Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has said he will not extend Virginia’s state of emergency when it expires at the end of the month but plans to keep some protections, such as a stay on evictions, in place. He follows in the footsteps of leaders in several other states, including Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, which also are ending emergency declarations this month.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Saturday signed a declaration extending Maryland’s state of emergency. Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said there isn’t an “exact timeline” for when the governor plans to lift it, but discussions are underway on how to wind down the several dozen provisions that are tied to the order, from activation of the National Guard to exemptions for expired driver’s licenses.
The D.C. Council has voted repeatedly during the pandemic to extend Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s authority to keep the city in a state of emergency. And each time, Bowser (D) has used the authority that the legislators have granted her. As of Monday, the council has extended that permission until July 25, and lawmakers have not ruled out extending it further.
The spread of the coronavirus has abated in the D.C. region as vaccinations take hold. The three jurisdictions on Monday reported a seven-day average of 245 new coronavirus infections per day, the lowest it has been since March 2020. Test positivity has dipped under 2 percent in Virginia and below 1 percent in the District and in Maryland. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths are also on the decline across the region.
Amid these trends, the D.C. Council has been wrestling with how to end the city’s long-running emergency declaration, which would affect many protections for the public, most pressingly eviction and utility shut-off moratoriums.
Last month, lawmakers rejected a proposal to begin ending those moratoriums. The city has more than $350 million in federal money to cover the rent of tenants who have fallen behind on payments during the pandemic. Some argue that tenants should take advantage of those grants and should be eligible to be evicted if they do not. But others said it’s too soon to end protections, noting that the city’s rental assistance program is not yet running efficiently.
As of early June, D.C. and its surrounding suburbs had at least $300 million in rental relief that it had not yet distributed, a Washington Post analysis found. Five jurisdictions, including Montgomery County and Fairfax County, had not given out any federal dollars to tenants.
Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, said members are “petrified” of Hogan lifting the state of emergency, which could bring an end to his order prohibiting the eviction of residents who can show “substantial loss of income” due to the pandemic. While the order has loopholes that landlords have been able to exploit, Losak said, removing it is still likely to tip many of the county’s tenants into crisis.
“We’re looking at thousands of evictions in Montgomery County alone,” he said.
Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, said state officials have yet to decide what to do with the evictions order.
Montgomery does not have a local state of emergency, but changes to the state’s order will have far-reaching implications for the suburb’s 1 million residents — especially those who have lost jobs or loved ones, said county council Vice President Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large).
“We’re certainly concerned,” he said, noting that the county’s most recent budget set aside significant chunks of money for rental assistance, food distribution and other social services. “We’re working on making all these investments now so we can catch as many families as we can.”
In Virginia, Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said the governor is lifting the state of emergency because, with nearly 70 percent of the adult population at least partially vaccinated, “covid-19 is no longer an immediate emergency in our commonwealth.”
Certain protections tied to the state of emergency will remain. The law that prevents eviction of tenants financially affected by the pandemic, for example, will stay in place through the end of August, Yarmosky said.
Bowser has said that even as the city lifts most of its masking requirements and gathering restrictions, the state of emergency is necessary because it allows her wider latitude to use federal funding to pay bills like the cost of coronavirus tests.
Her concerns echo those of other elected leaders across the country, notably California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who has been attacked by Republican opponents for keeping the state’s emergency declaration in place even as case rates in the state plummet. “Once a fire’s out, it doesn’t mean you remove the state of emergency,” he told reporters last week. “You’ve got debris removal. You’ve got recovery.”
“For health purposes, we don’t need the public health emergency anymore,” Bowser said Monday. “For administrative purposes, dealing with FEMA, we need it. . . . We will be looking for every available way to continue to receive our federal reimbursements but turn off the health emergency.”
Michael Brice-Saddler and Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.