Republicans hammer HUD chief over sluggish rental aid
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge took heat Tuesday from Republicans over the meager portion of rental aid distributed to tenants and landlords with less than two weeks until a federal eviction ban expires.
Fudge appeared before the House Financial Services Committee for what was scheduled to be testimony on the Biden administration’s plans to expand affordable housing. But Democrats and Republicans spent most of the hearing sparring over Fudge’s role in the dismal pace of rental aid distribution and why Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had not joined her before the committee.
Congress approved a total of $46 billion in rental aid between two coronavirus relief bills passed under former President Trump and President Biden. Administered by the Treasury Department in coordination with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the program is intended to ensure millions of tenants have enough funds to cover rent and utilities accrued while they were protected from eviction.
While the program has distributed all of that money to state and local grantees, only $1.5 billion made it to tenants, landlords and utility companies as of May, according to data released by the Treasury Department last week.
“This is the poster child for why hardworking taxpayers are so critical of big government, bureaucratic programs like this,” said Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also unlikely to extend its eviction ban past July 31, leaving millions facing eviction and deep debt without sorely needed federal aid.
“If we don’t get those resources flowing, there’s going to be a bunch of folks in a terrible jam come sunrise on Aug. 1,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.).
More than 4.7 million Americans are not current on their housing payments and expect to be evicted or foreclosed on within two months, according to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau between June 23 and July 5. Roughly 8 million also said they don’t expect to make their next housing payment on time, boosting the pressure on the Biden administration to get rental aid out.
“I can understand why taxpayers would be concerned if they are at risk of being evicted. There’s no question about that,” Fudge said.
Fudge insisted that both HUD and Treasury were doing whatever they could to push through as much rental aid as possible before the eviction ban expires, she but said many state and local grantees lack the logistical ability to disburse the aid.
“The money was held up because they didn’t have the assistance or the capacity to get it out fast enough. So what we have been doing — personally, I have been calling mayors and governors and others to say, ‘We’ve got to get the money through the system,’ ” Fudge said.
“What we’re seeing today is that the number of resources that are getting out is increasing exponentially every month.”
But Fudge’s explanations did little to appease Republicans, who were furious about Yellen’s absence from a hearing focused on HUD.
“It is unacceptable that Secretary Yellen is not appearing before this committee when time is so urgent. We have two weeks before expiration. She should be here today to answer for the mismanagement of the emergency rental assistance program,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.).
Republicans had sent Yellen a letter requesting her testimony on the rental aid program, but Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the panel’s chairwoman, said she didn’t invite Yellen because both Fudge and the committee deserve to have a hearing focused exclusively on HUD.
“I did not invite [Yellen] to intrude on the first time that this secretary would appear before us, and I don’t intend to treat women that way,” Waters said.
“So, no, Yellen is not here. She’ll be here when a quarterly time is due,” she continued, referring to the Treasury secretary’s obligation to appear every three months before Congress to discuss the implementation of the CARES Act.
Democrats also defended Fudge’s work to shore up the rental assistance system and blamed the Trump administration for rushing through unclear guidelines that created massive distribution backlogs.
“I do not expect Secretary Fudge to be accountable for Secretary Yellen. I do not expect her to answer or speak for her, nor did I expect [former HUD] Secretary Carson, to speak for [former Treasury] Secretary Mnuchin — and I know he couldn’t,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio).
“To allocate 100 percent of the rental housing funds to state and local governments, we should be saying thank you,” she added.
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