The massive – but temporary – social safety net that Congress put in place to financially support millions of Americans reeling from the coronavirus pandemic is unraveling.
Over the course of a year, Congress approved several sweeping legislative packages worth close to $6 trillion, setting up historic relief programs to help struggling individuals as the virus triggered a shutdown of the nation's economy that is without precedent.
But many of the protections put into place last March, including the eviction moratorium and sweetened unemployment benefits, are on the brink of expiring. Others, such as a student-loan freeze and enhanced food stamp benefits, are slated to follow in coming weeks.
It appears unlikely that Congress or the White House will intervene to extend the programs, even as cases of the highly transmissible delta variant surge.
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The federal ban on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is poised to expire on July 31, putting millions of renters at risk of being thrown out of their homes in coming weeks.
The White House said Thursday the moratorium will not be extended again, blaming a recent Supreme Court ruling that indicated the CDC had overstepped its authority when it first imposed the ban on evictions last September.
"Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. "Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available."
More than 15 million people living in the U.S. are behind on their rental payments and could face eviction when the moratorium lapses on Saturday, according to a new study published Wednesday by the Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
Collectively, those households – a majority of which are low-income and suffered financially during the pandemic – owe an estimated $21 billion in rent, figures published by the National Equity Atlas show.
"These renters may face eviction, civil lawsuits for unpaid rent, and aggressive debt collection — crises that will continue to cause harm years into the future," the study said.
Although some states, including California and New York, have in place their own eviction moratoriums that last beyond July, there are about 40 states that have no protections in place for renters, according to Nolo.com, a legal website.
A federal ban on foreclosures will lapse on July 31, while a similar program that granted a reprieve to individuals with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ends on Sept. 30.
In June, the White House extended the foreclosure moratorium for one final month until July 31 and the forbearance window until Sept. 30. An estimated 7.2 million American households took advantage of the forbearance option over the past 16 months, the administration said.
The Biden administration announced new plans last week to expand aid for homeowners with government-backed mortgages, an effort to stave off a wave of foreclosures for Americans who fell behind on payments during the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest steps are intended to allow homeowners who lost their income as a result of the pandemic to extend their monthly government-backed mortgage with lower payments, according to a White House fact sheet.
The three government agencies that back mortgages – the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and Agriculture – will provide homeowners with a roughly 25% reduction in monthly principal and interest payments. The move is designed to bring the options available to homeowners with government-backed mortgages in line with what's offered to homeowners with mortgages backed by Fannie and Freddie.
Three federal unemployment programs – which expanded eligibility, increased payments and extended benefits for longer periods of time – are set to expire on Sept. 6 in the states that are still participating, affecting roughly 7.2 million out-of-work Americans, according to Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation.
The $300-a-week supplemental payment that significantly increased unemployment benefits will end, as will the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides weekly benefits to individuals who are not typically eligible like the self-employed and gig workers, and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides benefits to Americans who have exhausted their regular weeks of state benefits.
Still, some Americans have already lost the benefits: 23 states have prematurely ended the extra $300 payment, a decision intended to help employers struggling to onboard new workers. (Louisiana will cut off the $300 payment after this week; Maryland and Ohio were ordered by state judges to reinstate the money).
President Biden and Democrats have rejected the notion that Americans are choosing to stay home and collect the extra unemployment benefits – part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law passed in March – rather than returning to work.
Still, Biden has emphasized that the unemployment benefits will end in September as planned, despite momentum among some of his party's members to make the extra money permanent.
"It’s going to expire in 90 days," Biden said recently. "That makes sense."
Federal student loan payments are slated to resume on Oct. 1, after a 19-month pause that benefitted an estimated 41 million Americans.
Like other pandemic relief programs, the freeze on student loan payments began in March 2020 and was twice extended.
A coalition of 64 lawmakers has asked Biden to take action before the Sept. 30 deadline when the loan forbearance period officially ends and requested he extend the pause until March 31, 2022, or until the economy returns to its pre-crisis levels – whichever is longer.
"Over 30 million Americans will have a bill coming due in about two months," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Tuesday. "The payment pause is running out on student debt payments. The size of these payments is the size of their rent, their car payment, groceries, child care. That's going to put a lot of people making hard choices."
A 15% bump in food stamps – known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – ends on Sept. 30.
The increase, established in the $900 billion relief bill that Congress passed in December and extended by Democrats in March, provides an extra $28 per person each month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With the boost, an individual could receive a maximum allotment of $234 each month, while a household of four could receive up to $782.