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Calling Economic Crisis 'Five-Alarm Fire' for Millions of Families, 600,000 Sign Petition Demanding Rent and Mortgage Cancellation

"Congress needs to act at the scale of the crisis, and they should start by canceling rent, mortgage, and utility payments for the duration."

Protesters supporting the rent freeze circle City Hall during the coronavirus pandemic on April 23, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)

As families across the U.S. struggle to pay for necessities during the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding economic shutdown, an intensifying call is being directed at Congress to cancel rent, mortgage, and utility payments—in tandem with a full moratorium on evictions and shutoffs—until the crisis is over.

As part of that movement, the parent-led group ParentsTogether Action presented 600,000 petition signatures it had gathered after conducting a survey of 1,200 families across the country about their financial wellbeing since the coronavirus began spreading across the U.S. over the last two months, forcing millions of businesses to close and lay off or furlough workers.

About half of the families surveyed said they won't be able to pay their rent, mortgage, or utility bills on May 1 without cutting back on other essentials such as groceries, while 43% percent of the respondents said they also expected to be unable to pay in June.

"This economic crisis is a five-alarm fire and our government is just letting it burn. Millions of families can't afford rent or other basic necessities," said Justin Ruben, co-director of ParentsTogether. "They are begging for relief that, for many, just isn't coming. Congress needs to act at the scale of the crisis, and they should start by canceling rent, mortgage, and utility payments for the duration."

Many households are still anxiously awaiting the arrival of unemployment benefits and the $1,200 one-time payment the federal government is sending to many Americans. But 60% of those surveyed said they had yet to receive either, and more than a quarter said they had already spent their stimulus check.

On social media, ParentsTogether posted a video showing several parents describing their struggles amid the public health and economic crisis.

One woman at risk for severe illness or death if she contracts Covid-19 said her husband had to stop working at his essential job to avoid exposing her. 

"He's not working, therefore that means either no bills or no rent, no food, and no medication," she said.

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"Right now I am unable to return to work because I have to take care of my daughter," another said. "We need the elected people out there to understand that this crisis is really taking a toll on our family."

Local officials across the country have urged for a rent cancellation, while at the federal level Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to cancel rent and mortgage payments during the crisis. The bill has been endorsed by several national economic justice groups and is co-sponsored by progressive lawmakers including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Ill.).

In a video posted to social media, Ocasio-Cortez expanded on how rent and mortgage payments could be suspended temporarily during the crisis.

"When you think about how this is structured, it's not hard," the congresswoman said. "Let's say we want to start with three months. Suspend mortgage payments for three months, tack that on to the end of the repayment period. So let's say you have a ten-year mortgage, just suspend it three months and make it a ten-year and three-month mortgage."

ParentsTogether said their polling shows that the coronavirus relief passed by Congress so far "isn't reaching the people who need it most."

"Representative Ilhan Omar has responded by introducing legislation that would cancel rents and home mortgage payments nationwide," Ruben said. "It's time other members of Congress join her in bringing tangible relief to the millions unable to pay their bills."

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