The Senate released its next coronavirus stimulus package Monday night, including provisions for $1,200 economic impact payments, reduced unemployment benefits, funding for schools and additional Paycheck Protection Program loans.
What the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools, or HEALS, Act doesn't include: an extension of the federal eviction moratorium or adequate housing relief, according to advocates, just as eviction bans across the country expire.
The HEALS Act provides $3.3 billion for lost income for Housing Choice Voucher, Public Housing and Rural rental assistance tenants, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). Housing advocates had been pushing for at least $100 billion in rental assistance, as well as a uniform, nationwide eviction moratorium to prevent the coming "housing apocalypse." Some 19 to 23 million — or 1 in 5 — people living in renter households are at risk of eviction by October, according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, a coalition of economic researchers and legal experts.
The allocation in the HEALS Act is "a drop in an ocean of need among unsubsidized renters and people experiencing homelessness," Diane Yentel, the NLIHC's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Rental assistance will keep low-income renters stably housed and allow small landlords to continue to maintain and operate their properties."
Additional rental assistance is imperative, says Yentel, because Senate Republicans also want to cut the amount of federal enhanced unemployment insurance from $600 a week to $200 per week. While the amount isn't set in stone, the $600 per week UI benefit helped many unemployed Americans pay for essentials like rent.
Without additional UI benefits or any rental assistance, "millions of workers who have experienced a loss of income through pay cuts, reductions in hours, or other loss of earnings ... will struggle to afford rent with reduced wages," says Yentel. There are currently 30 million people collecting jobless benefits, who could see their checks drop by two-thirds.
"Evicting millions of families during a pandemic is cruel and senseless," she adds.
It is likely that Democrats will push for some type of housing relief as they begin negotiating the HEALS Act. Discussions are expected to stretch into August. As Congress debates, almost 24 million Americans have little or no confidence that they can pay next month's rent, according to the most recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's one-third of all renters.