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Congresswoman Bush On Her Efforts To Reinstate A Ban On Evictions During The Pandemic

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's a new push to bring back a temporary eviction moratorium. The Supreme Court struck it down last month. Under a bill backed by Representative Cori Bush and other Democrats, the Department of Health and Human Services would get new authority to reinstate the eviction ban. It's among the legislative priorities, including police reform, that are personal for Cori Bush. And now both seem to face an even steeper uphill battle to passage.

Earlier this afternoon, I spoke to the congresswoman from Missouri about both of these issues, and we started with this latest step on the eviction moratorium.

CORI BUSH: Part of the issue was, it was struck down by the Supreme Court because they say that the Department of Health and Human Services lack the legal authority to mandate such protections. So we, with this bill, Keeping Renters Safe Act, we are clarifying that the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has the permanent authority to implement an eviction moratorium for the purposes of protecting people during public health emergencies.

CORNISH: Even though the U.S. is still seeing a major impact from the delta variant, COVID vaccines are available to just about anyone who wants one, and job openings have hit a record high. The public is hearing this dynamic that the things that would keep you in your home are available. And so why do you believe an eviction ban is even still necessary?

BUSH: It's necessary because we still - right now we have people every single day that are being forced out of their homes. So we're not just talking about someone just going up to go get a job. Are people stable enough to be able to have the child care that they need to be able to go back to work? There are many reasons why this is still an issue. And we have so many people who have the back rent that even if they start a job today, that doesn't mean that they'll be able to pay the thousands of dollars that they still need to pay back.

So we have $40 billion that is sitting, still waiting to go out to those families and go out to those - to the tenants and the landlords. We want to make sure that both are taken care of. We don't want our landlords foreclosed on. We don't want our tenants put out.

CORNISH: There were $40 billion in federal rental assistance out there. It's been nine months since Congress passed the first round of it, and just 20% of those funds have actually made it to renters and landlords. What is your take on why that money has been so slow to actually get in the hands of the people who need it?

BUSH: Yes, because, you know, structurally so many localities, states just didn't have a system already built to be able to handle the influx of applications that were going to come in. And so we understand that. But we've also - so that's why I am in support, and I've also added a provision within Chairwoman Waters' new bill, Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021, that says that we want to put the clinics, these clinics for people to be able to sign up and apply for this relief, within schools. We want to put it where the people are. So put it in schools. Put it in libraries, our public housing and transit systems. We want to put it right in front of people where they are. So that's been a problem, is people just accessing it. So now we've worked through that by opening up these clinics within our libraries. It has helped St. Louis tremendously.

CORNISH: I want to move to the issue of police reform because the bipartisan talks on that issue essentially have collapsed. I know this was an issue that was important to you. You were clear that there shouldn't be compromise. What do you think now that it's fallen apart?

BUSH: You know, I actually just heard - just heard that news a few moments ago. And I'm disgusted because in my community in St. Louis, we've been No. 1 for years per capita for police murder. And in order for us to be able to get to a place where we can save lives, we have to have some change. And so the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act - it may not have been everything that we wanted it to be, but we need to get something. We need to make sure that ending qualified immunity happens in our communities.

CORNISH: Right. Just to help people understand that, qualified immunity is legal protection for police officers from civil lawsuits. This was not just a sticking point; it was a breaking point. Essentially, are you OK with that? Is it better that there's no bill than to have one that didn't address qualified immunity?

BUSH: Well, we're not done yet. So, you know, I came to Congress as a politivist, as that activist born out of the Ferguson uprising. So, you know, hearing this information today, we will be working - looking at what we can work on to move some things within our office and also what else we can do within Congress. This is just the beginning. I was not at the table. I'm not coming against anybody who was at the table. I - and I don't believe that there were bad-faith actors, but I do believe that adding to who was at the table, that could have been done differently.

CORNISH: Among those who weren't at the table - the White House. Should the president have done more?

BUSH: Oh, there are so many people in so many areas who could have done more. I'm looking forward to being able to have a conversation - continuing conversations. We've had many conversations with the White House. I look forward to being able to one day have a conversation with our president again.

CORNISH: Representative Cori Bush, thank you for your time.

BUSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.