It's been a tough few days for Americans who haven't been able to pay the rent.
On Saturday, a moratorium on evictions put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expired, exposing millions of renters to the risk of being thrown out of their homes.
On Tuesday, after days of desperate protest by renters, the CDC reinstituted the ban — for 60 days. The agency says keeping people from going to shelters or moving in with friends or family will help slow the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.
The extension also gives renters more time to apply for a share of billions in unused stimulus money for struggling renters. Relief funds could not only wipe out a year’s worth of back rent but also pay for several months of future rent costs, and give renters a chance to pay off other debts and improve their financial situation.
Renters now have more time to seek assistance
The order from the CDC — which extends the eviction ban until Oct. 3 — doesn’t cover every renter in the country, though it should extend to approximately 90% of the U.S. It's intended for areas with "substantial and high" levels of COVID-19 infections.
"Today is a day of extraordinary relief," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Tuesday. "The imminent fear of eviction and being put out on the street has been lifted for countless families across America."
The ban may face legal challenges. The CDC's original moratorium, which opponents considered an overreach, was fought in multiple state courts. Even President Joe Biden expects the new moratorium to face questions of constitutionality.
“The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster, number one," Biden told reporters on Tuesday. "But there are several key scholars who say that it may and it’s worth the effort."
But whether the ban lasts the full 60 days isn't really the point. What matters is that renters now have more time, even if it’s a matter of a few days or weeks, to apply for their own special stimulus checks: the government's pandemic emergency rental assistance.
How to get rental aid money
The last two pandemic relief bills carved out $46.6 billion in emergency assistance for renters whose incomes were disrupted by COVID-19. But by the end of June, only $3 billion of the allotted funds — a mere 6.4% — had been distributed to renters.
That means there are still piles of money available. If you expect to be in debt to your landlord — and facing eviction again — two months from now, the rent relief program could be your path to keeping a roof over your family's heads.
To be eligible for assistance, at least one member of your household must qualify for unemployment benefits or be willing to state in writing that the pandemic has been responsible for lost income or surging expenses that have made it difficult to pay rent.
You’ll also have to prove, through either a past-due utility or rent notice, that you're at risk of homelessness. There's an income component, too: You must have earned less than 80% of your community’s median income in 2020.
Renters who qualify can get up to 18 months of assistance to cover both missed and future rent.
The funds are being distributed at the state and local level. To find out more about the rental assistance available in your area, consult the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s list of more than 480 rental assistance programs across the country.
How to give yourself even more relief
The government's rental assistance program could provide a crucial lifeline if you can't pay your landlord, but the distribution of funds has been frustratingly slow.
Here are ways you can give yourself some financial breathing room if you can't wait — or if you may not even qualify for aid.
If you’ve had to lean on your credit cards or other high-interest debt to cover your purchases during the pandemic, the interest charges may squeeze you for months or longer. By rolling your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan, you can pay off your debt more quickly and affordably.
You might also look into reducing your insurance costs. A little comparison shopping could help you save hundreds per year on car insurance.
And even though you're strapped for cash, it can be surprisingly easy to wring extra income from the white-hot stock market. A popular app lets you invest in a diversified portfolio using little more than the "spare change" from your everyday purchases.
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.