COVID-19 Aid Has Kept Renters Stable. The Next Stimulus Must Preserve It.
July 29, 2020
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress and the federal government approved the CARES Act, a stimulus package with a patchwork set of safety net programs to ensure that households remained economically stable during a period of mass unemployment and business closures. The stimulus included $1,200 checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and a federal eviction moratorium – all implemented for the purpose of economic (and housing) stability.
So far, the COVID-19 safety net has been an objective success in keeping households economically stable, and coupled the with state’s response, has prevented wide-scale evictions and homelessness. As we pointed out in the early days of the pandemic, COVID-19 could have led to a massive uptick in homelessness nationwide. That hasn’t happened. Americans’ housing situation has remainedrelatively stable. The key driver of housing stability has been the $600/week expansion in unemployment benefits – which has functioned as de facto housing assistance for out-of-work renters.
The Sightline Institute has a good analysis on how the expanded unemployment aid has benefited renters. They project that US renters have received around $15 billion per month – enough to somewhat offset the lack of rent relief in the CARES Act stimulus. In addition, programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and federal eviction moratorium have softened the impact from COVID-19-related layoffs.
Now, two of the most effective CARES Act programs – expanded unemployment benefits and the federal eviction moratorium – are expiring, and housing experts warn of a looming “wave of evictions” that could displace up to 28 million people in the next year. Congress should be looking to expand the COVID safety net – but, unfortunately, Congressional leaders are openly discussing the possibility of cutting its most important provisions.
On July 27, Senate Republican leadership unveiled their plan for a second major stimulus package. This proposed stimulus contains no new funding for rent relief or eviction prevention programs, and cuts the expanded unemployment benefits from $600 to $200 per week. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explains how this proposal would hurt families’ ability to pay for their basic needs:
The CARES Act’s financial support for unemployed workers has played a major role in enabling households to pay bills and buy necessities like food…Cutting unemployed workers’ incomes — and hence their spending — before it’s safe to go back to work on a large scale and while job openings remain scarce will make the recession more severe, rather than less so. Cutting unemployment benefits sharply also will almost certainly increase further the number of households facing eviction and the number of children not getting enough to eat.
In short: We created these federal aid programs to keep families safe during a pandemic and a recession. The aid programs have been successful, while the pandemic and recession are ongoing. So why make cuts now?
In May, House Democrats passed an alternate stimulus bill called the HEROES Act, which is currently stalled in the Senate. This bill contains an extension of the eviction moratorium and expanded unemployment benefits, along with over $100 billion in housing aid for renters. All five of Connecticut’s Members of Congress, as well as Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, are co-sponsors of this bill.
In the coming weeks, Senate Democrats and Republicans will negotiate a stimulus package, using the Democratic HEROES Act and Republican stimulus proposal as benchmarks. Housing aid could be a major part of the next stimulus package – but only if we put pressure on the Senate to include the housing proposals passed in the HEROES Act.
ACTION ITEM: What you can do to help make rent relief a fundamental part of the next stimulus.
- $100 billion in rent relief funding
- An extension of the federal eviction moratorium; and
- An extension of expanded unemployment aid.
- $11.5 billion towards homeless assistance to supplement the $4 billion appropriated through the CARES Act.
- $10 billion in Housing Choice Vouchers to help households who need more than temporary assistance to stay stably housed.
Then, urge them to consider the needs of Connecticut renters struggling to pay for housing when negotiating the next stimulus package.