ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
As millions of people in the U.S. struggle to pay rent and the CDC's eviction moratorium faces an uncertain future in court, the federal government today authorized another $21.6 billion in emergency assistance. The money also comes with instructions on how to quickly get it to the people who need it most, which has been a problem. Earlier today, NPR's Michel Martin spoke with Marcia Fudge, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Michel pressed the secretary on why federal funds have been slow to get into people's hands.
MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Congress has already passed $45 billion in rental assistance, but there have been reports that states are still distributing it. I mean, CNBC reported that as of early April, some 20 states had not even opened programs to distribute the aid. So recognizing that you just got your feet under the desk less than two months ago, what's going wrong here in your opinion and how does your latest plan address this?
MARCIA FUDGE: Let me say a few things. First, you're absolutely right. The resources have been slow getting out. Part of the problem was that as the resources came out so quickly - because as you talk about the COVID package, the rescue plan, you talk about CARES all coming out fairly close together - there was a lot of money going through the pipeline. And most of our communities, especially the smaller ones, did not have the capacity to use it as quickly as we would have liked.
But I do believe that now that they have the technical assistance from us as well as our people on the ground assisting them, you're going to see the money start to move a lot quicker. Because we know that the need is so great and that people are relying on the fact that we are going to use this $40 billion to make sure that we get people caught up on their arrearages, get them current so that when the moratorium ends, we won't fall off the cliff.
MARTIN: Yeah, about that. I mean, the census says 7 million Americans are behind on rent. Do you think these measures will be enough to persuade landlords to extend some forbearance?
FUDGE: We are assisting with negotiating with landlords. The biggest problem, quite frankly, Michel, is that - with homebuyers. Many of them do not know that they can go to their lender and renegotiate their loan if they need to, that we have assistance in the amount of $10 billion for them. So the biggest issue is not just getting the money there, but making sure that people know that they have rights and to make sure that landlords don't keep the information from them. Because that is also happening. So we have some issues, there's no question about it, but we're addressing them as quickly as we can. And I think that we're going to be all right.
MARTIN: So, you know, you often hear people say of these programs that they are fine on paper, but it's almost as if they're set up to keep people from actually using them. I see there's a documentation guidance. I mean, the point of the guidance that you're issuing as part of your package is to not let excessive paperwork be a barrier. And on the other hand, you can see where critics will say this is an invitation to fraud and abuse. Like, what do you say to that?
FUDGE: I say to them that I don't agree with them. I do not believe it's an invitation. Look at where we are. We are 14 months or so into a pandemic that has put people out of work, that has made it difficult for people to pay their rent and their mortgage, that has made people ill. I can't believe that we're going to have a whole lot of people that are going to perpetrate a fraud on their landlords. It just doesn't make any sense. Anyone who says that is not looking at where this country stands today.
SHAPIRO: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge. You can hear more of her conversation with NPR's Michel Martin tomorrow on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
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