There were new additions to classrooms when schools opened this fall. There were plastic shields and cloth facemasks, hand sanitizer and login instructions when learning went online. But something was missing — tens of thousands of students.
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed kids out of school for various reasons: health concerns, a parent losing a job causing the family to move, a lack of internet or devices for virtual learning. Because there is no national database, 60 Minutes compiled enrollment data from 78 of the largest school districts in the country and found nearly a quarter of a million students did not showed up when school began.
Now, social workers who have spent the last three months searching for those kids expect their job is about to get much harder. A national pause on most evictions is set to expire at the end of the year, and without those protections, children without a home could translate to more students missing from the classroom.
“While we’ve had an increase in homelessness, it’s going to get much, much worse,” said Laura Tucker, a social worker for Florida’s Hillsborough County School District. “Because people are going to become homeless that never intended to become homeless, never thought it would happen in their lifetime.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in September issued a national eviction moratorium that temporarily stops landlords from evicting tenants who have lost income because of the pandemic and have fallen behind on rent. It is set to expire next month, on December 31.
Congress had previously included a limited ban on evictions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That measure, which expired in July, only paused evictions in federally subsidized housing. The CDC’s order protects everyone living in one of the nation’s approximate 44 million rental households.
The CDC’s moratorium draws on the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which grants the Department of Health and Human Services authority to respond to public health emergencies. The order is meant, in part, to prevent homelessness, which can increase the spread of COVID-19.
The extent to which evictions can increase infections is evident in a new study set to be published next week, which 60 Minutes previewed. The study, led by Dr. Kathryn Leifheit from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, found that evictions led to a total of 433,700 excess COVID-19 cases and 10,700 additional deaths in the U.S. from the beginning of the pandemic until the CDC’s national order in September.
The national ban, however, does not stop landlords from evicting all residents. Among other requirements, tenants must sign a form that states they have lost income due to the pandemic and have made their best effort to apply for federal housing aid.
The order also does not prohibit late fees or absolve tenants of any back rent they owe, and it does not establish any kind of financial assistance fund to help renters get caught up. Because of this, housing advocates worry about an eviction crisis if the ban expires and Congress does not pass another stimulus package that includes rental relief.
According to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which analyzed current Census Bureau data, 17 percent of American renters are behind on payments. Because the federal moratorium currently halts most evictions for nonpayment of rent, upwards of 18 million people in America are currently at risk of being evicted when it expires at the end of the year, the group says. That does not include people who may lose additional income as coronavirus prevention measures shutter more businesses in the winter months to come.
While housing insecurity has been a growing concern for years, the pandemic has heightened it. Three quarters of the people who are behind on rent say they cannot make payments because they have experienced an employment-related loss of income.
“The pandemic hit on a deep housing affordability crisis and exacerbated the challenges Americans have paying rent,” COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project co-founder Sam Gilman told 60 Minutes. “They were one emergency away from not being able to pay rent, and the pandemic was that emergency.”