CDC Says It Can't Act as Biden Looks for Ways to Prevent Evictions

President Joe Biden's administration is attempting to delay the mass eviction of millions of people that looms after the lapse of a federal moratorium on housing evictions for people who haven't been able to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic.

"The administration remains deeply committed to doing everything in its power to keep people safely and securely housed, which is essential to the health, well-being, and dignity of us all," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement on Monday—just days after U.S. House negotiations over extending the eviction ban collapsed and lawmakers headed back to their districts for the August recess.

The White House, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed the moratorium to run only through Saturday, has argued that Congress must act to extend the eviction ban because it can't be done through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC had previously put the moratorium in place citing health concerns because of COVID-19.

A U.S. Census Bureau survey last month indicated about 7.4 million people are behind on rent. About 3.6 million were found to be "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to face eviction in the coming months. The White House has estimated that the number is closer to about 2 million people at risk.

According to the White House, Biden asked the CDC on Sunday to consider using executive action to extend the moratorium by 30 days in counties with high or substantial case rates.

"To date, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and her team have been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium," Psaki said in the statement. "Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections."

About 33 percent of the potentially affected renters live in states or localities that have instituted their own moratoriums. Those remain in place, preventing them from being evicted.

Biden is calling on others to adopt similar measures until Congress can act. He also is pushing for more of the billions in federal dollars dedicated to renter and landlord relief to go out, as just $3 billion of the more than $46 billion has been spent.

Gene Sperling, a White House adviser who is leading the efforts to distribute Biden's nearly $2 billion COVID-19 relief package, told reporters at the White House on Monday that Biden continues to search for avenues to prevent evictions.

"The president has long fought for an eviction moratorium," Sperling said. "Given the rising urgency of the spread of the [COVID-19] Delta variant, the president has asked all of us, including the CDC, to do everything in our power to look for every potential legal authority we can have to prevent unnecessary avoidable and painful evictions."

Biden is calling on governors and mayors in areas that don't have local moratoriums in place to implement them for two months to protect people from evictions, Sperling said. He's also urging states to help people tap into rental assistance programs and prevent evictions until they can access those federal dollars.

"This is the rental assistance that can make landlords completely full and also keep families safely housed—it is a win-win solution," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who has faced pushback from progressive Democrats who argued the House should have done more to extend the moratorium, has spent recent days pushing for the Biden administration to take executive action, despite the high court's ruling. In a letter to colleagues Monday morning, she urged members to spend the recess promoting rental relief programs and again called on the White House to act.

She later praised the White House's comments on Monday.

"The Administration's statement that they will be taking action to find legal authority by the CDC or other authorities to extend the moratorium is welcome," she said Monday's statement.

Biden tries to stop evictions despite Congress
Activists occupy the steps to the House of Representatives with Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri as they continue their protest for an extension of the eviction moratorium at the U.S. Capitol on August 1. The moratorium, which ended July 31, helped 2 million people stay in their homes who suffered financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Samuel Corum/Getty Images