By: Mike Koprowski, Opportunity Starts at Home (OSAH) Campaign Director| July 16, 2020
Which of the following statements do you agree with more, even if it is not exactly how you feel?
Statement A: “Because we are in a time of national crisis, our most important priority right now needs to be the health and safety of the American people. We know that making sure people can stay in their homes is critical to stable families and communities, which will be essential to rebuilding our economy. The government should make major investments to ensure that people who cannot cover their housing costs can stay in their homes during the coronavirus outbreak and through the recovery, even if it means increasing the deficit.”
Statement B: “The government has already invested $2.5 trillion in aid and relief for American families, workers, and businesses during the coronavirus outbreak and we have to draw the line somewhere. Businesses have already started to re-open and people will be back to work making money to support their families. We cannot afford to go deeper into debt, increasing the federal deficit, which will ultimately hurt the economy and be a burden for future generations.”
This was the exact question asked in a recent scientific national public opinion poll that the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign commissioned through Hart Research Associates. If you chose Statement A, then you agree with 67% of the American people. By a 2:1 margin, people want to see government make major housing investments even if it means increasing the deficit, including 79% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 49% of Republicans. Even if you look at self-identified “conservative Republicans,” a stunning 46% chose Statement A.
Strong majorities of the American people agree that now is a bad time for elected officials to rediscover concerns about the federal deficit – even conservatives are not likely to march in lockstep as deficit hawks on this issue. But over the coming weeks, Republican leadership will face intense pressure from some of their own members to limit the size and scope of the next relief package. Advocates for a smaller-scale bill will point to two consecutive months of positive jobs reports as evidence that the economy is already turning the corner and that we do not need another big round of federal aid. The problem with this argument is that the latest jobs data only goes through mid-June and thus does not capture the past few weeks, during which we’ve seen record increases in COVID-19 cases. Twenty-one states have recently issued new closings and rolled back their scheduled re-openings due to the viral surge, which means many workers will be laid off a second time or will be further delayed in going back to work (assuming their original job comes back at all). As the Wall Street Journal points out, these newest economic derailments are concentrated in the three most populous states – California, Texas, and Florida – which constitute roughly 30% of all national economic output. The recent COVID-19 wave seems likely to slow, or possibly even reverse, the nascent recovery.
To be sure, economists have had a tough time precisely forecasting any numbers due to the ongoing volatility of our unprecedented predicament. At best, even under the rosiest economic projections, we will not recover the catastrophic job losses that were incurred during the initial shutdowns any time soon. At worst, the ongoing mismanagement of the pandemic response is going to send us deeper into economic calamity. But if you are an elected official in Congress, one thing should be painfully obvious: the CARES Act’s enhancement of benefit levels expires on July 31st and under no circumstances will the economy be solid enough by then to allow for Congress to take its foot off the pedal and enact a tightfisted relief package.
A robust stimulus package is required and, among many other important investments, must include resources to ensure housing stability, particularly as eviction bans are lifting across the country. As explained in NLIHC’s new Out of Reach report, even before COVID-19 and the associated economic shocks, housing costs were too high for people with low incomes. Prior to the pandemic, 7.7 million extremely low-income renter households were spending over half their incomes on housing, and they are now at the highest risk of losing their homes. About half of the lowest-income households have reported recent job or income losses, especially workers in hospitality, food services, retail, and personal services.
Even with the CARES Act benefits in place, our polling shows that majorities still express concern about their ability to cover housing costs and the prospect of losing their housing if they don’t get additional assistance. Nearly half the population reports that they have had to make at least one major sacrifice to cover their housing costs during the pandemic, such as cutting back on healthy food, using a credit card to cover rent/mortgage, and borrowing money from family/friends. And among those who have applied for the expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act, a significant proportion (31%) still do not think it’ll cover their basic living expenses, including housing.
The vast majority of the public, on a bipartisan basis, sees housing assistance to prevent evictions and homelessness during the pandemic as urgent a priority as investments in healthcare. In fact, there is near-universal public support for concrete solutions like providing emergency rental assistance, expanding homeless assistance funding, and enacting a nationwide eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 outbreak, all of which are already included in the HEROES Act.
The risks of Congress spending too little far exceed the risks of spending too much, and our polling suggests that the American people agree. The public is looking for elected leaders who will make investments ample enough to keep families stabilized and prepared for a range of possible contingencies, not ones who will pinch pennies based on the sunniest economic assumptions. A robust relief package is not only smart policy, but it is also good politics.
For more information about OSAH and the national public opinion poll, go to: https://www.opportunityhome.org/