Briefing for April 22-23, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for April 22-23, 2021 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 a daily news service summarizing relevant stories, which you can read below.

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Briefing for April 23, 2021

Most common challenge for community health centers has shifted from vaccine supply to staffing to meet demand: According to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation: “Community health centers are a national network of safety net primary care providers and are a major source of care for many low-income populations and people of color. They have partnered with state and local governments, and more recently, the federal government, to provide vaccines in their communities. Recent data show that health centers are less likely than in the past to report vaccine supply as the most common challenge in deploying the COVID-19 vaccines, while they are more likely to report staffing challenges. In January 2021, as many as two-thirds of health centers (67%) reported that vaccine supply was a challenge in administering the vaccine, but that number began steadily declining in late February. By early April, it had dropped to 21% of health centers. Meanwhile, staffing is a growing challenge and has become the most commonly reported problem among health centers, with nearly half (49%) of those surveyed citing it as a challenge. These trends likely indicate that many health centers are starting to operate at full capacity to meet the demand for vaccinations. Along with the increasing vaccine supply nationally, health centers’ vaccine supply has also been bolstered by the partnership with the Biden administration. As of early April, health centers had received more than 3.5 million doses through the federal vaccine program, in addition to allotments from state and local jurisdictions, which appear to make up the majority of doses administered by health centers so far.” 
Pandemic underlines the challenges for low-income tenants, who almost always face court proceedings without a lawyer and almost always lose: The Editorial Board of the Washington Post calls for cities and states to do more to provide legal representation for low-income tenants, noting the difference between Cleveland, which has a new ordinance providing legal assistance for low-income tenants facing eviction, and nearby Euclid, OH, which does not. “East 185th Street runs south from the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio, connecting Cleveland in the west with the small city of Euclid to the east. The road also demarcates an invisible legal boundary that for some may mean the difference between having a roof over their heads or not. Last summer, Cleveland enacted an ordinance providing court-appointed lawyers to certain low-income tenants fighting eviction cases that could cost them their homes, a burgeoning risk for people who have lost jobs in the pandemic. Euclid, like most other places, has no such law, meaning tenants are on their own — if they even bothered going to court. The odds are good for lawyered-up tenants in eviction cases — they can strike a deal, hammer out a payment plan, make counter-claims involving peeling paint, broken windows, mice. Impoverished tenants without lawyers, which is to say the vast majority in Euclid and elsewhere, are overwhelmingly out of luck. Some might land out on the street. Those unlawyered tenants, like millions of similarly luckless Americans struggling in legal proceedings to keep their cars, their assets, their children — or even, in domestic violence cases, to protect themselves from physical harm — face daunting odds in a justice system tilted badly against litigants without lawyers. Courts and judges give them short shrift. Legal forms are often confusing. And the patchwork of state laws requiring court-appointed attorneys, or not, gives millions little reason to hope they will prevail.” 
The fentanyl crisis has gotten worse during the pandemic  What do we do about it? Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks offers three suggestions for curbing the rash of drug overdoses — which grew from 70,630 in 2019 to 87,203 in 2020 according to the Centers for Disease Control, many of them from fentanyl. 

  1. “Establish mandatory national public service for all Americans when they turn 18 so that those who feel lost at that age can, instead, be made to feel useful and associate with peers and supervisors who will encourage and lead them.” 
  2. “Have the federal government fund the conversion of one prison in each state into a full-service drug treatment hospital for intensive residential therapy. 
  3. In Maryland, “Baltimore officials should pull from the dusty archives the plan for Community Court scrapped by the tough-on-crime Martin O’Malley after he became mayor in 1999. Get the state or a private foundation to fund the court’s location and startup staffing. The idea is to combine swift justice with an array of social services to help low-level repeat offenders break their cycle of crime and stay off the streets.” 

Not all Asian-Americans are being vaccinated at high rates  A Los Angeles clinic shows why: While state data show California’s Asian-American community being vaccinated at higher rates than that of Black, Latino and Native-American residents, the Los Angeles Times finds that the experience in a clinic in the city’s Chinatown area tells a different story. “We at one point had 3,000 individuals on our [vaccine] waitlist, and we only got a weekly allocation of 200 [doses],” said Jack Cheng, director of operations of the Chinatown Service Center, which has medical clinics in Chinatown and San Gabriel. That was too slow. “Watching the system and how it was initially rolled out, and seeing the vaccine chasers and all this other stuff, we kept thinking, ‘This isn’t working for our communities, and people are going to continue to die,’” said Sissy Trinh, founder and executive director of the Chinatown-based youth organization Southeast Asian Community Alliance. “We’re in the shadow of the largest testing and vaccination site in the country,” she added, referring to Dodger Stadium. “And yet none of the seniors are able to get there.” 

