Briefing for April 13-17, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for April 13-17, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

We are struck that one of the few certainties about the coronavirus outbreak is that low-income communities and workers in low-income, service sector occupations will be disproportionately impacted. Likely in devastating fashion.

One step in combatting this will be to share information about what is happening and what can be done.  That’s why we are offering this daily news service summarizing relevant stories, and a concise weekly summary alternative as well.  You can see it below.

If you would like to receive a daily or weekly briefing, feel free to subscribe here.

Briefing for April 17, 2020

Coronavirus pandemic could send poverty levels to historic levels: Researchers suggest the poverty rate may reach the highest levels in half a century, hitting African Americans and children hardest.

If the U.S. Postal Service fails, rural communities will be impacted the most: The USPS is a lifeline for many remote and Native-American communities.

Tracking the impact on communities of color: database put together by Solutions Journalism Network attempts to track statistics on the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on communities of color.

Unemployed workers in at least 29 states getting $600 increase in benefits: 
Jobless Americans in 29 states are now receiving bigger weekly unemployment checks, compliments of the federal government. Many states have now updated their computer systems to send out the additional $600 payment, which is part of the expansion of unemployment benefits that Congress included in its $2.2 billion CARES Act. New York, New Jersey and California were among those that did so over the past week or so. Some states, however, will take longer to start processing the extra cash, thanks to outdated computer technology, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said Wednesday. But the jobless won’t lose out because payments will be retroactive to as early as March 29. The unemployed can receive the enhanced payments — which are paid on top of regular state benefits — for up to four months, though the program ends July 31 at the latest.

Florida lags badly on unemployment claims: Only about 5 percent of Florida applicants for aid in the past month have actually received payments from the state. Of the 650,000 people who applied for unemployment benefits since March 15, about 33,600 have received payments, the Department of Economic Opportunity said Thursday.

Glitches hold up $1,200 checks for millions: Several million people who filed their taxes via H&R Block, TurboTax and other services were unable to get their payments because the IRS did not have their direct deposit information on file, according to the Treasury, companies and experts.

Small business relief fund runs out of cash: The $349 billion government program meant to keep small businesses afloat during the pandemic and economic meltdown ran out of money on Thursday — even as many small-business owners were desperately trying to apply for loans. Now they are trying to figure out how to keep their businesses alive while Congress negotiates the possible release of additional rescue funds.

Building the car while driving it: suggestions for reforming the Paycheck Protection Program: R. Glenn Hubbard and Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute suggest three reforms for the loan program for small businesses contained in the CARES Act:

  • The program should fund more non-payroll costs.
  •  Lenders should receive sufficient assurances that they will not be held responsible if borrowers misrepresent themselves.
  •  Congress should fund the program at a level commensurate with expected demand, so borrowers are not discouraged from applying.

How the coronavirus could create a new working class: Experts predict the outbreak will lead to a rise in populism. But will workers turn their rage toward corporate CEOs, or middle-class “elites”?

African-American pastors call for equal treatment of people of color in coronavirus response: Nearly a dozen African-American pastors from Philadelphia to Los Angeles issued a “moral appeal” to the Trump administration over the “alarming number of deaths” in black communities from COVID-19.

San Francisco looks to strengthen protections for grocery, delivery workers: An emergency ordinance intended to protect essential workers in San Francisco cleared its latest hurdle this week. If passed, it would put in place some of the strongest protections found anywhere in the country for employees at grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants and online delivery companies.  

‘The unspoken fear is that many of us will die alone in our cells’: A first-person account of life in prison during the pandemic from an inmate at an eastern New York correctional facility.

Escaped inmate says he fled a coronavirus ‘death sentence’: An inmate who fled a federal prison camp in Butner, N.C., and remains on the loose told the Raleigh News & Observer that he escaped because he feared death from coronavirus. “I take ownership of having to serve my time,” said Richard R. Cephas, who had been serving time on a drug conviction. “I signed up for a jail sentence, not a death sentence.”

Worrying about former clients in prison: Former public defender Sarah Lustbader writes in the New York Review of Books: “I hear every day from the family members of incarcerated people who are asking themselves the same thing I am now: How can I keep my family safe? But they have real reason to fear, far more than I do.”

