Congress must pass another pandemic relief package in December

With the pandemic raging out of control, it is essential that Congress pass legislation in December to get money into the hands of millions of Americans who are facing eviction and hunger. The health of our economy depends on it. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell recently said that additional spending relief is “absolutely essential” to the country’s economic recovery.

The greatest urgency is to prevent millions of Americans from facing the prospect of eviction when the Center for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium expires at the end of December. When the initial stimulus bill, the Cares Act, was passed in March, it included cash assistance payments to tens of millions impacted by the economic shutdown. Those payments ran out in July after Congress was unable to agree upon an extension.

The CDC issued an order in September, banning pandemic-related evictions for the rest of 2020, based on the public health risks of filling homeless shelters with evicted renters. The government has not provided any additional financial assistance to pay delinquent rent so that obligation has been accumulating and will be collectable when the moratorium expires at the end of the year.

According to a November 24 Fox News report, up to 23 million renters across the country are at risk of eviction when the moratorium expires. January will see a dramatic increase of evictions in Idaho and around the nation unless Congress provides substantial financial assistance during early December. One estimate indicates up to 37% of Idaho renters could be at risk. Many of those unfortunate souls are single mothers, who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.

The financial picture for renters is further complicated by the fact that 12 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. This also needs to be addressed in a new stimulus bill.

It is not just renters who are suffering. Landlords may be a less sympathetic group, but the pandemic and foreclosure moratorium have obviously impacted them, too. Many are essentially mom and pop businesses that operate on a thin margin and have limited access to credit. Financial assistance to help tenants pay rent to their landlords would certainly be preferable to bringing eviction suits.

And it is not just rent that has fallen into default because of the pandemic. Utility bills for water, power and sewer are being unpaid, threatening millions of Americans with a cut-off of these vital services in the middle of a winter pandemic. It is estimated that default in payment of electric and gas bills alone will exceed $24.3 billion by the end of the year.

Hunger is also reaching crisis proportions during the pandemic, as evidenced by the long lines at food distribution centers shown on television news practically every day. Recently-collected Census Bureau data shows that one in eight Americans, including about 10% of Idahoans, reported they “sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat.” This should not happen in the wealthiest nation on the planet.

Congress must rise to the challenge of addressing this looming national disaster by approving a substantial financial relief package to get the country through the pandemic. Donald Trump made a solemn promise on October 30 that, “We will have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election,” and it is now time for him and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to deliver that package. Our Senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, need to join in the effort.

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