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Yellen, Lawmakers to Discuss Distributing Rent-Relief Funds

EconomyAug 02, 2021 12:58
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(Bloomberg) -- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will talk Tuesday to House Democrats about getting tens of billions in federal rent assistance to Americans who may lose their homes following Saturday’s expiration of the eviction moratorium.

Congress has approved $46.5 billion in rent assistance since December but most of that funding has not been distributed to Americans.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unable on Friday to muster enough votes from fellow House Democrats to extend the moratorium, something President Joe Biden had urged the day before.

The House instead adjourned and its members left Washington for a recess scheduled through Sept. 20.

About 7.4 million households are behind on rent, according to the latest Census Bureau survey. About 3.6 million say they’re either somewhat or very likely to face eviction in the next two months.

Yellen, according to officials who received the meeting notice, is expected to discuss the slow disbursement of funds by state and local governments, something that has become a growing frustration for lawmakers. The White House on Friday called on states and localities to distribute the funds “immediately.”

The Treasury Department didn’t elaborate on Yellen’s meeting beyond confirming the appearance.

The first tranche of funds, about $25 billion, had been transferred to state and local jurisdictions by early February. But only 6% of that money had been disbursed to tenants and landlords by the end of May, with more than 80 jurisdictions having yet to start.

Picking Up

Distribution picked up in June, with more money going out than all previous months combined. But state programs are still mired in bureaucracy, and the vast majority of the $46.5 billion total allocation remains unspent.

On Monday, Pelosi sent a letter to her colleagues thanking them for calling attention to the issue “as we await a decision from the Administration.” The California Democrat also urged lawmakers, home for the August recess, to work within their districts to speed the distribution of rent assistance.

Also Monday, the Congressional Black Caucus urged the House and Senate to extend the eviction moratorium as a public health necessity, noting Covid-19 is still a threat because of the delta variant. But the group also called on Treasury “to work with Congress to ensure that funds already transferred to states and communities can be more effectively distributed to renters and landlords.”

Pelosi and her lieutenants wrote the Biden administration on Saturday asking that it take its own action to extend the moratorium through Oct. 18. However, in that same letter, Pelosi conceded that Justice Brett Kavanaugh has said he would not allow the administration to extend the moratorium without congressional approval, if the issue came before the Supreme Court.

Pinning Blame

On Friday, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Maxine Waters (NYSE:WAT) sought to pin some of the blame for the slow distribution of this assistance by states and localities on the administration of former President Donald Trump.

“States and localities were not helped in these efforts by the Trump administration’s last-minute decision to isssue rather confusing and harmful programmatic guidance which the Biden administration had to spend valuable time undoing,” Waters said. She said the governors “were not able to implement this program as quickly as we would like them to do, this is all brand new to them.”

Waters said she talked with Yellen, whom she said is working with governors to streamline access and use of this assistance.

The House has a pro forma session on Tuesday. There are no plans by Pelosi and her lieutenants to again seek quick approval of an eviction ban extension in a procedural “Unanimous Consent” move that does not require most members to be present. Republicans blocked such an effort Friday.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Yellen, Lawmakers to Discuss Distributing Rent-Relief Funds

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