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Cori Bush

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaks about the federal eviction moratorium outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on August 3, 2021. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Cori Bush Unveils Bill to Boost Access to Rental Assistance During Pandemic

The legislation "will help make these funds more accessible by allowing individuals and families to apply for assistance at places that are central to their communities."

Jessica Corbett

Known for drawing from her own experiences with housing insecurity while advocating for policies that serve people in need, Congresswoman Cori Bush on Monday unveiled legislation to increase access to emergency rental assistance during the coronavirus pandemic.

"It is our duty as lawmakers to ensure the 11 million households currently at risk of eviction can safely remain in their homes for the duration of this deadly global pandemic."
—Rep. Cori Bush

The Missouri Democrat's proposal (pdf) comes after Congress failed this summer to halt evictions, despite pressure from Bush and other progressives who slept on the steps of the U.S. Capitol; the Treasury Department announced that only $5.1 billion has been disbursed from the over $46 billion that federal lawmakers have directed toward rental aid in two relief packages; and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration's last-ditch eviction moratorium.

"It is our duty as lawmakers to ensure the 11 million households currently at risk of eviction can safely remain in their homes for the duration of this deadly global pandemic," Bush said in a statement. "The Supreme Court's failure to protect these individuals and families has only increased the urgency with which Congress must act to get emergency rental assistance to those who need it most."

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) Improvement Act of 2021, she explained, "will help make these funds more accessible by allowing individuals and families to apply for assistance at places that are central to their communities—schools, libraries, the post office, among others."

The legislation directs the Treasury Department to provide guidance to state and local authorities to make the rental aid application available in K-12 schools, libraries, housing agencies, public transit systems, courts that handle eviction matters, state departments of motor vehicles, the U.S. Postal Service, and federal, state, and local social service providers within 30 days of the bill being enacted.

Bush's bill also aims to make other improvements to the program, which consists of ERA1, the $25 billion in aid approved last December, and ERA2, the $21.55 billion included in the American Rescue Plan Act in March. The money is given to U.S. states, territories, local governments, tribes or related housing entities, and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which then provide rental assistance to eligible households through their new or existing programs.

In addition to encouraging these agenices to collaborate with Bush's list of public entities "to store, distribute, and assist with individual applications," the legislation would allow up to 15% of available ERA1 funds to be used for increasing administrative capacity for various activities.

As a fact sheet (pdf) from the congresswoman's office details, those activities—currently limited by a 10% funding cap—include:

  • training staff or other designated institutional representatives;
  • maintaining both physical and electronic copies of the application;
  • establishing communication methods between grantees, public entities, and individual households;
  • developing community outreach materials, programs, and initiatives; and
  • collecting and storing data on-site or via third parties.

The ERAP Improvement Act will be marked up by the House Committee on Financial Services on Monday as part of a larger package of reforms to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program from Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), according to Bush's office.

"As someone who has been evicted and unhoused, I know the trauma these families are facing," Bush said. "This crisis demands compassionate solutions and I urge my colleagues to consider the humanity of our neighbors who could soon find themselves without a home unless drastic action is taken."

"I urge my colleagues to consider the humanity of our neighbors who could soon find themselves without a home unless drastic action is taken."
—Bush

While Covid-19 case numbers have climbed in recent months, driven by the ultra-contagious Delta variant, renters struggling to pay their bills have faced a mess of expiring and legally contested local, state, and federal protections.

As of the end of August, at least 7.65 million households nationwide were behind on rent and 3.67 million of them were somewhat or very likely to leave their homes due to eviction in the next two months, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau survey.

This isn't Bush's only proposal before Congress that aims to address U.S. housing insecurity.

The congresswoman in July introduced the Unhoused Bill of Rights, which she called "the first federal resolution to declare unalienable rights for unhoused persons and provide solutions to permanently end the crisis by 2025."


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