Yellen says new U.S. eviction moratorium buys time to speed rental aid funds
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FILE PHOTO: A "For Rent" sign is displayed in front of an apartment building in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., June 20, 2021. REUTERS/Will Dunham
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By Rich McKay
ATLANTA (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday her department will use a 60-day extension of a moratorium on residential evictions to try to accelerate the distribution of aid to struggling renters and landlords.
Some $46 billion in federal rental assistance funds from coronavirus relief bills passed in December and March has been slow to reach households in need, with just $3 billion issued through June for rent, utilities and related expenses, according to Treasury data.
Yellen told reporters after touring a social services agency in Atlanta that part of the problem is that the housing aid is being channeled through state and local governments that had little experience in administering such programs.
"This is a completely new infrastructure. Most state and local governments didn't have agencies that did this kind of work. The delays partly reflect the difficulties they have in starting something new," Yellen said.
In June, rental assistance disbursements surged to $1.5 billion; Yellen said she expected further increases going forward.
While the last eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expired on July 31, the Biden administration extended it for another 60 days for most counties, covering over 90% of the U.S. population, amid pressure from progressive Democrats.
Yellen said the extension was important and that over the next two months the Treasury "will try to get emergency rental assistance programs operating more effectively."
Among the issues identified by the Treasury have been excessive state or local requirements for income documentation that people under the distress of an eviction threat may have difficulty producing.
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In a separate statement, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said that some jurisdictions are ignoring Treasury guidance that they can accept renters' self-attestations - written declarations about their income status - while other governments are adding their own requirements not sought by the Treasury.
"State and local agencies administering emergency rental assistance should make full use of the documentation flexibilities provided by Treasury," Adeyemo said, adding that the Treasury has published sample application forms used by state and local governments that had more success in distributing funds.
The Treasury also said it would make clear to jurisdictions with "underperforming" programs that they may lose their allocation of rental assistance funds if they don't take action to reach as many people in need as possible.
The department said it is "reiterating to all grantees that Treasury has a statutory obligation to reallocate funds from underperforming jurisdictions beginning in the fall."
The Biden administration altered the rental assistance program in May to allow agencies to offer aid to renters directly before first offering it to landlords.
(Additional reporting by David Lawder; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Aurora Ellis)
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