owed.
‘There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,’ he said in a statement.
‘Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can.’
Separately on Friday, The US Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development; Veterans Affairs and the Federal Housing Finance Agency all extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratoriums until September 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.
Some states have chosen to extend eviction moratoriums beyond July 31, including New York, whose moratorium runs through to August 31, and California, which extended its ban through to September 30.
Marginalised groups – including individuals who are unemployed – will be hardest hit by the end of the moratorium.
‘This has been the story of the pandemic both under the Trump and the Biden administrations,’ US commentator Shihab Rattansi said.
‘Of course, the well-heeled have been getting plenty of federal money from both the government and the Federal Reserve and others, whereas the poor, as always, have to go through these hurdles.’
The potential evictions come as the US is seeing a surge in coronavirus infections, propelled by the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.
‘We’re going in the wrong direction,’ Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said last week, warning that most new cases, hospitalisations and deaths are among unvaccinated people across the country.
And Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition said: ‘The confluence of the surging Delta variant with 6.5 million families behind on rent and at risk of eviction when the moratorium expires demands immediate action.
‘The public health necessity of extended protections for renters is obvious. If federal court cases made a broad extension impossible, the Biden administration should implement all possible alternatives, including a more limited moratorium on federally backed properties.’
- The US justice department has ordered the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to hand over former President Donald Trump’s tax returns to Congress.
The move reverses a 2019 finding that the request from the House Ways and Means Committee was ‘disingenuous’.
The decision appears to end a long legal battle over the records, and is seen as a sharp legal blow to Trump.
Although not required by law, every US president since 1976 – except Trump – has released their tax returns.
Trump is yet to publicly comment on the latest developments, although he still has ways to try to fight the ruling in court.
Republicans on Capitol Hill denounced the decision, describing it as politically motivated.
When he was president, Trump repeatedly said he was under audit by the IRS and so could not release his tax returns – although the IRS has said an audit would not stop the release of the information.
The House Ways and Means Committee has previously argued that it required the Republican former president’s tax returns for an investigation into whether he complied with tax law.
The Trump-era justice department, however, refused to hand them over. It argued that the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives was seeking them for partisan political gain.