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Editorial: Congress must act on eviction moratoriums

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President Joe Biden’s bid to placate far-left members of his party by extending a moratorium on evictions has, predictably, crumbled following last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring the moratorium unconstitutional. St. Louis-area courts quickly followed with orders for sheriffs to resume evictions of tenants who are long overdue paying their rent. That means the nation is back to square one when it comes to protecting families whose principal breadwinners became financially strapped because of the pandemic.

Biden had declared his unwillingness to extend a previous eviction moratorium because Supreme Court justices made clear they would not uphold any future moratoriums without specific congressional approval. The House failed to act as their summer recess approached, which prompted progressive protesters to stage a round-the-clock vigil on the Capitol steps to draw attention to the millions of people at the brink of homelessness.

It was Congress, not Biden, who failed to respond once the Supreme Court issued its warning. Now, no amount of protests can stop the coming tsunami of evictions. Landlords across the country have been forced for months simply to eat the billions of dollars in costs rung up by their non-paying tenants, and they have justifiably reached the limits of their tolerance.

At the same time, family breadwinners are well justified in fearing the dangers of returning to potentially crowded workplaces. Consider the paltry attendance figures at recent Cardinals games: The public, regardless of financial means, remains highly skeptical about the safety of any close-quarters mingling.

Congress has approved $46 billion for rental assistance to help tenants and landlords make it through the pandemic’s first wave. But by mid-August, only $4.2 billion had reached households, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reports. Most states have distributed less than 10% of the funds they were allotted. Missouri has distributed 10.5%. Which means lots of money sat undisbursed while landlord frustrations grew and tenants inched closer to the inevitable day when deputies armed with eviction orders would come pounding at the door.

The first order of business, then, is for Missouri and other states to distribute the aid and avert a national homelessness crisis.

Since coronavirus infections are now rising sharply again, employee fears of returning to their jobs are only going to grow. The members of Congress who led the pressure campaign to make Biden extend the moratorium now must go the traditional route: writing legislation, negotiating compromises with skeptics, and using their best powers of persuasion on the floors of Congress to convince members that a new moratorium is urgently needed.

Winning over Congress promises to be a lot harder than doing TV interviews while camping out on the Capitol steps. But if this is the only option likely to pass Supreme Court muster, it sure seems worth a try.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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