Rep. Mark Pocan on rent relief, evictions in the pandemic

    Congressman Mark Pocan
    U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan

    Among the most pressing questions looming for the majority of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck is, if they can’t go to work, how will they pay their rent? Will they have to contend with landlords who, regardless of the circumstances presented by COVID-19, give them a choice between payment and eviction?

    During a Facebook Live town hall on March 17, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) discussed two federal assistance bills in the works in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “There will be a very, very big third bill coming,” said Pocan, “there are talks of direct assistance to Americans, what amount we don’t know yet. Many of us have recommended $2000 a month for adults and $1000 a month for children, but we don’t know what will be officially recommended.”

    The federal government’s  layered response to the economic crisis wrought by COVID-19 will first focus on small businesses. Pocan cited a variety of concerns he’s been hearing, “from a lot of restaurants, bar owners, people who are independent owners of businesses.”

    Pocan, who owns a small sign shop, noted that if some small businesses stay closed for too long they may not be able to afford to re-open at all. “That’s the problem,” said Pocan, “that’s why we have to do something for small business owners. Often restaurants work on such tight margins, we need to support them … this is going to be really hard on these types of businesses.”

    Congress cleared the second major COVID-19 relief package, providing free access to virus tests for those without health insurance, giving infected workers paid sick leave, and boosting other benefits However, on March 19 Democracy Now’ reported  that the guaranteed sick leave in the aid package will cover fewer than 20% of American workers.

    Although Pocan described the COVID-19 pandemic as a non-partisan issue, he noted some party differences. “I think Democrats wanted to go a little farther with some of the paid sick leave. We’re going to have to deal with all of this together,” he told Wisconsin Examiner. “But I think right now with this third package, I am heartened by the fact that everyone is talking about some amount to send everyone to keep the economy going.”

    On Wednesday, the White House called for a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until April. Pocan also pointed out to Wisconsin Examiner that he’s been informed by officials, including his brother, a judge in Milwaukee County, that most individuals or organizations which conduct evictions in Dane and Milwaukee county’s are closed. “I know you won’t be surprised, but some landlords are complaining about that,” said Pocan. “But obviously, they don’t have the capacity to deal with this right now. We need capacity for compassion from everyone.”

    Pocan mentioned that legislation may come forward to prevent evictions, “but if we can’t get that in one of the packages, we’re hoping groups like Dane County and other counties that are doing smart things as they lock down the facilities that are not an essential service right now.” If we’re in this all together, then it means that landlords are also hurting, along with their tenants. “The landlord may still be making payments on the home,” said Pocan. “I think that’s why people are talking about direct checks. So that if you put money back into the economy and people are making up what they would’ve made working, we can keep that part of the economy going as well.”

    Testing for COVID-19 is beginning to ramp up in Wisconsin and across the nation. Pocan expressed mixed feelings about how that is occurring. He wondered why the U.S. didn’t implement the same test used by the World Health Organization (WHO). But the fact that testing is increasing, he sees as positive. To date, over 237,000 cases of the virus have been identified worldwide, with deaths approaching 9,800. Within the U.S., over 11,000 cases have been identified with 154 deaths reported. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is updating it’s COVID-19 page daily, with the count for March 19 standing at 155 confirmed cases, and over 2,100 negative test results.

    Late Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers announced there have been two deaths from COVID-19.

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.