The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a new ban on evictions to protect millions of Americans in jeopardy of eviction since a previous federal moratorium expired. The new action offers a two-month reprieve for renters, forbidding evictions until October 3. It also buys the Biden White House time for the $40 billion in federal rental aid funding to be distributed by states to renters and landlords.
The ban, which was announced late Tuesday, is a crucial lifeline for millions of people at risk of being evicted just as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread. The CDC’s new action temporarily halt evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of virus transmissions and would cover areas where 90% of the U.S. population lives.
President Biden isn’t even sure this new lifeline for renters stands up to legal scrutiny, but intense pressure from within his own party compelled him to take action.
To head off mass evictions, the White House came up with a classic Washington fudge -- not unfamiliar in an era of Capitol Hill gridlock -- in which presidents, especially Democrats, have improvised with executive power to shield constituencies from consequences of a malfunctioning political system.
The latest moratorium also offers additional protection for renters, in the form of stiff fines and threats of jail time for landlords who violate the order.
In announcing the new moratorium, the CDC cited the current COVID surge as reasons for the moratorium.
“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.”
That reasoning seemed to many to be a workaround to the major reason why the White House let the original moratorium run out: A Supreme Court ruling that said the original order could only be extended if Congress gave the CDC “clear and specific” authorization to do so.
The White House has been under heavy criticism from progressive House Democrats, who said President Biden should not have let the moratorium expire at the end of July as the delta strain of the virus has unleashed a new surge across the country.
The administration has said that it did not have the legal standing to renew the program without getting the OK from Congress. Speaking to the press Tuesday at the White House, Biden said he consulted with legal experts to see if a new moratorium would stand up to legal challenges.
“I can’t tell you. I don’t know. There are a few scholars who say it will and others who say it’s not likely to,” the President said. “But at a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are in fact behind in the rent and don’t have the money.”