Politics Covid relief programs are starting to expire for millions of Americans

17:04  28 july  2021
17:04  28 july  2021 Source:   cnn.com

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Sixteen months after the coronavirus pandemic upended the economy and left millions of Americans out of work, the historic relief programs Congress put in place are set to start expiring.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: A woman holds a placard to stop evictions at a rally for housing reform. © Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images A woman holds a placard to stop evictions at a rally for housing reform.

Lawmakers rushed in March 2020 to cushion the financial blow wrought by the virus by approving a wide array of financial relief measures. Congress, as well as the Trump and Biden administrations, then extended the protections several times as the pandemic continued to plague the nation.

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But now, even as Covid-19 cases rise once again as the Delta variant spreads, millions of Americans will soon begin losing their federal safety nets. And there's less appetite among the Biden administration and lawmakers, including many Democrats, to extend them again.

Housing protections are scheduled to end later this week, with enhanced unemployment benefits following the first weekend of September. The pause on federal student loan payments and beefed-up food stamp benefits are due to expire at the end of September.

Here's what to know:

Federal housing protections are ending

The federal eviction ban issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire at the end of July, putting millions at risk of losing their homes. The agency and the White House have said it will not be extended again.

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In its wake, a patchwork of protections and off-ramps to protect renters until rent assistance funds arrive may remain in some places. The $46 billion in federal rent relief money, approved by Congress in its last two rescue packages, will continue to be distributed through states, cities and local entities.

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Some states extended their own eviction protections including New York, which has an eviction ban in place until August 31, and California, which has extended a ban through September. Although Oregon hasn't extended its ban, tenants there have until the end of February to repay the amount owed between April 2020 and June 2021.

Other places have created an "off-ramp" for struggling renters newly unprotected from the eviction ban but who have yet to receive rent relief. In Minnesota, for example, lawmakers have prohibited eviction for nonpayment of renters who are in the process of applying for rent relief until June 2022. Still others have created "eviction diversion" programs which involve mediation between landlord and tenant before evictions can proceed.

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If you still need assistance to cover rent or to help pay back rent, there is a searchable list of available programs at the US Department of the Treasury and also one managed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The federal ban on foreclosures, which protects homeowners with government-backed loans, is also set to expire at the end of July.

Homeowners with a loan backed by US Department of Housing and Urban Development, US Department of Veterans Affairs or the US Department of Agriculture, who have not entered into a forbearance program, which allows them to defer or delay their payments, will be able to enter into that program through September, as will those with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-backed mortgages who have a coronavirus related hardship.

There are about 1.75 million people who remain in forbearance, down more than 50% from its pandemic peak, according to the White House. In order to assist those homeowners with getting back to routine payments and avoiding foreclosure, the Biden administration and HUD are offering streamlined loan modifications and payment reductions aiming to help homeowners stay in their homes.

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Expanded unemployment benefits end by Labor Day

The three pandemic jobless benefits programs are set to expire the first weekend of September in the states that are continuing them -- which will affect an estimated 7.2 million people, according to Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Everyone in state and federal jobless programs will lose the $300 federal weekly supplement. Also ending are payments to those in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs.

The former provides benefits to freelancers, independent contractors, the self-employed and certain people affected by the coronavirus, while the latter extends the duration of payments to those receiving regular state unemployment benefits.

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All three were created by Congress in March 2020 and were extended to early September as part of the Democrats' $1.9 trillion relief package that President Joe Biden signed in March.

The programs' expiration, however, will impact only about half the country. That's because 23 states have already ended at least one of the pandemic programs, and Louisiana is scheduled to halt the $300 weekly boost after this week. (Indiana had to restart the programs and Maryland had to continue paying the benefits after state courts ordered them to do so.)

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Some 3.6 million people lost some or all of their unemployment compensation in the states terminating the programs early, Stettner said.

After the pandemic payments end, the jobless will only be able to access state benefits, which typically last 26 weeks though some states are currently providing as few as 14 weeks. But the state program is not open to certain out-of-work Americans, including freelancers, the self-employed and those who can't return to work because of health or childcare issues stemming from the pandemic.

A few states are also offering extended benefits of up to 20 weeks because of continued high unemployment rates.

Also expiring in early September are federal flexibilities that have allowed state unemployment agencies to hire temporary staff and call centers to handle the crush of people filing for benefits. While the numbers are far lower than they were at the start of the pandemic, they remain elevated, and state agencies are still contending with backlogs and fraudulent claims.

Beefed up food stamp benefits cease at the end of September

A 15% increase in food stamp benefits will expire on September 30. The enhancement was first implemented in the $900 billion rescue deal that Congress approved in December and then extended in March.

The boost provides about $27 more per person, per month.

Lawmakers augmented the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are formally known, because of an increase in hunger during the pandemic.

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The standard benefit typically doesn't last the entire month -- prior to the increase, it didn't cover the national average meal cost in 96% of counties, according to a recently released Urban Institute report. After the enhancement, that figure dropped to 41%.

At least six states have stopped or will soon end another food stamp enhancement that Congress enacted in March 2020. The provision increased recipients' allotment to the maximum amount for their family size, but states have to have an emergency measure in place for the federal government to provide the additional funding.

More than 42.3 million Americans were receiving food stamps in April, according to the most recent data from the US Department of Agriculture.

Federal student loan payments to restart

Federal student loan payments are set to resume on October 1, after an unprecedented 19-month suspension that was put in place to provide financial relief to borrowers during the pandemic.

Borrower balances have effectively been frozen for more than a year, with no payments required on federal loans since March 2020, when Congress first authorized the pause as part of one of its first major Covid relief packages. The benefit was later extended by both the Trump and Biden administrations.

RELATED: When do student loan payments restart?

During this time, interest has stopped adding up -- saving the average borrower about $2,000 over the first year -- and collections on defaulted debt have been on hold.

The relief is even more significant for those who work in the public sector and may be eligible for loan forgiveness after 10 years. They are still receiving credit towards those 10 years of required payments as if they had continued to make them during the pandemic, as long as they are still working full time for qualifying employers.

Both the pause on payments and interest waiver is automatic, but only applies to federally held loans. That covers roughly 85% of all federal student loans, including those known as direct federal loans and PLUS loans that parents have taken out on behalf of their children. It excludes some federal loans that are guaranteed by the government but not technically held by it. Generally, those were disbursed prior to 2010.

It's possible for the Biden administration to extend the pause on payments again, but it has so far resisted calls from dozens of other Democrats to do so. Led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, they have repeatedly asked President Joe Biden to push the date back until at least March 31. Schumer and Warren have also led calls for Biden to permanently cancel $50,000 per borrower.

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