Briefing for April 16, 2020

California’s undocumented workers to get $125 million in coronavirus relief: California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the state is partnering with philanthropic groups to provide disaster relief to undocumented immigrants affected by the coronavirus who have been left out of other pandemic assistance programs. Ten percent of California’s workforce is undocumented, Newsom said, and they are not eligible for unemployment insurance or aid through the federal stimulus package. The new $125 million Disaster Relief Fund will include $75 million in taxpayer funds and $50 million in philanthropic contributions to help undocumented workers affected by coronavirus secure a one-time payment of up to $500 per person or $1,000 per household.

Immigrants fear seeking out health care: Trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus has proven extremely challenging in Los Angeles, where public health officials, hospitals, and community clinics are grappling with millions of immigrant residents who may be too afraid to seek testing or care and are woefully unequipped by their economic circumstances to comply with orders to self-quarantine.

College students see uncertain future: Three in four college students who secured internships or post-graduate work have seen those plans thrown into flux by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new College Reaction poll.Half of those students say their plans have been cancelled, while the other half say they’ve been delayed or made remote. Other findings from the poll, as reported in Axios:

  • 90% say they are concerned about the U.S. economy and the job market.
  • 51% say they are experiencing mental health distress, with 15% reporting that they feel a great deal of it. Female respondents were nearly three times as likely as male respondents to report severe mental health distress.
  • 67% say they are concerned about the effect of social isolation.

Small business loans nearly depleted: The small business rescue set up by Congress to avert massive layoffs is set to exhaust its $350 billion funding capacity, top lawmakers say, as Congress remains in a stalemate over how to allocate more money for the popular loan program.

Labor Department reports 5.2 million jobless claims: Americans filed 5.2 million jobless claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, pushing the four-week total to over 22 million.

The Americans left out of the stimulus package: Michael Tubbs, mayor of Stockton, Calif., and Sukhi Samra, the director of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, write about the black and brown Americans, many of them in deep poverty, having difficulty accessing the benefits of the CARES Act, if they qualify at all.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 for Americans of color: Connor Maxwell and Danyelle Solomon of the Center for American Progress recommend steps that federal, state, and local lawmakers can take to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic and ensure that people of color are protected:

  • Expand access to unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Ensure that low-income individuals can access free COVID-19 testing and treatment.
  • Send additional cash and financial assistance directly to households.
  • Provide targeted assistance to minority-owned businesses. 
  • Prohibit evictions and foreclosures. 
  • Ease the burden of student loan debt. 
  • Strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Suspend negative credit reporting. 
  • Enact and fully enforce employment discrimination statutes.

Survey highlights racial disparities of pandemic: A Pew Research Center survey conducted this month among 4,917 U.S. adults found that 27% of black people personally knew someone who was hospitalized with or died from COVID-19, compared to just 1 in 10 white and Hispanic people. The survey asked people how concerned they were about contracting coronavirus; of those polled, 24% say they are very concerned about getting the virus. Of that group, one-third had lower incomes, versus just 17% classified as upper-income. Of that very concerned population, 43% were Hispanic, 31% black and 18% white. 

Bold action on child care: Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute calls for Congress to authorize $25 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant to pay all child care providers in the country the equivalent of 12 weeks of care for each child enrolled in their services before the pandemic started. 

More funds for community health centers: Henry N. Tuttle, president and chief executive officer of Health Center Partners of Southern California, writes in the Times of San Diego that community health centers “could lose more than $100 million collectively over the next three months and may not survive. Yet they are exactly the organizations we want open and fully staffed today, to brace for what’s to come. I urge Congress to act now, and for Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to immediately allocate $7 billion of the $100 billion made available to healthcare providers in the CARES Act directly to community health centers.”

COVID-19 cases at D.C. Whole Foods underlines risks for grocery workers: The Whole Foods near Washington’s Logan Circle told employees on Wednesday that a worker had contracted the virus, one of at least six, but that the store would not close, according to a report by WUSA, a local CBS-affiliated station. Instead, managers would order a deep cleaning with workers staying on the job, according to an email sent to employees that was obtained by the station. An employee at the store, who declined to be identified, passed a note to a New York Times photographer there on Tuesday alleging that 16 employees at the location were confirmed to be infected.

