On Friday night, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., slept on the steps of the Capitol in an ongoing protest against Congress going on vacation. Why?
To implore her colleagues to reconvene in order to extend the federal eviction moratorium that expired July 31.
Instead of taking up the issue, Congress went home one day early for vacation (but is still on a 24-hour callback notice in anticipation of the passage of the infrastructure bill.) Bush, and fellow Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts were protesting in solidarity with the millions of Americans who may be about to lose their housing. While Congress is enjoying a vacation, lives are about to be devastated — right before schools start, and while a pandemic rages.
Bush understands more than most lawmakers what people are about to go through. She was homeless at one point, and slept with her children in a car. This past week, she introduced the Unhoused Bill of Rights in an effort to get Congress to end the crisis of the unhoused by 2025.
Bush’s protest was more than a publicity stunt. With the delta variant leading to dangerous increases in Covid-19 cases across the U.S., impending evictions threaten to create a dangerous domino effect as families lose their shelter. Between the reduction in unemployment benefits, eviction notices, and the resumption of student loan payments scheduled for September 30, this is shaping up to be a social and economic disaster. The delta variant is already spreading throughout homeless populations, and making that crisis worse is going to only fuel the virus and prolong the pandemic.
This lack of forward thinking by Democrats in Congress and President Joe Biden's administration is just one in a series of missteps by federal and state governments that started during the Trump administration. The Supreme Court refused to lift the eviction moratorium, but signaled it might not uphold another extension. Meanwhile, millions of dollars were apportioned to states to help renters pay their rent, yet much of the money has not been distributed. Even when the money has been approved, renters have been evicted before the funds arrived.
For renters who are behind, the piper is now coming for payment. In some places, evictions have already started. Advocates are urging renters to fight the eviction process with tenants unions.
But importantly, this is all happening under a Democratic president — and a Catholic one, at that. Religious organizations are expected to pick up the slack and help in times like these, but their help may be limited, as well, due to the pandemic.
What the pandemic has exposed about America is the fragile, almost nonexistent safety net for people who are in low-paying jobs, renting their homes and living from paycheck to paycheck. When America ground to a halt in March 2020, essential and front-line workers who had to pay their rent went to work, some contracting Covid-19 and dying. Others lost jobs due to the pandemic, and have been living on unemployment wages.
Now, the expiration of the eviction moratorium threatens to break this fragile house of cards. According to the Eviction Lab, the areas with highest eviction filing rates also have the lowest levels of vaccination for the coronavirus.
The next few weeks and months will prove to be terrifying for many American families, who may find themselves sleeping on sofas in crowded houses, if they are lucky. Others may be forced to sleep in cars, outside, or in tent cities in America. In 2022, these folks should remember that Congress decided to take vacation when it was needed most.
America is suffering from a public health emergency. But the lack of empathy we’ve seen from lawmakers and citizens alike is its own kind of emergency. Figuring out a way to effectively support Americans in this crisis should not be so hard. We spent four years living with a White House that could be callous, and even cruel. We expected better from Biden — but so far, his words may sound better, but his actions are a lot of the same.