Rental assistance program used only 10% of $46 billion

Congress can spend money quickly, which is a different goal than actually getting the money to the people they said they were going to help.

More than seven months after it was launched, the biggest rental assistance program in U.S. history has delivered just a fraction of the promised aid to tenants and landlords struggling with the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

Since last December, Congress has appropriated a total of $46.6 billion to help tenants who were behind on their rent. As of June 30, just $3 billion had been distributed, though a senior official said the Biden administration hoped at least another $2 billion had been distributed in July.

If the Biden administration official’s estimate is correct, that would add up to a whopping 10.7 percent. At this pace, the rental assistance program will allocate the entire amount by June 2026.

Congress loves to throw money at a problem and ignore questions of whether the Byzantine federal bureaucracy and patchwork of programs and systems can actually allocate the appropriated money fast enough to address the problem.

I am reminded of former president Barack Obama admitting in 2011, after spending two years promising that his stimulus would fund “shovel-ready jobs,” that  “shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.”

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