The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that it would extend a targeted moratorium on evictions for two months, focusing it on counties experiencing "substantial and high levels of community transmission" of the coronavirus.
The late afternoon announcement by the CDC that it would provide renters eviction relief until Oct. 3 came after President Joe Biden said earlier that he wasn't sure that the extension would survive judicial scrutiny. He said the moratorium would apply to almost 90 percent of renters and replace a broader moratorium that expired July 31.
The moratorium, even if challenged in court, would give states more time to distribute $46 billion in rental assistance authorized by Congress, Biden said Tuesday during remarks on the pandemic. The Supreme Court in June allowed a moratorium to remain in place until its expiration, even though it upheld a lower court decision that the restrictions ran afoul of the Constitution.
“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it's not likely to pass constitutional muster … but there are several key scholars who think that it may, and it's worth the effort,” Biden said of the new moratorium. “But at a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, we'll probably give some additional time while we're getting that $45 billion out to people.”
In its statement, the CDC said the moratorium will also allow time to further increase vaccination rates.
"In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease," it said. "Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation and self-quarantine by people who become ill or who are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 by keeping people out of congregate settings and in their own homes."
The Supreme Court in June decided 5-4 to leave in place a stay issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia allowing the moratorium to remain in place, even though the lower court had ruled it unconstitutional.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the deciding vote in the Supreme Court decision, said in a concurring opinion that he would change his vote if the CDC extended the restriction beyond July 31. Extending it would require legislation by Congress, he said.
Congress authorized a total $46 billion in rental assistance in relief packages enacted in December and March. The aid went to states and local governments tasked with distributing it to landlords to cover rent debts. As of June 30, only $3 billion had reached landlords, according to data released last month by the Treasury Department.
The decision was a win for Democrats in Congress, who had pushed for the administration to take action after Biden had said the task would fall to Congress in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer applauded the extension.
“I continue to urge the administration to do all they can to pressure states, including New York, to quickly get the federal emergency rental assistance funds that Congress approved in the spring out the door to the people who need it most,” Schumer said in a statement.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus in particular pressured the administration to take action with overnight sit-ins on the steps of the Capitol to draw attention to the danger faced by renters as protections lifted.
The extension is only a temporary solution, caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said on a call with reporters.
“We don't know what the Supreme Court will do,” Jayapal said. “That is why we are calling for Congress to pass a longer-term solution that allows states and localities to have the time that they need to expend these funds.
“We believe we need to act immediately to pass legislation in the House and the Senate that allows people to be protected from eviction through the end of this pandemic,” she said.
House Republicans on July 30 rejected a unanimous consent request by House Democrats to pass emergency legislation that would have extended the moratorium through the end of the year.
Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the bill’s sponsor, said she disagreed with that strategy.
“There was a difference of opinion between me and House Democratic leadership about how we should respond to this emergency,” Water said in a statement. “I wanted leadership to put my bill up for a vote on the Floor under a rule.”
“I agree that it was necessary to count the votes of the Members who would have voted in support of my bill, and our latest count did not show we had enough votes,” she said. “But I was hopeful that once on the Floor, the handful of Members who were unsure of the bill would experience a change of heart.’”