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Supreme Court Allows Evictions to Resume During Pandemic

Agencies have been slow to distribute billions in rental assistance

Eviction notice

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En español | The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to allow evictions to resume across the United States, blocking the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban that was put in place because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The court's action ends protections for the roughly 3.5 million people in the United States who said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to Census Bureau data from early August.

The court said late Thursday in an unsigned opinion that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reimposed the moratorium Aug. 3, lacked the authority to do so under federal law without explicit congressional authorization. The justices rejected the administration's arguments in support of the CDC's authority.

"If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the court wrote.


Three justices dissented. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the three, pointed to the increase in COVID-19 caused by the delta variant as one of the reasons the court should have left the moratorium in place. “The public interest strongly favors respecting the CDC's judgment at this moment, when over 90 percent of counties are experiencing high transmission rates,” Breyer wrote.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was “disappointed” by the decision and said President Joe Biden “is once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions — from cities and states to local courts, landlords, Cabinet agencies — to urgently act to prevent evictions."

Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, who had camped outside the Capitol as the eviction moratorium expired at the end of last month, said Congress must act to reinstate the protections.

"We are in an unprecedented and ongoing crisis that demands compassionate solutions that center the needs of the people and communities most in need of our help. We need to give our communities time to heal from this devastating pandemic,” she said in a statement. “We didn't sleep on those steps just to give up now. Congress must act immediately to prevent mass evictions."

Rental assistance has been distributed slowly

Biden previously said that despite doubts about what the courts would do, extending the moratorium was worth a try because it would buy at least a few weeks of time for the distribution of more of the $46.5 billion in rental assistance approved by Congress.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the pace of distribution has increased and that nearly a million households have been helped. Still, only about 11 percent of the money, just over $5 billion, has been distributed by state and local governments, the department said.

The administration has called on state and local officials to “move more aggressively” in distributing rental assistance funds, and urged state and local courts to issue their own moratoriums to “discourage eviction filings” until landlords and tenants have sought the funds.

A handful of states, including California, Maryland and New Jersey, have put their own temporary bans on evictions in place. In a separate order earlier this month, the high court ended some protections for New York residents who had fallen behind on their rents during the pandemic.

The high court hinted strongly in late June that it would take this path if asked again to intervene. At that time, the court allowed an earlier pause on evictions to continue through the end of July.

Four justices would have set the moratorium aside then, and a fifth, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, said Congress would have to expressly authorize a new pause on evictions. Neither house of Congress has passed a new evictions moratorium.

The administration allowed the earlier moratorium to lapse on July 31, saying it had no legal authority to continue it. But the CDC issued a new moratorium days later as pressure mounted from lawmakers and others to help vulnerable renters stay in their homes as the delta variant surged. The new moratorium had been scheduled to expire Oct. 3.

The earlier versions of the moratorium, first ordered during the Trump administration, applied nationwide and were put in place out of fear that people unable to pay their rent would end up in crowded living conditions like homeless shelters, which would help spread the virus.

The new moratorium temporarily halted evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of virus transmission and would cover areas where 90 percent of the U.S. population lives.

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