On September 30, the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on “Oversight of the Treasury Department’s and Federal Reserve’s Pandemic Response.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before the full committee. Sec. Yellen’s testimony focused on America’s economic recovery from the pandemic, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), and the debt ceiling. On ERAP, Sec. Yellen stated:
“Prior to the pandemic, there was essentially no national infrastructure to get money from government coffers to renters and landlords. Building that infrastructure has been a massive undertaking for states, localities, and tribes. The program is scaling up quickly, with 1.4 million payments made to help struggling renters keep a roof over their heads.”
Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) questioned Sec. Yellen about the ongoing improvements Treasury is making to ERAP. Rep. Waters promoted her Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 bill to ensure ERAP funding gets to renters at risk of eviction. Ranking Member Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) felt that the oversight hearing should have happened months ago but commended both witnesses for their work during the challenges of the pandemic.
Though the hearing covered several topics, a few committee members questioned Sec. Yellen about ERAP. Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) cited August 2021 data showing that more than 83% of ERAP funds remain unspent while “millions of renters and property owners remain in limbo.” Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) also pressed Sec. Yellen to explain how Treasury will accelerate ERAP spending.
In response to both members, Sec. Yellen reiterated the challenges of implementing ERAP as a new program. She explained that Treasury and HUD are providing technical assistance to grantees and have updated ERAP guidance to reduce program barriers. Sec. Yellen also talked through a few options for reallocating ERAP funds from grantees who are unable to spend them down.
The full hearing and witness statements are available on the House Financial Services Committee website. The Senate Committee on Housing, Banking, and Urban Affairs held a similar hearing with Sec. Yellen and Chairman Powell earlier in the same week, which is also available online.