Rarely has a word been subject to so much misuse in recent years as “stimulus.” The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on March 27, represents an apex of this language malpractice. The stated purpose of this $2.2 trillion “stimulus plan” is to boost our economy in the wake of virus-induced mass layoffs and business closings. But the implicit purpose is paying people not to work. One of the law’s key features, Section 4022, a residential landlord bailout, effectively does that. And it may prove very expensive.
Fear of COVID-19 has triggered an economic downturn potentially rivaling that of the Great Depression. With “social distancing” now the gold standard for staying healthy, especially in venues where people congregate (e.g., restaurants, theaters), employers, prodded by state mandates and federal guidelines, are closing shop or severely restricting hours. A staggering 22 million unemployment insurance claims have been filed within the past month. For people without a job, even given the enhanced unemployment benefits authorized by CARES, the risk of losing one’s housing has become real. Though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development now spends nearly $24 billion a year on Section 8 low-income rental vouchers, some tenants are getting desperate. Since many governors have seen fit to shut down state economies, the range of employment alternatives isn’t that wide.