‘I’m terrified’: A portrait of a night cleaner of hospitals in Denver: “So many companies have fired their employees as a result of the crisis. Now, they have no one to do their janitorial work, so they’re turning to contracted companies. It’s created a kind of black market in cleaning work. They get jobs to sanitize school cafeterias, grocery stores, hospitals, and courthouses, and they send out texts and gather up a crew and pay us $10 an hour in cash.” 

Briefing for April 15, 2020

Why supporting renters during the pandemic is crucial: When tenants can’t pay their rents, they aren’t the only ones facing financial instability. Most landlords, especially smaller owners, operate on tight margins and can’t sustain a massive drop-off in rent payments for long. They could risk defaulting on their mortgages, missing insurance payments, or failing to pay city taxes—which, in turn, could destabilize the broader community.

College students face daunting challenges: Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, many college students struggled to balance school with work and the need to keep a roof over their heads and food on their plates. Now they find themselves in an impossible situation.

Americans see unequal levels of risk from coronavirus: The fifth week of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index found that 57% of Americans still working out in the world report that they feel doing their job is a moderate or large risk to their health. Of those working from home, only 13% say the same.

Two new pieces from Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity:

The South could take huge coronavirus hit: 
It looks increasingly likely that the South will endure more death and economic loss from COVID-19 than any other region in the country. Southern poverty rates are high, social welfare programs spotty and health care infrastructure threadbare. Last year, 120 rural U.S. hospitals closed their doors; 75 of them were in the South. And emerging data from some cities and states shows that black people — more than half of whom live in the South — are contracting and dying from the virus at a disproportionately high rate.

Top evangelicals urge release of some detainees: Nine leaders at evangelical Christian organizations urged the Trump administration to release people from immigration detention facilities “who do not pose a threat to public safety” during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly those who are elderly or otherwise at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

Out of prison with nowhere to go: As states grant early release to slow the spread of COVID-19, many people are leaving incarceration broke and without re-entry support.

Meals for NYC healthcare workers: Bloomberg Philanthropies and World Central Kitchen announced a partnership to provide fresh daily meals for the 30,000 healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic at NYC Health + Hospitals’ 11 acute care hospitals and five post-acute long-term care facilities across the city’s five boroughs.

In a pandemic, we’re all dependent on public transportation: Now more than ever, public transportation is not just about ridership. Buses, trains, and subways make urban civilization possible.

How to get your stimulus check: Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan has put together a helpful guide for navigating the bureaucracy of the CARES Act to access individual stimulus checks.

Ten things to know about the CARES Act: Despite wide news coverage about these payments, many have questions about who’s eligible and how to receive the payments. Here’s ten things to know about these payments from the Center for Law and Social Policy.

For black and brown businesses, the next relief bill is crucial: From an op-ed in Newsweek: “The failure to provide emergency relief to entrepreneurs in our communities (of color) will lead to economic insecurity at a scale that could trigger the extinction of black and brown businesses for generations. This next tranche of federal relief is more than an opportunity to get it right. For communities of color, it could very well be life-saving.” 

What is needed in the next relief bill: Experts weigh in on what was left out or underfunded in the $2 trillion COVID-19 economic support package and what they think needs to be prioritized in any future legislation.

Seniors in continuing care communities struggle with sheltering in place: Across the country, seniors’ lives are being upended as continuing care retirement communities take aggressive steps to protect residents from COVID-19

Many hotels sit vacant – but residents don’t want them used to house the homeless: As the coronavirus spreads among the homeless in San Francisco and New York, advocates are trying to prevent outbreaks in smaller cities by moving people out of crowded shelters. But they are running into resistance.

The farmworkers risking their lives to keep the food supply going: “We’re trying not to get exposed,  but we don’t have the ability to stop working.”

Briefing for April 14, 2020

Digital divide has increased during pandemic: A new study by M-Lab shows that in late March, most people in 62% of counties across the U.S. did not have the government’s minimum download speed for broadband internet. Between February and mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was only just beginning to hit, there was a 10% increase in how many counties saw download speeds fall below the government standard, representing about one in 10 US counties, M-Lab found.

Child care in the time of coronavirus: A new survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult finds that child care in the United States is still necessary for parents to work, even amidst changing work environments. But child care is difficult to find and in many circumstances, closed indefinitely. Top findings from the survey:

  • 63% said they or someone in their household is now working either remotely or at home.
  • Only 14% represented a household where nobody has yet experienced a change in their work situation.
  • 43% of those working remotely said they currently need child care. 
  • 49% of those working in-person need formal child care amidst COVID-19.  
  • Only 8% saw no change in their previous child care provider’s availability. 
  • Of parents currently working in-person, just 32% had someone in their household able to care for their child(ren). 

