President Trump said on Monday he was considering taking executive action to halt evictions and suspend payroll taxes, as Republicans and Democrats struggle to negotiate another aid package for American families and workers still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
“A lot of people are going to be evicted, but I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself if I have to,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders, and we’re looking at that very seriously right now.”
Trump noted that individuals who are evicted often go to homeless shelters where, he said, they could be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
An eviction moratorium included in the CARES Act, protecting an estimated 12 million renters in federally backed properties, expired at the end of July.
There are some 110 million Americans living in rental households; up to 23 million renters – or 20 percent – are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, according to an analysis by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
With the supplemental $600 in unemployment benefits now officially lapsed, about 24 million Americans say they have little to no chance of being able to pay next month's rent, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Rent and mortgage payments are typically the largest monthly expense for Americans: One in four tenant families pays more than half of its income for rent, a rate that’s even higher in cities like San Francisco and New York, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.
“They’re thrown out viciously," Trump said. "It's not their fault."
The president similarly suggested that he could use his executive authority to lower payroll taxes — a proposal that he's advocated for since the beginning of the virus-induced economic crisis, but one that has garnered little support from both Democrats and Republicans.
“I can do that also through executive order, so we’ll be talking about that,” Trump said.
Trump's comments came as Democratic leaders and White House negotiators struggled to reconcile the differences between the $3.5 trillion House-passed HEROES Act and the $1 trillion HEALS Act introduced by Senate Republicans last week.
Both parties are under growing pressure to reach a deal days after the sweetened jobless aid expired, dealing a major financial blow to the millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic. But they remain at odds on some of the most critical issues, including an extension of the jobless aid and help for renters facing eviction — two issues that Trump said he wants to prioritize in the next round of aid.
The White House has floated for both measures to be extended in a short-term deal as negotiators try to cut a broader deal, but Democrats have rejected the proposal.
“We want to work on the evictions so that people don’t get evicted. We’ll work on the payments for the people,” Trump said last week. “And the rest of it, we’re so far apart, we don’t care. We really don’t care. We want to take care of the people.”
Republicans have proposed cutting the sweetened benefits to $200 per week until states can adopt a more complicated system that would cap the aid at 70 percent of a worker's former salary. Democrats maintain the $600 a week boost needs to be extended through the end of the year and have made it a key sticking point in negotiations.
On Monday, negotiators signaled "a little bit" of progress in the talks.
“We made a little bit of progress,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said after the two-hour meeting, which included Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “The president wants us to get a deal.”