Half of Maine counties could soon be covered by the new federal eviction moratorium, but that could change quickly as COVID-19 conditions continue to worsen here with the arrival of the delta variant.
The new moratorium, announced late Tuesday, links a temporary ban on evictions to local virus conditions, relying on the same U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designations used for mask recommendations, with evictions halted in counties that have seen at least 50 cases per 100,000 people over the past week. In Maine, the counties that meet that designation can change on a day-to-day basis, although more counties have qualified in recent days as cases have risen statewide.
As of Wednesday morning, five Maine counties — Lincoln, Penobscot, Somerset, Waldo and York — were designated as seeing “substantial” or “high” transmission by the U.S. CDC. But a Bangor Daily News analysis of new case data suggests Cumberland, Kennebec and Piscataquis counties are likely to cross the threshold when the agency next updates its designations.
Once a county is designated as seeing “substantial” or “high” transmission, residents are protected from evictions for at least two weeks. The moratorium expires, however, if a county’s number dip below the 50 weekly cases per 100,000 people threshold and stay low for 14 days.
That means Maine counties currently covered could see evictions resume if virus conditions improve, although the COVID-19 situation here has trended in the wrong direction in the past few weeks.
The U.S. CDC issued the new moratorium following advocacy from progressive lawmakers amid recognition that the majority of funds allocated for federal rental assistance last December had yet to reach tenants and landlords. The ban is set to expire Oct. 3, although it could face legal challenges before then.
Nationwide, less than 12 percent of rental relief funds from the December coronavirus stimulus bill had been spent, The Washington Post found. Maine has been more successful than average, having paid out more than $44 million to 8,600 households as of late July, according to data from the Maine State Housing Authority, although another nearly 3,000 applications were still being processed.
MaineHousing announced last week it would be expanding eligibility for the program to allow any household that experienced financial hardship over the past year to apply for assistance. Previously, applicants were required to prove their inability to pay rent was related to the coronavirus pandemic.