Covid-19 Housing Protections: Moratoriums Have Helped Limit Evictions, but Further Outreach Is Needed

What GAO Found

Eviction moratoriums at the federal, state, and local levels reduced eviction filings during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, some eligible renters may not have benefitted from a recent federal moratorium. GAO’s analysis of 63 jurisdictions found that the median rate of eviction filings was about 74 percent lower in the last week of July 2020—when a moratorium included in the CARES Act expired—than in the same week in 2019. Eviction filings remained lower throughout 2020 (relative to 2019) but gradually increased during a separate moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020 (see fig.). During this moratorium, jurisdictions without separate state or local moratoriums experienced larger increases in eviction filings, which suggests that some renters may not fully understand how to use the CDC moratorium (completing required documentation). CDC extended its moratorium through March 31, 2021, but has taken few steps to promote awareness and understanding of the moratorium and its requirements. Clear, accurate, and timely information is essential to keep the public informed during the pandemic. Without a communication and outreach plan, including federal coordination, CDC will be missing an opportunity to ensure that eligible renters avoid eviction.

Year-over-Year Percentage Change in Eviction Filings in 63 Jurisdictions

Note: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) moratorium is active through March 31, 2021. Local moratoriums include separate state or local eviction moratoriums. Unlike the CARES Act, CDC’s moratorium does not prohibit eviction filings, which could explain some increases.

By late January 2021, Treasury had disbursed 99 percent of the $25 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance funds to state and other eligible grantees responsible for making rent and utility payments to recipients. Treasury’s initial program guidance issued that month did not fully define some program requirements and included requirements that could have delayed the delivery of funds or deter participation. In late February 2021, Treasury updated its guidance to address several of these concerns, such as by providing grantees with flexibility for prioritizing lower income applicants and allowing written attestation of income. Although the guidance did not clarify certain data collection and spending requirements, officials said they will continue to update guidance to address stakeholder concerns and strike a balance between accountability and administrative efficiency. GAO will continue to actively monitor these efforts.

Why GAO Did This Study

Millions of renters and property owners continue to experience housing instability and financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. To address these concerns, Congress and CDC created eviction moratoriums, and Congress appropriated $25 billion to Treasury to disburse to state and local grantees to administer emergency rental assistance programs to help those behind on their rent.

The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to monitor federal efforts related to COVID-19. This report examines, among other objectives, (1) how eviction moratoriums have contributed to housing stability during the pandemic and (2) Treasury’s implementation of the Emergency Rental Assistance program.

GAO analyzed data on eviction filings and local policies in a sample of 63 jurisdictions (selected based on data availability) from January to December 2020. GAO also analyzed Census Bureau survey data on rental payments and data from federal housing entities on mortgage forbearance. GAO interviewed officials from CDC, Treasury, and organizations representing renters, property owners, and rental assistance grantees.

