Warren, Bush offer bill to give HHS power to impose eviction moratorium

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Two influential progressives, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), on Tuesday introduced a bill that would give the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the unilateral power to impose a federal eviction moratorium in the interest of public health.

“An eviction moratorium is the difference between life and death for all of us,” Bush said at a press conference on the legislation Tuesday afternoon.

“So today we are continuing our historic shift in the way that we conduct the people’s business in Washington, D.C.”

Warren, who spoke after Bush, added: “We are in a COVID crisis. … This pandemic is not over. Families, millions of people across this country are worried about getting sick. They are worried about your next paycheck. They are worried about trying to catch up financially for weeks or months without a paycheck.”

Multiple other progressives were present at the event, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Mondaire Jones (N.Y.), Jimmy Gomez (Calif.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.) as well as Sen. Ed Markey (Mass.). 

Bush, a first-term congresswoman from St. Louis, gained national attention at the beginning of August when the eviction moratorium that had been imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for most of the pandemic expired, leaving millions of households behind on rent at risk.

The lapse came on the heels of members leaving for their summer recess, but Bush — who has herself dealt with eviction multiple times in her life — stayed in Washington and took to the Capitol steps to demand that the moratorium be extended either by the Biden administration or Congress.

Despite the House Democratic Caucus failing to have the votes needed to pass an extension, Bush’s efforts drew praise from both her fellow progressives and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The end result was a short-lived victory: The CDC on Aug. 3 extended the moratorium two months, until Oct. 3, but three weeks later the Supreme Court struck down the move.

Earlier in the summer, the country’s top court had ruled that any further extension of the moratorium would take an act of Congress, as HHS did not have the authority to mandate the nationwide policy.

Nonetheless, Bush and other progressives haven’t stopped their effort to address the eviction crisis, with Tuesday’s introduction of the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 being a continuation of that work.

Last week, Bush introduced the Emergency Rental Assistance Program Improvement Act of 2021, which is aimed at bettering the systems used to disperse federal rental aid to struggling tenants and landlords.

Congress has appropriated roughly $46 billion for rental aid, but the funds have largely failed to reach those who need it.

Late last month, the Treasury Department indicated that only $5.1 billion had been dispersed, around 11 percent of the total $46 billion.

Recent data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also shows that nearly 11 million adult renters are behind on their rent.

It’s unclear if Bush and other Democrats will have the votes necessary for the bill to pass the House, and even then, the bill would still have to overcome the Senate filibuster — which has stymied many pieces of Democrat-backed legislation this session.

Progressives must also juggle the ongoing battle over Democrats’ budget resolution — including internal struggles with some moderate Democrats who have balked at the proposed price tag of $3.5 trillion. Progressives insist that the number should remain firm.

“We’re trying to do all the things at once, making sure that reconciliation happens and that passes before we vote on bipartisan infrastructure, but as we’re doing that we’re working to make sure that people can stay in their homes,” Bush explained.

“It’s not one or the other.”

Tags Ayanna Pressley Barbara Lee Coronavirus COVID-19 Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Eviction moratorium HHS Ilhan Omar Jimmy Gomez Nancy Pelosi
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