American Homes are at Risk. We Need a Tenants Bailout Now.

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One of the largest looming catastrophes of the COVID-19 crisis is right in American homes. This April, nearly a third of renters weren’t able to pay their rent, and with many hourly and low-wage Americans still out of work, many are wondering how they will afford groceries, medicine, and other necessities – never mind the rent. 

The beginning of May marks the second rent or mortgage payment Americans will be forced to make under unprecedented widespread unemployment. We are still months out from the end of the stay-at-home orders, but the bills keep coming.

Across the nation, cities and states have attempted to address this crisis by passing minor renter and homeowner protections. Most of these consist of rent and mortgage freezes, temporary eviction moratoriums, and rental repayment agreements ranging from six to twelve months after the crisis ends. While these policies have certainly given many working people a moment of respite, they ignore the economic instability that everyday Americans were facing before this crisis began. They are also far from universal.

Even before the crisis, upwards of 40% of Americans wouldn’t be able to afford a $400 emergency expense, and 40% of Americans were one missed paycheck away from becoming homeless. Many of those who currently grappling with unemployment were already struggling to get ahead in an economy that favored tax cuts for the rich and corporations over raising egregiously low wages and expanding our underfunded safety net programs. Right now, more than ever, we need leadership that considers renters and low-income homeowners, not just stock owners. 

After all, the economic fallout of this pandemic will not be wrapped up in the weeks after it ends. It’s likely that when stay-at-home orders are lifted workers will be returning to a job market in the midst of a recession, or worse. Furthermore, if this goes on for several months many renters who are currently unemployed will emerge from quarantine saddled with thousands of dollars of debt through no fault of their own, and they will still be responsible for paying for their current rent or mortgage. With a whopping 4 in 5 Americans currently working paycheck-to-paycheck, how can we expect them to pay thousands of dollars in debt in less than a year during an economic downturn? 

If we want our economy to emerge unscathed from this disaster we need forward-thinking policies, targeted at our most vulnerable citizens. We are all going to hurt from this crisis, but it’s those who work for a living that are going to suffer the most.   

Large corporations and wealthy individuals may take a minor hit, but overall their lives will not be affected to the same degree of low-income Americans. Though the Trump administration seems obsessed with bailing out their rich buddies, it’s not the wealthy few that will be saving our economy – it’s those who show up to work for a living. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of our GDP and if consumers can’t afford to spend, our economy will come to a grinding halt. Wealthy Americans prefer to save and invest their money and do very little to contribute to the consumer economy, which is why it’s essential that we pass policies to bail out the workers who will be responsible for resuscitating our economy when things return to normal.  

As Congress debates what provisions to add into the second bailout package, we urge them to consider progressive solutions that would assist working Americans, like extending the additional weekly $600 dollars for unemployment benefits, direct cash payments of $2,000 every month until the crisis is over, and an indefinite, nationwide moratorium on evictions, mortgage payments, utilities, and foreclosures. As it currently stands, low-income households are in danger of being completely devastated by this crisis and it’s our responsibility, both morally and economically, to lend them a hand and help them through this calamity. 

The last thing anyone should have to worry about in the wealthiest nation in the world is whether or not they’re going to have a home when the crisis subsides.

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