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    GAO found that when rural hospitals closed, residents living in the closed hospitals' service areas would have to travel substantially farther to access certain health care services. Specifically, for residents living in these service areas, GAO's analysis shows that the median distance to access some of the more common health care services increased about 20 miles from 2012 to 2018. For example, the median distance to access general inpatient services was 3.4 miles in 2012, compared to 23.9 miles in 2018—an increase of 20.5 miles. For some of the less common services that were offered by a few of the hospitals that closed, this median distance increased much more. For example, among residents in the service areas of the 11 closed hospitals that offered treatment services for alcohol or drug abuse, the median distance was 5.5 miles in 2012, compared to 44.6 miles in 2018—an increase of 39.1 miles to access these services (see figure). Median Distance in Miles from Service Areas with Rural Hospital Closures to the Nearest Open Hospital that Offered Certain Health Care Services, 2012 and 2018 Notes: GAO focused its analysis on the health care services offered in 2012 by the 64 rural hospitals that closed during the years 2013 through 2017 and for which data were available. For example, in 2012, 64 closed hospitals offered general inpatient services, 62 offered emergency department services, 11 offered treatment services for alcohol or drug abuse, and 11 offered services in a coronary care unit. To examine distance, GAO calculated “crow-fly miles” (the distance measured in a straight line) from the geographic center of each closed rural hospital's service area to the geographic center of the ZIP Code with the nearest open rural or urban hospital that offered a given service. GAO also found that the availability of health care providers in counties with rural hospital closures generally was lower and declined more over time, compared to those without closures. Specifically, counties with closures generally had fewer health care professionals per 100,000 residents in 2012 than did counties without closures. The disparities in the availability of health care professionals in these counties grew from 2012 to 2017. For example, over this time period, the availability of physicians declined more among counties with closures—dropping from a median of 71.2 to 59.7 per 100,000 residents—compared to counties without closures—which dropped from 87.5 to 86.3 per 100,000 residents. Rural hospitals face many challenges in providing essential access to health care services to rural communities. From January 2013 through February 2020, 101 rural hospitals closed. GAO was asked to examine the effects of rural hospital closures on residents living in the areas of the hospitals that closed. This report examines, among other objectives, how closures affected the distance for residents to access health care services, as well as changes in the availability of health care providers in counties with and without closures. GAO analyzed data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program (NC RHRP) for rural hospitals (1) that closed and those that were open during the years 2013 through 2017, and (2) for which complete data generally were available at the time of GAO's review. GAO also interviewed HHS and NC RHRP officials and reviewed relevant literature. GAO defined hospitals as rural according to data from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. GAO defined hospital closure as a cessation of inpatient services, the same definition used by NC RHRP. GAO defined service areas with closures as the collection of ZIP Codes that were served by closed rural hospitals and service areas without closures as the collection of ZIP Codes served only by rural hospitals that were open. GAO provided a draft of this report to HHS for comment. The Department provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact James Cosgrove at (202) 512-7114 or cosgrovej@gao.gov.
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  • University Researcher Pleads Guilty to Lying on Grant Applications to Develop Scientific Expertise for China
    In Crime News
    A rheumatology professor and researcher with strong ties to China pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal authorities as part of an immunology research fraud scheme. Song Guo Zheng, 58, of Hilliard, appeared in federal court today, at which time his guilty plea was accepted by Chief U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley.
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  • Continued U.S. Support for a Peaceful, Stable Afghanistan Through New Humanitarian Assistance
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Defined Contribution Plans: Federal Guidance Could Help Mitigate Cybersecurity Risks in 401(k) and Other Retirement Plans
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In their role administering private sector employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) retirement plans, such as 401(k) plans, plan sponsors and their service providers—record keepers, third party administrators, custodians, and payroll providers—share a variety of personally identifiable information (PII) and plan asset data among them to assist with carrying out their respective functions (see figure). The PII exchanged for DC plans typically include participant name, Social Security number, date of birth, address, username/password; plan asset data typically includes numbers for both retirement and bank accounts. The sharing and storing of this information can lead to significant cybersecurity risks for plan sponsors and their service providers, as well as plan participants. Data Sharing Among Plan Sponsors and Service Providers in Defined Contribution Plans Federal requirements and industry guidance exist that could mitigate cybersecurity risks in DC plans, such as requirements that pertain to entities that directly engage in financial activities involving DC plans. However, not all entities involved in DC plans are considered to have such direct engagement, and other cybersecurity mitigation guidance is voluntary. Federal law nevertheless requires plan fiduciaries to act prudently when administering plans. However, the Department of Labor (DOL) has not clarified fiduciary responsibility for mitigating cybersecurity risks, even though 21 of 22 stakeholders GAO interviewed expressed the view that cybersecurity is a fiduciary duty. Further, DOL has not established minimum expectations for protecting PII and plan assets. DOL officials told GAO that the agency intends to issue guidance addressing cybersecurity-related issues, but they were unsure when it would be issued. Until DOL clarifies responsibilities for fiduciaries and provides minimum cybersecurity expectations, participants' data and assets will remain at risk. Why GAO Did This Study Cyber attacks against information systems (IT) are perpetuated by individuals or groups with malicious intentions, from stealing identities to appropriating money from accounts. DC plans, which allow individuals to accumulate tax-advantaged retirement savings, increasingly rely on the internet and IT systems for their administration. Accordingly, the need to secure these systems has become paramount. Ineffective data security controls can result in significant risks to plan data and assets. In 2018, DC plans enrolled 106 million participants and held nearly $6.3 trillion in assets, according to DOL. This report examines (1) the data that sponsors and providers exchange during the administration of DC plans and their associated cybersecurity risks, and (2) efforts to assist sponsors and providers to mitigate cybersecurity risks during the administration of DC plans. GAO interviewed key entities involved with DC plans, such as sponsors and record keepers, DOL officials and industry stakeholders; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance.
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  • Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Australian Prime Minister Morrison
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Conflict Minerals: 2020 Company SEC Filings on Mineral Sources Were Similar to Those from Prior Years
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure rule on conflict minerals broadly requires that certain companies submit a filing that describes their efforts to determine the source of their conflict minerals—tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. As part of this process, these companies must conduct a reasonable country-of-origin inquiry (RCOI). Depending on the determination reached through this inquiry, some companies must then conduct due diligence to further investigate the source of their minerals. According to GAO's analysis, companies' RCOI determinations have not changed significantly since 2015. In 2020, an estimated 58 percent of the companies that conducted an RCOI reported preliminary determinations regarding whether the conflict minerals in their products may have come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or adjoining countries (covered countries), as the figure shows. Of those companies, an estimated 42 percent reported that they had preliminarily determined that at least some of their minerals may have originated in covered countries, and an estimated 16 percent determined that their minerals were not from a covered country. Source of Conflict Minerals in Products as Determined by Companies' Reasonable Country-of-Origin Inquiries, Reporting Years 2014–2020 In 2020, an estimated 78 percent of the companies that conducted an RCOI went on to conduct due diligence to further investigate the source of their minerals. After conducting due diligence, an estimated 44 percent of these companies reported that they could not determine whether their minerals originated in covered countries. An estimated 38 percent of the companies reported that their minerals may have originated in covered countries, and the remaining 18 percent did not clearly report their due diligence determination. Most filings indicated that companies used standardized tools and programs to attempt to determine the source of their minerals, but filings and industry experts noted challenges relating to these tools and programs. For example, an estimated 96 percent of company filings indicated use of a supplier survey to collect information, but many companies did not receive responses from all their suppliers, of which there could be hundreds in some companies' supply chains. Why GAO Did This Study The United States has sought to improve security in the DRC for over 2 decades. However, according to the Department of State and the United Nations, conflict has persisted and contributed to severe human rights abuses and the displacement of people. Armed groups continue to profit from the mining and trade of “conflict minerals,” according to State. Provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required, among other things, the SEC to promulgate disclosure and reporting regulations regarding the use of conflict minerals from the DRC and adjoining countries. In 2012, the SEC adopted a conflict minerals disclosure rule requiring companies to file specialized disclosure reports beginning in 2014 and annually thereafter. The act also included a provision for GAO to assess, among other things, the SEC regulations' effectiveness in promoting peace and security in the DRC and adjoining countries. This report examines how companies responded to the SEC conflict minerals disclosure rule when filing in 2020. GAO analyzed a generalizable sample of 100 SEC filings; reviewed SEC documents; and interviewed SEC officials and other stakeholders, including representatives from the private sector and nongovernmental organizations. For more information, contact Kimberly M. Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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  • Condolences on the Passing of Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of the Kingdom of Eswatini 
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]