Listen

Pam Fessler

The federal eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of this month, which doesn't leave much time to help an estimated 7 million tenants who are still behind on their rent.

Efforts have been stepped up to distribute some $46 billion in emergency rental assistance, and to head off eviction cases before they end up in court.

Black and Hispanic families in the United States are far less likely than white families to own their own homes. It's been that way for decades, but the gap is wider today than it was before passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

This has led to other racial disparities, such as the ability of families to build wealth or to get a good education.

But efforts are being made to close the gap, especially now that the pandemic appears to have exacerbated the divide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended a moratorium on evictions until the end of July. The ban had been set to expire next week, raising concerns that there could be a flood of evictions with some 7 million tenants currently behind on their rent.

Among the many problems the Biden administration is facing is a surge in homelessness. More than 580,000 people in the U.S. were homeless at the beginning of last year, prior to the pandemic. The number is expected to grow this year, especially if a federal eviction moratorium ends on June 30 as scheduled.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Updated May 11, 2021 at 7:14 PM ET

The Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday held a contentious markup of legislation to revamp the nation's voting and campaign finance rules, laying bare the deep partisan divide over how elections should be run.

A series of party-line votes on amendments made clear there is little ground for compromise, and the bill's fate is very much in doubt in the upper chamber.

The Biden administration is preparing to release $5 billion in new housing vouchers, approved in the latest COVID relief bill. The goal is to help 70,000 low-income families at risk of homelessness due to the pandemic.

But, even in the best of times, it can be hard to use such vouchers, which allow recipients to pay one-third of their income on rent, with the government covering the rest. Many landlords won't accept them and the vouchers are often hard to come by. Some families have to wait years to get one.

The same day last month that Georgia's legislature passed a controversial new voting bill, Missouri's Republican-led House approved one of its own. It would impose strict photo ID and other requirements on voting.

The nation's homeless population grew last year for the fourth year in a row. On a single night in January 2020, there were more than 580,000 individuals who were homeless in the United States, a 2% increase from the year before.

The numbers, released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development Thursday, do not reflect the impact of the pandemic.

If there's one thing tenants and landlords can agree on during this pandemic, it's that emergency rental assistance is sorely needed. Millions of Americans have been unable to pay their rent for months, and landlords — who have their own bills to pay — are also hurting. By some estimates, tenants are already more than $50 billion in arrears.

It's a simple fact. Black and brown families are more likely to be evicted than white ones. There are many reasons for this, but the pandemic has made matters worse and could widen the gap for years to come.

Aniya is a case in point. She's a mother of two, unemployed, struggling to get by. By the end of this month, she has to leave her two-bedroom apartment in Richmond, VA., and find a new place to live. This comes on top of an already tough 2020. We agreed not to use Aniya's full name because of possible repercussions on her ability to find another place to live.

Every January, in the middle of the night, thousands of volunteers and outreach workers spread out across the country to count the nation's homeless population. They search highway underpasses, wooded areas, abandoned buildings and sidewalks to locate those who are living outside.

But this year, because of the pandemic, the annual street count has been canceled or modified in hundreds of communities, even as the nation's unsheltered population appears to be growing.

Florida resident Kirk Nielsen was very careful when he went to vote this fall. He did it early and deposited his mail-in ballot in one of many drop boxes provided by his local election office in Miami-Dade County.

"So early voting, drop box. Checked the supervisor of elections website a couple of days later and it was tabulated," he said. "It worked swell."

Signs of a tattered, but resilient, voting system were on full display this week as one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history rolled toward completion.

Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET

Though all evidence points to the contrary, President Trump's campaign is insisting that Trump has a path to reelection victory and that it will pursue legal challenges to results in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. To date, the campaign has lost more than two dozen challenges filed since the Nov. 3 election in which Joe Biden has been declared the decisive winner.

Updated at 9:26 p.m. ET

Things did not go well Tuesday for the Trump campaign's effort to stop certification of the Pennsylvania vote count — which has Joe Biden ahead by more than 73,000 votes.

Efforts to protect U.S. elections from disinformation are proceeding amid reports that the head of the agency in the Department of Homeland Security that oversees election security expects to be fired soon by the White House.

