WASHINGTON – Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) led 13 of their colleagues in calling on Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to improve administration of the emergency rental assistance program (ERAP) by prioritizing partnerships with public schools districts to help distribute funds. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program Improvement Act of 2021, originally introduced by Congresswoman Bush, would expand access to financial assistance by allowing individuals and families to apply for assistance at places that are central to their communities — schools, libraries, the post office, among others. In their letter, Bowman and the members called for the Treasury Department to implement those changes to ERAP and make funds directly available for public school districts to distribute and protect children from devastating disruption and trauma caused by evictions.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed more than $46 billion in funding for emergency rental assistance earlier this year, though distribution of the funds has stalled for months. Several states including New York have reported that disbursement of the relief funds recently picked up pace, but as of late September, only $7.7 billion had been paid out to renters in need. Making matters worse, the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s extension of the nationwide eviction moratorium in August. Bowman and the members expressed the urgency of protecting the well-being of children put at risk by the compounding threats of eviction and housing insecurity, and the vital role that schools can play in connecting families with assistance.
“We write with deep concern for reaching all children impacted by housing insecurity and recommend that schools be uplifted as central community hubs that, more than any other public institution, are uniquely positioned to identify and assist students and families at risk of or facing eviction, as well as those who are currently experiencing homelessness,” the members wrote in the letter.
“The single biggest predictor of an eviction is there being a child in the household. The Supreme Court’s decision to strike the federal eviction moratorium in the middle of a deadly public health crisis jeopardized the safety and well-being of children and families across the nation as schools reopened for the fall, with a disproportionate negative impact on Black and brown children. A rise in evictions correlates with a rise in positive COVID-19 cases, which poses an increased risk for households with children under age 12 who are not eligible for vaccinations. Housing insecurity exposes our children to adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, which are linked to at least five of the top ten leading causes of death. Many households across the country accumulated rent debt prior to ERA being stood up, and due to implementation flaws, eviction notices can easily go out faster than rental relief is paid out.”
The members urged the following recommendations be included in updated ERA implementation guidance:
- Explicitly authorize local educational agencies (LEAs) to distribute emergency rent relief directly to eligible families (or to landlords on behalf of eligible families) and incentivize ERA grantees to subcontract with public schools for this purpose.
- Clarify the use of ERA for temporary hotel and motel stays for eligible households identified by public schools.
- Encourage the use of ERA housing stability services to fund navigator positions in public schools and early childhood programs to help families access rental assistance
- Address the distribution of funds through schools in the determination of reallocation.
Joining Reps. Bowman, Bush, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib on the letter are Reps. Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. (D-NC), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), André Carson (D-IN), Jesus G. ‘Chuy’ Garcia (D-IL), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Kaiali‘i Kahele (D-HI), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Marie Newman (D-IL), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Thomas R. Suozzi (D-NY).
Click here to read the full text of the letter.