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Trump gives CDC broad authority to stop evictions during pandemic

The order comes as House Democrats have been at loggerheads with the White House over the next coronavirus relief package.
Image: A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.David Goldman / AP file

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention broad authority to temporarily halt evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the executive order, the CDC will use its power under federal law to prevent any landlord who has the legal right to evict a tenant from doing so to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It also provides assistance to property owners as well as tenants.

“I want to make it unmistakably clear that I’m protecting people from evictions,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.

House Democrats have been at loggerheads with the White House over the next stimulus package and there is no clear indication another package will pass before the Nov. 3 election. The federal eviction moratorium and various local and state measures protecting tenants from eviction have expired or will soon, which has raised fears among housing experts and tenant unions about waves of evictions. And some landlords have already begun eviction proceedings in some states.

"The rent is due today, but too many families won’t be able to make payments through no fault of their own — pushing them deeper into debt and the prospect of being thrown out of their homes," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement on Tuesday. "Right now, over 40 million Americans are at risk of eviction."

White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern said in a call with reporters on Tuesday that the order the president signed Tuesday will help millions of Americans stay in their homes.

"Today's announcement means that people struggling to pay rent due to the coronavirus will not have to worry about being evicted and risk further spreading, spreading of, or exposure to the disease due to economic hardship," he said. "The administration has also made funds available to alleviate any economic impact to tenants, landlords, and property owners."

The funds include billions allocated from the massive $2 trillion CARES Act Congress passed earlier this year as well as other government agencies, such as the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, the White House said.

A senior administration official told NBC News on Tuesday that the order also goes beyond CARES Act Congress by including all renters and homeowners instead of those living in federally-subsidized housing or homeowners with federally backed mortgages.

"To prevent evictions that could exacerbate the spread of this pandemic, Americans need a place to be able to quarantine or isolate," the official said. "Evictions undermine that objective."

The order, however, has caveats. Those covered include all persons who would've been eligible for an economic impact payment — individuals who make $99,000 a year or less or a married couple making $198,000 a year or less for a couple. Like the stimulus payments, many Americans could be left out, such as immigrants without Social Security numbers, high earners who might have lost their job, and seniors who live with their children and are claimed as dependents, among others.

The order also stipulates that residents seeking this protection must show they have had financial hardships due to COVID-19, made an active effort to seek government assistance to make their rental payments, and demonstrate they would likely become homeless or move into crowded housing if they are evicted.

Also, those who benefit from this order are still obligated to pay accrued rent in accordance with their lease or contract, the official said, and landlords can pursue evictions against criminals and tenants threatening the health and safety of residents or damaging property.