Advocacy Corner, Issue 1 of 2021, Feb. 4, 2021

From the Virtual Desk of Brian Fuss
Policy and Program Director 
brian@housingalliancepa.org 

Welcome Friends,  

As many of you learned at the Homes Within Reach Conference, the Housing Alliance of PA is actively working to  

  1. promote housing as an economic opportunity for all in the Commonwealth especially BIPOC,  
  2. lift up the voices of people with lived expertise, 
  3. advance cross-sector collaboration,
  4. support our network to grow, learn, and adapt, and challenge ourselves to improve the systems in which we operate. 

Part of the Housing Alliance commitment to you is giving you more information and updates on what the Housing Alliance is advocating for throughout the Commonwealth and with our national partners. With the help of our network, it is no doubt the Commonwealth will come back strong in 2021 and beyond. Each week, we will explore several legislative updates at the national, state, (sometimes) local levels, and on the budget. On the third Wednesday of the month, the Housing Alliance will create a video on all things happening in the legislative world.  

In this issue, I will give an update on COVID-19 related bills both at the national and state levels from January as January was the start of the legislative session for both national and state legislatures. As the pandemic continues to exacerbate the health and economic crisis, our legislators are seeking solutions.  

Here is what you might have missed in January:  

  • CDC extended the eviction moratorium is extended until 3/31/21,  
  • President Biden and the House and Senate Majorities are pushing for another relief package, 
  • Evans, Fitzpatrick, Scanlon, and Dean asked Secretary Yellen to rescind the Eviction and Utility Assistant Program FAQ, which was done, 
  • The State House of Representatives will vote on SB109 that sets up the statewide program to allocate the Dec. 2020 Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance program 
  • Several senate and house bills have been filed dealing with the evictions, homelessness, and blight. 

Have a great week and of course next week we will talk about the budget, 

National Updates  

At the end of 12-20, another round of federal relief funds due to the COVID-19 pandemic passed and was signed by then President Trump. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 directed the U.S. Treasury to allocate funds to families, businesses, and communities. Specifically, it allocated money to states and territories for emergency rental and utilities funds.  

  • Counties and cities of over 200,000 people received an allotment from the $847,688,778.80 allocated to PA,  
  • 19 counties could apply directly to the US Treasury,  
  • Funds must spend on utilities and rent with no more than 10% going to housing stabilizing services and administrative fees,  
  • The PA Legislature is creating a statewide program for all 67 counties that want to participate,  
  • The FAQ was rescinded and will be posted shortly to the US Treasury website.  

President Biden and Vice-President Harris’s swearing-in on 1/20/21 brought a flurry of executive orders and proposed legislation to curb the adverse economic and health effects of COVID-19.  Some highlights include:   

  • Extending the CDC Eviction Moratorium to at least March 31, 2021, with possible extension and additional structural changes to the mortarium,  
  • Asking states and municipalities to address the urgent needs of people experiencing homelessness and housing instability,   
  • Directing all the Administration’s departments to take action to help everyone affected by COVID-19, 
  • Creating a Health Equity Task Force to distribute all responses to COVID-19 equitably. 

In addition to these (and several other) executive orders, President Biden proposed the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9T plan to ensure the Commonwealth and every state in the Union come back strong.  

  • Send a $1,400 stimulus check (along with the $600 from Dec.) to families, 
  • Create and fund a national vaccine program, 
  • Protect workers, 
  • Expand paid sick leave for low-income workers, 
  • Add $30B to the emergency rental and utility assistance from the Dec relief pill, 
  • Commit $5B to people experiencing homelessness or on the verge of homelessness to rehouse them and provide services, 

Susan Collins and the Group of 10 (Senate Republicans) suggested an alternative to Biden’s American Rescue Plan, costing $618B. Some of the highlights are: 

  • Disaster Relief Fund 
  • Rural hospital provider fund 
  • A $1,000 stimulus check to families 
  • Create and fund a national vaccine program,  
  • Ensure the CARES Act (passed March 2020) and COVID Relief Bill (passed December 2020) funds are spent appropriately and effectively. 

Senator Toomey is focused on ensuring the vaccine is distributed. 

Representative Dean (D-PA-4) introduced H.R. 242. “The Protecting Homeowners in Bankruptcy Act would increase the federal homestead exemption—which allows a debtor to protect a certain amount of equity in their home from creditors when they declare bankruptcy—to $100,000. This new level would serve as a federal floor; states would remain free to enact more generous homestead exemptions1.” 

Commonwealth Update 

This General Assembly has much work in front of them dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The Alliance sent out recommendations to create a new emergency rental and utility assistance program to help the neediest Pennsylvanians keep their electricity, water, and gas on and keep a roof over their head. 

Bill  Summary  Status/Alliance Reaction 
SB109 Repeals the authority of PHFA to administer the CARES Act funds; establishes DHS as administering the statewide emergency rental and utilities program from the US Treasury from the bill passed in 12-20.  Currently in the House awaiting votes. The Housing Alliance supports this bill. 
HB136 Amends the Landlord and Tenant Act; forbids jurisdictions from creating laws/ordinances preventing landlords from charging a maximum price.  In the Urban Affairs Committee. This bill was reintroduced from last session.  
HB328 During the COVID-19 disaster, landlords cannot start eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent without offering a payment plan.  In House Consumer Affairs Committee.  
HB264 Requires all LLC officers to sign an affidavit they have no outstanding tax or municipal utility bills anywhere in the Commonwealth. In House Urban Affairs Committee.  
SB157 Creates a statewide first-homebuyers savings account In Urban Affairs and Housing Committee.  

1 Dean, M. (2021, January 27, 2021) Rep. Dean introduces the Protecting Homeowners in Bankruptcy Act. Retrieved from https://dean.house.gov/media/press-releases/protecting-homeowners-bankruptcy-act