At least 19 children have tested positive for COVID-19 at a Chicago shelter for immigrant detainees: A coronavirus outbreak at a Heartland Alliance facility on Chicago’s South Side may be the largest outbreak of the virus in any shelter for immigrant youth in the country. At least 19 children and two staff have tested positive.

‘It’s a time bomb’: As of Sunday, 23 residents of New York City homeless shelters had died from COVID-19-related illnesses in hospitals, among them 14 men and two women from assessment centers and shelters for single adults where multiple, unrelated people share rooms, according to the city’s Department of Homeless Services.

Public officials prod administration for minority data: Former officials say the administration should adapt an Obama-era program using Medicare data to track viral infections by race, ethnicity and gender.

Quick response depletes Goldman Sachs $10 million loan fund in Rhode Island: Goldman Sachs and Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced Monday morning that the financial giant would provide $10 million to help small businesses and non-profits in Rhode Island stay afloat. Within hours, Rhode Island’s Commerce Department had announced that all $10 million had been spoken for, and no more applications would be taken.

Keeping debt collectors away from stimulus payments: There is bipartisan support for having banks treat $1,200 individual payments from the CARES Act like Social Security payments, so debt collectors can’t access them. “Banks automatically know not to let collectors grab that money,” says the National Consumer Law Center’s Lauren Saunders. “We are trying to get these stimulus payments coded in the exact same way, because they are intended for food and basic necessities, just like Social Security payments.”

Desperate food banks could get extra help from new proposal: Food banks in desperate need of donations could get some extra help from farmers who are seeing thousands of tons of food go to waste in a shutdown economy thanks to a new proposal designed to help provide relief for both during the coronavirus pandemic. The American Farm Bureau, which represents American agriculture producers, and Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries nationwide, have teamed up to call on government officials to help connect farmers with food banks.

The incredible strain on food banks: Panic shopping and hoarding have led to supply shortages. Volunteers frightened of the coronavirus have stopped showing up. And a newly jobless population has sent demand soaring.

Coronavirus has broken America’s food supply: Because commercial and consumer supply chains are different and cannot easily be transferred, enormous amounts of food are going to waste—and it could get worse.

How Native Americans are fighting a food crisis: As the coronavirus limits access to food, many Native Americans are relying on customs, like seed saving and canning, that helped their forebears survive hard times.

Small farms move to ‘survival mode’: Farmers can’t keep up with surging demand for local produce, but they’re still struggling to replace lost revenue.

Federal resource guide for rural Americans: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set up a resource matrix that lists funding opportunities identified in the CARES Act and other federal resources that can help support rural America. Opportunities are categorized by customer and assistance type.

The high price of keeping Detroit moving: Most mayors have deemed transit workers essential to the continued health and safety of their cities. This was especially true in Detroit, where about 25 percent of residents depend solely on public buses. Transit workers say they’re being put unfairly at risk.

Floridians can use food stamp benefits online: Florida became the latest state to get a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to purchase items online.

What the CARES Act means for faith-based employers: The Center for Public Justice will have a webinar on Friday to explore what CARES Act changes to unemployment insurance could mean for faith-based employers and workers.

Briefing for April 13, 2020

IRS portal for those who don’t file a tax return: The Internal Revenue Service has set up a site to help those who qualify for individual payments from the CARES Act but have not filed a tax return and provided the IRS with bank account information. Information needed to apply:

  • Full name, current mailing address and an email address
  • Date of birth and valid Social Security number
  • Bank account number, type and routing number, if you have one
  • Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) you received from the IRS earlier this year, if you have one
  • Driver’s license or state-issued ID, if you have one
  • For each qualifying child: name, Social Security number or Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number and their relationship to you or your spouse

Self-employed workers stuck waiting for help: Some Americans are beginning to see increased unemployment benefits, but it will likely be a few more weeks before independent contractors and gig workers start receiving checks – and some may end up not qualifying at all.

