Democrats and Republicans are working on a compromise to pass a second relief package for a nation still struggling with its response to the coronavirus pandemic. The relief would come none too soon, as evictions are predicted to rise considerably if renters aren’t provided with relief.
“It’s incredibly concerning times,” said Jack Regenbogen, senior attorney at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. “I’m gravely concerned that unless there’s further policy intervention, whether it be at the federal level or state level or ideally both, that we’re going to witness unprecedented levels of eviction, displacement and homelessness.”
Republicans in the Senate led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have struggled to come up with a package approved by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump. After meetings last week, McConnell returned to the Senate with the HEALS Act, a package that would include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to eligible adults but notably would not include a renewal of the federal eviction moratorium, which protects thousands of renters nationwide.
But the Republican plan has already been met with criticism both from outside organizations and members of the same party. Some, like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, have criticized the plan for adding more debt to the federal deficit. But organizations like the National Low-Income Housing Coalition have said the plan falls far short of where the need is nationwide.
“Without immediate action, millions of people in America will be evicted from their homes during a pandemic,” CEO Diane Yentel said in a news release. “Senate Republican proposals would do next to nothing to avoid this predictable and preventable disaster.”
In a statement provided to The Durango Herald, Sen. Cory Gardner outlined his priorities for a coronavirus relief package.
“I have three priorities that must be accomplished in the next coronavirus response effort: Making sure that we’re stopping the spread and flattening the curve, helping Coloradans with the immediate relief that they need to get through this crisis, and getting businesses up and running again,” Gardner said. “I will continue fighting to ensure Coloradans get through this pandemic together.”
On Monday, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., released a statement calling the Republicans’ proposal “woefully inadequate” for the present concerns.
“Today marks exactly four months since we passed the CARES Act, the last major bipartisan legislation to address the pandemic and economic crisis,” Bennet said. “Instead of using this time to engage in bipartisan negotiations over the next package, Republicans in Congress have frittered it away with a ‘wait-and-see’ approach as the pandemic continued to rage across much of the country.”
The Democrats’ relief package, a bill called the HEROES Act that passed the House of Representatives in May, includes robust protections for those whose income or housing has been affected by the pandemic, including an extension of the $600 per week federal unemployment assistance benefits. The plan also provides for $1,200 stimulus checks, though the bill includes a provision that would remove President Trump’s name from the check.
The bill also includes an extension of the federal eviction moratorium for an additional 12 months and requires landlords to give a 30-day notice of evictions after the moratorium expires.
A spokesperson for Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., did not respond to requests for comment. Tipton voted against the HEROES Act in the House.
An analysis of renter households nationwide by consultant firm Stuart Risius Ross found that as many as 36% of such households in Colorado are in danger of rent payment shortfalls or eviction. Nationally, the number is even higher, at 43%.
Regenbogen, who specializes in landlord-tenant law, said that number is “heartbreaking,” and cautions that it is unlikely to improve anytime soon.
“There are so many families that I know of personally that they can’t go back to work either, because of the health risk or their children are at home participating in school remotely and they can’t afford child care and they need to be home with their children,” Regenbogen said.
While the Republicans’ plan does budget for $3.3 billion in rental assistance funding, the figure is well below the $100 billion the National Low Income Housing Coalition is calling for.
Regenbogen said more assistance in all forms, from federal unemployment benefits to enhanced renter protections at the state level, are needed to prevent a “catastrophic” wave of evictions by late August.
“That’s a breathtaking number of Coloradans we’re talking about (who face eviction),” Regenbogen said. “I think it’s very real, and I just don’t think the leadership at our highest levels from the governor’s office down really appreciates what type of economic risk our families, our neighbors are facing.”
Jacob Wallace is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.