NEW YORK — The president of Catholic Charities USA fears an extended eviction moratorium just delays the inevitable loss of homes for millions of Americans during the global pandemic and diminished job market.
“The extension through January gets us over an immediate crisis, however, my fear is that we are seeing cascading disaster because at some point all of these people are going to be expected to pay back rent and no one will be able to,” Sister Donna Markham said.
The eviction moratorium – issued by the Center for Disease Control on Sept. 4 – was slated to expire at the end of the month. Congressional leaders agreed to extend it Sunday as part of a $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package.
Other notable aspects of the bill are a $600 stimulus check that will benefit most Americans; a $300 bonus for federal unemployment over the next 10 weeks; $284 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses, nonprofits and independent restaurants, as well as churches and faith-based organizations; $20 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines; and $82 billion for education.
On the eviction front, it also includes $25 billion dollars in rental assistance though it’s unclear at this point how it will be distributed. There are 12.4 million adult renters – 1 in 6 – that are behind on their rent as of the end of November, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In a conversation with The Tablet, Sister Donna said Catholic Charities USA has urged Congress to take action for months. Last week, the organization took matters into its own hands and partnered with the Felician Sisters of North America to establish the $2 million CCUSA Francis Fund for Eviction Prevention.
“If the government is paralyzed somebody has to do something. We have to help these people. We’re just a charity. We’re not the U.S. Government but at least we can do something to help these people,” she said.
“The problem with the moratorium is it’s still going to be the same problem. It’s a question of time but people are still going to have the same issue. I’m hoping this fund will be able to help people before we even get the details of (the stimulus package) from the government.”
To create the fund, Catholic Charities USA and the Felician Sisters of North America each contributed $1 million dollars. The money is distributed to Catholic Charities agencies across the country based on the amount requested by the individual directors. From there, they distribute the money locally to people in need.
According to Sister Donna, the fund had already distributed over $400,000 as of Monday afternoon, Dec. 21 – four days since it was announced last Thursday.
“We’ve already distributed over the weekend until today over $400,000 so you can see the need is huge,” Sister Donna said. “The whole country is in this shape. We’re responding as quickly as we can. I suspect that every (state) is going to be needing help. We’re especially conscience of those parts of the country that are rural and underserved where fewer resources are given.”
Sister Mary Christopher Moore, provincial minister of the Felician Sisters of North America Our Lady of Hope Province, told The Tablet in a statement that the numbers are a “reminder of the desperate need for these funds.”
“Mothers and fathers across the country are struggling to keep a roof over their children’s heads. If we do nothing, homelessness will become a reality for many,” she said. “Families are living in fear of eviction. Our ministries are seeing more and more people in need, one paycheck away from homelessness.”
Sister Donna said she has no idea how the issue will play itself out once the eviction moratorium expires, but added it’s going to come down to the federal government. She called it a “very complicated” crisis when the struggles of landlords to pay the bills without rent enters the equation.
“We’re pushing it down the road in the middle of the winter but it’s going to catch up and it’s going to need a lot of government support. The landlords need help too and I don’t know how that that’s being addressed,” she said.