Eyes on Biden to Extend Eviction, Student Loan Reprieve

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The government’s $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, finally a done deal, renews a lifeline for many Americans struggling financially in the pandemic, including millions of people who were about to be cut off from two federal unemployment programs created in the spring.

But not all government protections got the same consideration: While unemployed workers can count on benefits through at least March 14, relief for renters and student loan borrowers expires on Jan. 31. This means all eyes will be on the incoming president, who takes office just 11 days earlier and may be critical to efforts to continue the measures. 

Indeed, the relief package—a bipartisan compromise lawmakers scrambled to reach before the end of the year—is being viewed by many as a stopgap as a surge in COVID-19 cases wreaks havoc on the tenuous economic recovery. Consumer spending fell for the first time in seven months in November and the rebound in the job market has slowed dramatically.

It’s “a first step and down payment on more action that we’ll need to take early in the new year to revive the economy and contain the pandemic,” President-elect Joe Biden said in written remarks released Saturday.

The bill, signed by President Donald Trump on Sunday, provides state and local governments with $25 billion for emergency rental assistance programs, but it only extended a national moratorium on evictions one month, to the end of January. The ban on physical evictions stemmed from an executive order from Trump, not an act of Congress, and housing advocates expect Biden to rely on the same authority to extend it.

The one-month extension is “insufficient to keep people housed for the duration of the pandemic,” National Low Income Housing Coalition CEO Diane Yentel said in a statement on Monday, but it does provide “time for emergency rental assistance to be distributed, and for President-elect Biden to improve and further extend the moratorium immediately after being sworn into office.” 

Similarly, people with outstanding federal student loans got short shrift, as the final version of the new bill dropped a forbearance provision from an earlier proposal that would have paused loan payments and interest through April 1. 

The CARES Act, the original pandemic relief bill, initially established the reprieve for student loan borrowers, but it’s been extended multiple times. In early December, Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, extended the freeze through Jan. 31, so it stands to reason the Biden administration could follow suit. Travis Hornsby, founder of the blog studentloanplanner.com, anticipates Biden may extend it through late spring or early summer.

“We anticipate that President-Elect Biden will extend the payment and interest freeze past January 31, 2021,” Hornsby wrote earlier this month. “He could issue an executive order to extend the payment and interest freeze on his own given Secretary DeVos and President Trump have already taken this action.”