URBANDALE, Iowa – U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, praised the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 60-day extension of the federal eviction moratorium that had expired on July 31.
She mentioned the moratorium’s extension responding to Polk County Sheriff Kevin Schneider’s remarks during her town hall on Tuesday evening about his office having to enforce eviction notices.
“We got some good news that you might not have heard about the President has worked it so that CDC will be extending the eviction moratorium for an additional 60 days. So we’ll get the final guidelines on that. And I’m so glad that we’re making this happen,” Axne said.
The CDC Director initially ordered a temporary moratorium on evictions on September 4, 2020. It was set to expire December 31, 2020, until Congress extended the order until January 31, 2021, and was extended multiple times after that.
The moratorium extension only applies to counties with heightened levels of community transmission of COVID-19. The moratorium comes with criminal penalties for rental property orders who defy the order, including a potential $100,000 fine and one year in jail if the eviction does not result in death. If the eviction results in death, the penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and one year in jail.
“I was in D.C. last week and ended the week working on this bill. And as somebody who was one of the original co-sponsors of this bill, I am the vice-chair of a subcommittee that oversees housing, and I was there till the bitter end when literally at 6:30, they called off votes. I took the last plane out of dodge at 10:00 p.m. when some of the members weren’t even there, because I was so committed to making sure that I was on the ground,” Axne said.
She stated that Democrats attempted to pass the bill by unanimous consent but were “blocked by Republicans.”
“The last thing we should be doing during a pandemic, which of course, Representative Forbes talked about is still going on, is to kick people out on the street. So I want to do everything we possibly can to keep a good roof over people’s heads. And I’m so excited to see President Biden, whose heart really is always in the right place for the people in this country, extend that today,” Axne added.
As of Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could not find the legal authority to extend the moratorium after the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that the moratorium could not be extended beyond July 31.
“Given the rising urgency of the spread of the 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 evictions,” Gene Sperling, a senior advisor to President Joe Biden, said during a briefing on Saturday.
Biden also acknowledged constitutional issues but appeared to be shopping around for favorable legal opinions.
“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” he said over the weekend. “But there are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort.”
The Iowa Torch asked Axne what legal authority the CDC had to extend the moratorium.
“The CDC has the authority to protect Americans who are at risk during the largest public health emergency in a century, and that includes making sure that folks living in areas where COVID-19 is still present and spreading are actually able to stay at home if they get sick and aren’t forced onto the street,” Axne answered.
She also said that she supports assisting rental property owners who have lost income due to the moratorium.
“We need to keep the property owners in mind, and the rental assistance that I’ve fought to secure in our previous COVID-19 bills is as critical for them as it is for our renters. Yes, those payments help renters keep a roof over their head – but it also ensures landlords aren’t behind on their mortgages too. That’s why I’ve wanted to see any extension of this moratorium coupled with improved and expedited distribution of funds that will support all levels of Iowa’s housing ecosystem,” Axne told The Iowa Torch.
Axne, during the town hall’s Q&A, was asked about the eviction moratorium, and she took aim at Gov. Kim Reynolds for “sitting on” relief for renters.
“The state of Iowa is sitting on millions of dollars of money that they need to get out the door to support those renters so they can actually pay those landlords, but they’re not getting it done. Polk County got it done, City of Des Moines’s able to do it. So it’s not an issue of the process,” she said.
“It absolutely has to do with the will of wanting to make this happen. If Polk County and the city of Des Moines, the city of Des Moines, our largest populated center in the state that has the most need for affordable housing, can actually get their money out the door, then guess what? The state of Iowa can get that money out the door if our governor wants to get that money out the door,” Axne said.
Pat Garrett, the spokesman for Gov. Kim Reynolds, told The Iowa Torch that the state had helped renters in need.
“The state has given out $9 million under the current rent and utility assistance program – helping more than 3,000 so far. This does not include the $31 million given out in 2020 during the worst of the pandemic – this helped more than 14,000 renters,” he said.
The governor’s office reminded Iowans on Monday that help was available through the state.
Axne told The Iowa Torch that the state is leaving money on the table.
“The State is leaving money on the table, plain and simple. That is making it harder for Iowans in need to get back on their feet, and for landlords to pay their bills. They have been slow to get money provided by the December COVID-19 bill out the door, and have wrongly decided that they should forgo the second round of more flexible funding available to them – meaning nearly $150 million will never have the chance to reach Iowans in need. In the same amount of time, the Polk County-Des Moines rental assistance program distributed twice as much money as the IFA has, to only 20 percent of the population. The State of Iowa has also implemented overly restrictive rules – like only allowing Iowans to apply for past-due rent, despite applications taking sometimes three or four months to approve – that only add to the administrative costs and burden, keeping Iowans from getting out of the hole that COVID-19 put them in,” she said.