Cancelled graduations and ceremonies hit first-generation students hard: There’s growing anger, shock and grief hitting high school and college seniors across the country in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. As the number of coronavirus cases increases day by day, the list of universities and school districts canceling milestones like graduation and prom grows longer. 

Low-income students are still looking for federal help: The pandemic has left college students from low-income families facing further financial insecurity, threatening not just their educations but also their ability to meet basic needs. And the federal government’s $2 trillion aid package offers little hope for direct help, because students whose parents claim them as dependents on their taxes don’t qualify for relief checks.

Education officials look for ways to help homebound students catch up: Only weeks after the pandemic forced schools online, education leaders across the country have concluded that millions of children’s learning will be severely stunted and are planning unprecedented steps to help them catch up.

It feels like a war zone’: At least 41 grocery workers have died from the coronavirus and thousands have tested positive.

COVID-19 dangers in meat processing plants: The coronavirus pandemic has reached the processing plants where workers typically stand elbow-to-elbow to do the low-wage work of cutting, deboning and packing the chicken and beef that Americans savor. Some plants have offered financial incentives to keep them on the job, but the virus’s swift spread is causing illness and forcing plants to close. Over the weekend, one of the nation’s largest pork processing plants closed until further notice.

Virus wreaks havoc on NYC public housing: As the coronavirus sweeps through the roughly 174,000 apartments overseen by the New York City Housing Authority, it is threatening the economic picture of an agency just starting to find its fiscal footing and exacerbating inequalities that have long plagued low-income communities.

Help for veterans: The Wounded Warrior Project is donating $10 million to help veterans impacted by the pandemic.

Two Pandemics: From the Atlantic: “In the coming months and years, there will really be two pandemics in America. One will be disruptive and frightening to its victims, but thanks to their existing advantages and lucky near misses with the virus, they will likely emerge from it relatively stable—physically, psychologically, and financially. The other pandemic, though, will devastate those who survive it, leaving lasting scars and altering life courses.”

The coronavirus class divide: “Shelter in place” is a dictate that assumes the existence of shelter — the safe, stable, controlled environment that poor people often lack.

The South’s health care infrastructure is being gutted: Since the first week of March, at least three rural hospitals in the South have closed or will soon close: in Pickens County, Ala.; Decatur County, Tenn.; and in Ashland, Ky. Rural hospitals were already in crisis even before the pandemic struck, with 170 closing nationwide over the past 15 years and 19 in the last year alone, according to the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina.

Administration hits pause on tougher food stamp work requirements: Under heavy criticism for pressing for food stamp cuts during an economic meltdown, the Trump administration now says it will hold off during the national emergency.

‘We just can’t feed that many’: A San Antonio food bank served more than 10,000 households late last week.

Isolation in rural America: With libraries and public spaces closed, people without internet access are being left behind.

Drive-up wireless in Albuquerque: City officials announced a new program to provide free internet access at 80 new hotspots around Albuquerque including sites at meal distribution locations and public schools.

Older homeless Americans face particular dangers: People age 50 and over now comprise approximately one-third of homeless Americans. With higher rates of age-related disease and an increased mortality rate, this group already lacks access to quality care and suffers from disparities and negative biases in the medical ecosystem

Four reasons coronavirus is hitting black communities so hard: Majority black counties have three times the rate of infections and nearly six times the rate of deaths as majority white counties, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Racial profiling fears: Two black men say they were kicked out of Walmart for wearing protective masks. Others worry it will happen to them.

The voice of Philadelphia’s black community: Philadelphia’s historic WURD radio is offering centralized COVID-19 resources for the city’s hard-hit African-American community.

COVID-19 and the unfunded ‘Black Belt’ commission: As it becomes more and more clear that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting African Americans, the coronavirus outbreak calls attention to a federal commission created to create opportunity for the Black Belt region across the rural South. The Southeast Crescent Regional Commission (SCRC), created in 2008 to provide economic development assistance to seven Black Belt states, has been authorized to receive $30 million to $33 million annually but was never appropriated more than $250,000 in a year.

Louisiana launches Coronavirus Health Equity Task Force: Gov. John Bel Edwards said the new task force’s immediate assignment is to “make sure communities with health disparities are blanketed with good information on COVID-19 safety and prevention; provide the medical community with best practices and protocols for treating communities with underlying medical conditions and health disparities; and ensure testing availability and ease of access for all communities.”

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