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Eviction protections expired Sunday for

millions of Americans who could be left homeless in a matter of days

, triggering efforts to unlock billions in stalled rental assistance.

The tenants had been

protected from eviction for nearly a year

as part of a government moratorium aimed at keeping people in their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But

lawmakers have not extended those

expiring

protections

, while just $ 3 billion in aid has reached Americans' homes out of the $ 25 billion allocated to states and localities in early February.

"We should be compassionate. We should help. And if that money is there, we should use it for its intended purpose," Democratic Sen.

Joe Manchin

said on

CNN's "State of the Union" program.

In some states, more than a quarter of renters are behind on their rent, according to the

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank

.

The southern states are among the worst affected.

Nationally,

about 16% of American households owe rent

, roughly double the amount that was in debt before the pandemic.

The protections expired at midnight Saturday, two days after the White House announced that it could not legally renew the moratorium.

Republicans opposed Democratic efforts to extend the freeze until mid-October, and the House of Representatives suspended its sessions for the summer break on Friday without renewing it.

Democratic Congresswoman

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

blamed President Joe Biden's administration for waiting until the last minute to ask Congress to act.

He added that it is unfair to expel people when billions of dollars in aid have not been used (Congress has approved a total of 46,000 million dollars) and called for an immediate vote to extend the moratorium.

"We cannot kick people out of their homes when our end of the deal has not been fulfilled

,

" he

told CNN.

Unlike other pandemic-related aid that was distributed from Washington, in this case states, counties and cities were responsible for creating programs to distribute assistance to tenants.

The eviction moratorium and other protections

prevented about 2.2 million eviction requests from being completed

since March 2020, said Peter Hepburn, a researcher at the Princeton University Eviction Laboratory.

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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