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Essential Politics: What’s happening with the eviction moratorium?

The end of the eviction moratorium wasn’t a surprise. The deadline was widely known to the White House and Congress.

Nonetheless, Washington had to scramble to head off a wave of evictions this month when the nationwide moratorium ended. After a several-day standoff in which congressional Democrats and the White House dared the other to act, President Biden‘s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a two-month moratorium, a measure that faces an uncertain future in a very skeptical U.S. Supreme Court.

So what happened? And what happens next?

Here is the CliffNotes version: Congress enacted a short-term eviction moratorium in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and let it expire last fall. In response, the Trump administration’s CDC issued a new moratorium, one that was broader than Congress’ measure. Biden’s CDC has repeatedly extended it.

Landlords went to court, saying the federal government didn’t have authority to intervene in private financial disputes. They also complained the moratorium was costing them billions of dollars. In June, the Supreme Court narrowly rejected an attempt by landlords to end the moratorium but did not rule on whether the federal ban was constitutional.

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Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who joined liberal justices and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to uphold the moratorium, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization.”

Opponents of the new moratorium say Kavanaugh was signaling to the executive branch that it had to leave future such actions to Congress. Proponents argue that the CDC created a new moratorium, not an extension of the existing moratorium, which is what Kavanaugh said he wouldn’t support. The issue is already back in court in Washington.

Biden acknowledged the new moratorium, which lasts through Oct. 3, may be on shaky legal ground, but said a legal fight over it would give states breathing room to disburse federal rental relief funds.

The federal response to the pandemic’s economic toll has been to pour trillions of dollars into the social safety net. The amount of funding has been massive, far more than state and local programs have ever handled.

State rental relief programs have struggled to get off the ground, suffering from some of the same snafus that snarled other such efforts in the pandemic. Remember how California’s unemployment system floundered with a flood of new applicants, and the massive fraud that resulted in rushing the money out the door?

Congress provided $46.5 billion to states to help people pay rent, but most existing rental assistance programs were small and it took time for them to scale up. Most states didn’t start accepting applications until two months ago. Just $3 billion, or 7% of available funds, had been distributed by the end of June, the Treasury Department estimates.

As the pandemic enters its 18th month, millions of Americans are believed to be significantly behind on rent. Meanwhile, thousands of small landlords need that rental income to pay their mortgages and bills.

The rental assistance is not contingent on an eviction moratorium. The money can flow even if it gets terminated in court. Also, California’s Legislature passed a law earlier in the summer that requires eviction proceedings to halt while rental assistance applications are under consideration.

The state has distributed $242.65 million in rental assistance to 20,066 households and is expecting a massive ramp-up in the next few weeks before the state’s eviction moratorium expires at the end of September, according to California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. There are more than 130,000 requests for aid pending.

It’s a tiny portion of the $5.6 billion the state either has received or expects to receive from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and applications are still being accepted.

Is infrastructure week finally over? Not even close

The long-standing joke in Washington is that it is always infrastructure week because it’s a policy that’s always on the table. Both parties and the public want it, but it never seems to get accomplished.

The Senate on Tuesday approved a $1-trillion bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Biden might have taken an initial victory lap on getting this far, but that doesn’t mean the joke is over.

House Democrats have insisted that the bipartisan infrastructure bill go hand in hand with a second, $3.5-trillion measure that focuses on so-called soft infrastructure and expanding the social safety net. They want funding for universal prekindergarten, child care, nursing homes, Medicare expansion and addressing climate change. Republicans are expected to aggressively fight those proposals. Senate Democrats are going to try to pass the second bill through a process known as reconciliation. That process limits what can be included in the bill, but allows it to pass with just a simple majority. Democrats can reach that number with the help of the chamber’s two independents and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.

That second bill hasn’t been written yet, though each committee has been given instructions from Democratic leaders about what to include in the package by Sept. 15. (And House members are already grumbling at the possibility they might have to simply accept whatever the Senate sends over.)

People are clapping.
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) celebrate news of a new eviction moratorium outside the House on Aug. 3, 2021. The representatives had slept on the Capitol steps in protest of the previous moratorium ending.
(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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The view from Washington

— Congressional reporter Jennifer Haberkorn has the latest on the Senate’s final approval of the infrastructure bill and the potential big wins it could mean for repairing California’s aging roads, bridges, rail and water systems, and electric grid. That includes more than $8 billion set aside for water initiatives in the West.

— Jennifer and White House reporter Eli Stokols also took a look at why Republicans worked with Democrats on infrastructure to give Biden a major policy win. Hint: It serves everyone’s interests.

— Political reporter Evan Halper examined California’s aggressive push for hydrogen-powered cars and how the rest of the country hasn’t followed suit as part of his United States of California series.

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The view from California

— The California Republican Party overwhelmingly voted not to endorse a candidate in the recall race to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom, national political reporter Seema Mehta writes.

— Seema and Phil Willon wrote about Gov. Gavin Newsom calling conservative talk show host Larry Elder, a Republican trying to replace him in the September recall election, a climate change denier who would restrict abortion rights and end the minimum wage if elected.

— With Elder in the spotlight, Seema and enterprise reporter Jim Rainey took an in-depth look at his 30-year media career.

Sign up for our California Politics newsletter, coming in August, to get the best of The Times’ state politics reporting, including full coverage of the recall election and the latest action in Sacramento.

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