CDC issues eviction moratorium extension

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday issued a moratorium on evictions targeting areas of the country with high levels of COVID-19 transmission, extending an eviction ban for much of the nation just days after a blanket moratorium had expired.

The CDC order applies to counties experiencing significant levels of virus spread, defined by the agency as 50 to 100 cases per 100,000 people. A congressional source said the order will likely apply to roughly 90 percent of the renter population in the U.S.

The order will expire on Oct. 3. It was issued after days of back-and-forth between the White House and congressional Democrats over who was responsible for extending the moratorium while scores of Americans faced uncertainty about potential removal from their homes.

"A surge in evictions could lead to the immediate and significant movement of large numbers of persons from lower density to higher density housing at a time in the United States when the highly transmissible Delta variant is driving COVID-19 cases at an unprecedented rate," the CDC order states, citing data showing that just under half of households behind on rent believe they could be evicted in the next two months.

"Evicted renters must move, which leads to multiple outcomes that increase the risk of COVID-19 spread. Specifically, many evicted renters move into close quarters in shared housing or other congregate settings," the CDC order states. "These moves may require crossing state borders. According to the 2017 Census Bureau American History Survey, 32 percent of renters reported that they would move in with friends or family members upon eviction, which would introduce new household members and potentially increase household crowding. Studies show that COVID-19 transmission occurs readily within households."

President Biden acknowledged at a news conference earlier Tuesday that the CDC order may not hold up in court. But he argued it would minimally buy time for state and local governments to distribute aid to renters and landlords.

"Whether that option will pass constitutional measure with this administration, I can’t tell you. I don’t know," Biden said before the order was released. "There are a few scholars who say it will and others who say it’s not likely to. But, at a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are in fact behind in the rent and don’t have the money."

The move comes after days of outcry from Democrats over the lapsed moratorium, which had been in place since the early months of the pandemic. The White House had insisted Monday its hands were tied and only Congress could pass an extension, but Democratic leaders said the Biden administration was in a position to act.

The Supreme Court upheld the CDC's moratorium, reversing a ruling from a federal appeals court on June 29, but warned that a further extension of the ban beyond its July 31 deadline would exceed the agency's authority unless Congress passed a law to expand it. The House did not attempt to do so until Friday, two days before the ban lapsed and one day after Biden asked Congress to extend the CDC moratorium.

Republicans opposed extending the moratorium, as did some Democrats in the House. 

Some Democrats had expressed frustration that the White House had asked for House action just days before the moratorium expired.

White House officials said as recently as Monday that the agency was unable to justify even a narrowed extension of the ban to hard-hit areas given the court's decision.

"To date, the CDC director and her team have been unable to find legal authority, even for a more targeted eviction moratorium that would focus just on counties with higher rates of COVID spread," said Gene Sperling, Biden's economic recovery czar.

The update from the CDC was celebrated by Democrats, especially progressives who'd been among the most vocal in pushing for the Biden administration to act. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) camped outside the Capitol for days to raise awareness of the issue and call for federal action. She embraced Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as news broke that the CDC planned to extend the moratorium for most renters.

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