The Third Crisis of 2020 Is Almost Here
Photo: Erik McGregor

The Third Crisis of 2020 Is Almost Here

A monstrous wave of evictions and slashed unemployment…

Few things can terrify a person who’s struggling more than the first of the month. Some bills can be negotiated with, but when someone falls short on their rent or mortgage, the consequences are far more dire. How can they not be when what’s at risk isn’t cable TV, but having a place to lay your head?

No one deserves to worry about joining the already too high homeless population in America. But as exhausted as many of us might understandably be given the number of crises currently wreaking havoc nationwide, we’re currently on the verge of yet another. And it’s less than two weeks away.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in March and shutdowns began, the ensuing wave of economic woes brought record unemployment — but it didn’t bring an end to landlords demanding rent on April 1. In response, numerous states and cities across the country implemented temporary eviction moratoriums to prevent people from losing their rental homes or apartments.

It doesn’t take much to figure out what will happen to a nation when tens of millions of unemployed folks have their only source of aid stripped away.

Many of those moratoriums have since expired; only in select states, cities, and counties have they been extended by emergency order. That said, I fear even more will find themselves facing dire consequences without additional assistance. Since the attitude in the country has largely been “fuck the coronavirus, we’re capitalists,” one anticipates that lenders and landlords are waiting for their chance to oust those who can’t pay up. As housing advocates have warned, inaction could spur a “tsunami” of evictions that could lead to a spike in homelessness we haven’t seen in quite some time.

One of the few bright spots for people struggling to stave off eviction has been the extra $600 that tens of millions of unemployed Americans are presently receiving each week — and now that money is set to dry up by month’s end.

The additional payment is part of the CARES Act, a $1.8 trillion package Congress passed in March to help people weather the economic conditions brought by the then-new coronavirus pandemic. New legislation has yet to be passed, which means by the end of July, many Americans will find themselves reduced to base unemployment benefits, which, on average, amount to just over $19,000 a year — putting those with two children below the poverty line.

There are folks I know personally collecting unemployment benefits who didn’t know this was happening. I don’t fault them for not knowing; I fault our government for even placing them in such an avoidable predicament with little recourse. Some states are trying to extend that into the next week in light of that problem being brought to their attention, but the larger issue needs to be settled by Congress and the White House.

Much like the other messes presently consuming the nation, this is one that could be easily solved. If the U.S. government can inject more than a trillion dollars to prop up the stock market, surely it can throw some additional relief to the tens of millions of Americans who are jobless through no fault of their own? Unfortunately, between Donald Trump’s lack of leadership and the greed and callousness of the party still in control of the U.S. Senate, there is reason to doubt that a favorable result can happen in time.

When the question of extending unemployment benefits to more than 30 million Americans was raised by reporters earlier this month, many Republicans in the Senate hastily swatted the idea away. “I wasn’t supportive of the first round,” Senator Ron Johnson told NBC News at the beginning of July. “This is not a classic recession that requires financial stimulus.” I’ve always found Johnson to be both dumb and duplicitous, but you don’t have to be an economist — which he’s not — to understand that nothing about a once-in-a-century medical crisis is “classic.” Likewise, it doesn’t take much to figure out what will happen to a nation when tens of millions of unemployed folks have their only source of aid stripped away.

Politico reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded this point early on, but insisted that that the $600 weekly enhancement wouldn’t continue — and that any new legislation would need to include liability reform in order to minimize lawsuits. In other words, any money he’s willing to send to out-of-work Americans comes with the caveat that when many are forced back into the labor market, they can’t sue their employers for not providing proper safety conditions.

During an interview with the Fox Business Network this month, Donald Trump was asked if he favors another round of direct payments. “I do,” he said. “ I support it. But it has to be done properly.”

This is not the “proper” way to handle folks’ lives. (Fuck all of these people for thinking they did something sending a $1,200 check and an extra $600 in unemployment to begin with.)

The same can be said of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying on CNBC last week that the administration’s priority was ensuring that future benefits amounted to “no more” than 100% of a worker’s prior wages. Yes, the Republicans are still mad that enhanced unemployment pays better than some jobs. (Specifically jobs in the accommodation and food services industry, which average a yearly salary of just $28,000.) The solution is to pay people more, not less, you insufferable pieces of shit.

I’m not sure what Trump is thinking here, but just to be clear: Creating a nationwide homeless crisis during the worst medical crisis in a century would not rev up the economy.

Senator Kamala Harris, who Joe Biden needs to admit he’s picking for VP and quit playing with us already, appears to understand this point as well, recently tweeting a reminder to her colleagues to focus. “Evictions may soon leave ~28M homeless in the United States,” she said. “We are on the verge of a wave of evictions if Congress doesn’t swiftly act to ban evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic — and pass my bill to provide $2,000 monthly payments. Time is of the essence.”

In fact, that 28 million estimate may not even cover it. In “The Government Is Walking Blind Into the Coronavirus Housing Crisis,New Republic writer Alexis Goldstein explains, “There’s no government database to track evictions and foreclosures. That means, as it was in 2008, we’ll never truly know how many people are displaced.”

In May, House Democrats passed the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion bill that includes another round of direct deposits and checks. That was two months ago today, yet the Republicans haven’t even bothered to entertain the bill. Instead, McConnell will present a Republican plan on Monday — five days before UI benefits are set to expire.

In other words, they can’t be bothered to care. According to an analysis provided by the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project, a Colorado-based community group, of the 110 million Americans living in rental households, as much as 20% are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30.

I don’t have the means or power to provide meaningful assistance, but I do support those taking matters into their own hands — and people are. Rent relief efforts have launched in cities like Los Angeles, but some renters in parts of Brooklyn are forging eviction blockades. I like the idea of neighbors banding together, and agree that in the interim, it might be the tenants’ best defense against landlords.

But again, this is all avoidable. When the coronavirus first started, I recall it being initially christened a “rich man’s disease” globally, but as we’ve seen, the poor have borne the greatest brunt — even in the richest country in the world. Why does this country insist on making this all so much harder than it needs to be?

I doubt Congress provides an answer, but I sure hope they provide folks with the cash they need, or else too many people will be asking themselves that question on the street.