Crises loom as Congress negotiates COVID-19 relief package

Pandemic relief programs set to end this month

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The clock is ticking. More than two dozen programs helping people get through the pandemic are set to expire this month. So far, Congress has not been able to reach an agreement to extend those programs.

It could lead to a nightmare when it comes to evictions and unemployment.

When the pandemic hit in the spring, Congress overwhelmingly passed the CARES Act to provide pandemic relief to tens of millions of Americans who found their lives turned upside down.

But now with many of the programs set to expire Dec. 26, including federal funding for unemployment, Congress can’t seem to find an agreement.

“As I have talked with Tennesseans from one end of the state to the other, they all want to know when they’re getting a second COVID bill. I will simply say we are continuing to work on it,” said Tennessee U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

And as Congress works on it, people like Cindy Ettingoff with Memphis Area Legal Services are working around the clock to help others who’ve been hit hard by the pandemic, like those facing eviction.

“I mean we are absolutely drowning in work,” said Ettingoff.

The CARES Act put a pause on evictions up until a few months ago.

When that expired, the CDC issued a temporary moratorium on many evictions. But now the CDC moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month.

That means evictions could be back on for thousands.

“Memphis is one of the areas, it’s the second poorest, large metropolitan area in the country. So as a result of that, obviously, evictions here are likely to be extremely high,” said Ettingoff.

Because people who face evictions are often unemployed Ettingoff and her team also help them get unemployment.

But if Congress fails to extend unemployment benefits and if the CDC’s eviction moratorium expires, she says it could lead to a crisis like none we’ve ever seen.

“My greatest fears that we have women with children without a place to be,” said Ettingoff.

She says that can be avoided and she’s urging Congress to act now.

A small group of bipartisan lawmakers released a $908 billion plan that would provide stimulus checks, help for small businesses and put a hold on evictions. But it’s not clear if that proposal will be voted on.

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