By G9ija

People camp out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to highlight the upcoming expiration of the pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions, Washington, D.C., U.S., July 31, 2021. /Reuters

Facing mounting pressure from progressive Democratic lawmakers as well as a spike in COVID-19 cases, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday issued a new 60-day eviction moratorium to prevent millions of American renters from being forced to leave their homes.

The “temporary” moratorium, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will expire on October 3. Targeting areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission, it covers 80 percent of U.S. counties and 90 percent of the U.S. population.

Tuesday’s announcement was a reversal for the Biden administration. On the ruling in June for the last moratorium, which expired on Saturday, the Supreme Court made clear that additional extensions without congressional backing would be blocked. The White House had said that it did not want to challenge the decision.

But progressive Democrats built pressure on the government to prevent millions of vulnerable people from becoming homeless during the pandemic.

Over the weekend, Representative Cori Bush of Missouri and other progressive lawmakers had been camped outside the Capitol, with dozens of supporters demanding the moratorium’s extension. “We cannot put people on the street in a deadly global pandemic,” Bush said on Saturday.

Representative Cori Bush speaks to crowds that attended a sit-in at Capitol Hill after it was announced that the Biden administration will enact a targeted nationwide eviction moratorium outside of Capitol Hill in Washington, August 3, 2021. /AP

The eviction ban could help keep some 3.6 million Americans in their homes as the Delta variant is driving up COVID-19 infections across the country, and federal rental aid has been slow to reach those in need.

More than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households are behind on rental payments, owing more than $20 billion to landlords collectively, according to the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.

Congress had approved $46.5 billion in rental relief, but only $3 billion has been distributed to renters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The CDC cited the slow disbursement of housing aid by state and local governments as justification for the latest moratorium.

Most household evictions have been banned in the U.S. since last September, when the CDC’s moratorium to protect renters who lost their incomes went into effect nationwide. The protection has been extended multiple times, despite numerous legal challenges and criticism from landlords who complained that they can’t afford to continue housing people for free.

But as the Delta variant sends COVID-19 case counts surging in recent weeks, public health has added weight to the argument for keeping people in their homes. Last year, U.S. researchers found that lifting state moratoriums and allowing eviction proceedings to continue caused as many as 433,700 excess cases of COVID-19 and 10,700 additional deaths in the country between March and September.

“When people are evicted, they often move in with friends and family, and that increases your number of contacts,” said Kathryn Leifheit, one of the researchers and a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “If people have to enter a homeless shelter, these are indoor places that can be quite crowded.”

Even with the temporary relief, the administration will have to keep Democrats and the country reassured that the slow-coming federal aid could limit the damage from potential evictions.