Christopher Krebs, director of DHS' Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, spearheaded an agency campaign to counter rumors about voter fraud and election irregularities.

Updated 10:52 p.m. ET

The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, has reaffirmed a lower court's block on Wisconsin's plan that would have allowed ballots in the state to arrive up to six days after Election Day. Democrats and progressive groups asked the justices to intervene after a federal appeals court blocked the ballot-receipt plan.

Republicans argue that the deadline extension threatens the integrity of the election by changing the rules too close to the election, an argument they have made in similar cases.

Dirty tricks and disinformation have been used to intimidate and mislead voters for as long as there have been elections. But they have been especially pervasive this year as millions of Americans cast ballots in a chaotic and contentious election.

This has led to stepped-up efforts by election officials and voter advocates to counter the disinformation so voters are not discouraged from turning out.

Concern is growing over potential confrontations at polling places due to deep partisan divides and baseless claims by President Trump that Democrats will "steal" the election.

In Tuesday night's debate with Democrat Joe Biden, Trump repeated his attacks on widespread mail-in voting, calling it a "disaster" and saying "this is not going to end well."

The president also urged his supporters, as he has done before, "to go into the polls and watch very carefully."

Election workers around the country are preparing for what could be one of the most chaotic elections in history. There's not only a pandemic, but dozens of ongoing legal fights over voting rules. That's left a lot of things up in the air only weeks before Election Day.

In election offices such as the one in Lehigh County, Pa., workers are trying to deal with the uncertainty.

The 2020 general election has begun with North Carolina becoming the first state to start mailing out absentee ballots on Friday, two months before Election Day.

Other states will begin doing the same over the next few weeks in an election that's expected to break all records in the number of ballots cast early and by mail. Minnesota will be the first state to offer early in-person voting starting Sept. 18, with many states following not long afterward.

An extraordinarily high number of ballots — more than 550,000 — have been rejected in this year's presidential primaries, according to a new analysis by NPR.

That's far more than the 318,728 ballots rejected in the 2016 general election and has raised alarms about what might happen in November when tens of millions of more voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail, many for the first time.

Cuts to the U.S. Postal Service have led to widespread concerns about mail-in ballots arriving on time in November. Tens of thousands of ballots have already been rejected this year because they were received after the deadline.

Now, a number of states are extending those deadlines, so ballots only need to be postmarked by Election Day, instead of received by Election Day, which is currently the law in most places.

Election officials are seeking clarification from the Postal Service about how recent cutbacks will affect what's expected to be an avalanche of mail-in voting in the upcoming election. Changes in postal operations have already led to mail delays across the country, raising alarms about what will happen in November.

Many voters are worried about casting their ballots in person this November because of the pandemic. They're also concerned that their mail-in ballots could be misplaced or delayed.

One voting option that's gaining popularity — and also attracting controversy — is the use of drop boxes, where voters can deposit their absentee ballots to be collected later by election officials.

Updated at 11:56 a.m. ET

With about 100 days left before the general election, officials are simultaneously trying to prepare for two very different types of voting, while facing two unprecedented threats to safety and security. It's a juggling act that has voters, political parties and officials anxious about how smoothly November's voting will go.

"Doubt is our enemy," U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, said at a Senate hearing Wednesday on what Congress can do to ensure public confidence in this year's election results.

Mail-in voting, which tens of millions of Americans are expected to use this November, is fraught with potential problems. Hundreds of thousands of ballots go uncounted each year because people make mistakes, such as forgetting to sign the form or sending it in too late.

A prominent Republican has tough words for President Trump's campaign against the expansion of mail-in voting and says the president's criticism could undermine his own party's efforts to retain control of the Senate.

"It's got to be pretty discouraging, I would think, to incumbent members of the Senate, who probably have very aggressive absentee ballot programs ... to have the president telling your supporters: 'Go to polls. Don't use absentee,' " former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge told NPR.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says it will make $30 million in grants available to nonprofit groups in five Southern states to help register and mobilize voters of color.

The campaign will go through this year's election, as well as the 2022 midterm elections.

"The United States has a long history of denying voting rights to its citizens, especially black and brown people, returning citizens and young people," said SPLC president Margaret Huang.

Pages