Why journalism must be considered infrastructure: The wrenching job losses and disruption American journalism has suffered for the better part of 20 years has only been worsened by the pandemic — a time when quality reporting was more crucial than at any time in recent American history. Writing for the Hill, Victor Pickard, professor of media policy and political economy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, where he co-directs the Media, Inequality & Change (MIC) Center, urges the Biden administration to include journalism in its upcoming infrastructure funding measure. “President Biden’s infrastructure bill has sparked debate over what qualifies. Is broadband infrastructure? Of course it is — and so are other key components of our information systems, especially local journalism. Local news serves our critical information needs, particularly regarding vital issues such as vaccines, elections, and public safety. The newspaper industry, still our primary source of original reporting, has lost well over 50% of its workforce since the early 2000s, leading to hundreds of closures and news deserts across the country. No longer commercially viable, local journalism’s devastation will only worsen in the coming months and years. Yet infrastructures must be maintained regardless of their profitability, and such glaring market failure should necessitate government intervention. Public goods, after all, require public investments. Unfortunately, we often take such democratic infrastructure for granted, leading to neglect and disinvestment over time.” 

The best way to lure people to public transit is to make it work: As cities look for ways to revitalize public transit systems devastated by the loss of ridership during the pandemic, Aaron Gordon suggests in a piece for Vice that riders don’t need gimmicks to be convinced to return; just simple competence. Gordon writes that a rash of recent stories citing calling for new thinking to restore public transit ridership, “encapsulate a systemic failing in American transportation that always prioritizes the language of innovation over the basics. And the basics are meeting people’s transportation needs, whether they are going to work, school, the store, the doctor, out to dinner, or any number of other reasons people travel. There is only one tried and true way to get more people to take transit more often, and it is to provide fast, frequent, and reliable service. If they can’t do that, nothing else matters. The language of ‘luring’ back riders is revealing in itself. It implies that agencies have to tempt people to take public transit with incentives or rewards other than the obvious, stated goal of getting people from A to B in a fast, comfortable, and safe manner.” 

Briefing for April 22, 2021

Poverty rate rose to pandemic high ahead of American Rescue Act: Bloomberg News reports that the U.S. poverty rate rose to 11.7% in March, “the highest level yet during the pandemic following an increase in the latter part of last year as many government benefits expired, a study showed. The March 2021 estimates indicate that without additional aid many in the U.S. continued to suffer from the economic impacts from COVID-19, according to research released Tuesday by economists Jeehoon Han, from Zhejiang University, Bruce Meyer, from the University of Chicago, and James Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame. The projections didn’t capture benefits provided by the American Rescue Plan signed last month. Their study showed that a decline in poverty levels through June last year can mostly be accounted for one-time stimulus checks issued at the beginning of the health crisis. The rates started rising again in the second part of 2020, particularly among Black people, children, and those with a high school education or less, the economists said. Overall, the poverty rate last month was 1.4 percentage points higher than in March 2020. The sharpest year-over-year increase was among white people, from 8.7% to 10.5%. The rate for Black people remains almost twice as high as that for whites, even after falling during the year.” 

Veterans hit by huge, pandemic-related records backlog: The Hill looks at the impact of the pandemic-prompted delays at the National Personnel Records Center, where “records requests, most of which require someone to physically search for documents within the building, have been piling up. Now, the backlog has grown to more than 499,000 requests, according to a spokesperson for the National Archives, which oversees the NPRC. The National Archives estimates that it will take 18 to 24 months to clear the backlog once the center is staffed at full capacity. The records are key to unlocking many kinds of veterans benefits, including health care, burial benefits, home loans, and COVID-19 vaccinations. ‘Overall, the situation at the center is pretty disappointing. Their plan to take 18 to 24 months to clear the backlog is unacceptable and means we’re not keeping the promises we made to our veterans,’ Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, who visited the records center this month, said in an interview. ‘This backlog is preventing veterans from gaining access to essential services, including education benefits, healthcare services, and COVID-19 vaccinations. Our veterans and their families deserve better. I urge the administration to use every available resource at its disposal to ensure all veterans have access to the services they have earned,’ Rep. Deborah K. Ross, D-N.C., said in an email.” 

As the nation fights COVID-19, strides against HIV-AIDS falter, especially in the South: From Kaiser Health News and NPR: “Facing a yearlong siege from the coronavirus, the defenses in another, older war are faltering. For the last two decades, HIV/AIDS has been held at bay by potent antiviral drugs, aggressive testing, and inventive public education campaigns. But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused profound disruptions in almost every aspect of that battle, grounding outreach teams, sharply curtailing testing, and diverting critical staff away from laboratories and medical centers. The exact impact of one pandemic on the other is still coming into focus, but preliminary evidence is disturbing experts who have celebrated the enormous strides in HIV treatment. While the shift in priorities is nationwide, delays in testing and treatment carry particularly grievous risks in Southern states, now the epicenter of the nation’s HIV crisis. ‘This is a major derailing,’ said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta and head of the Emory AIDS International Training and Research Program. ‘There will be damage. The question is, how much?’” 

Mother-daughter duo takes on period poverty: The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the challenges many at-risk communities already faced, and access to menstrual products is one challenge that has only gotten more difficult. In Philadelphia, Lynette Medley and her daughter, Nya McGlone, decided to try to make a difference. Using Medley’s nonprofit, No More Secrets: Mind, Body, Spirit, Inc. as a base, they created a hub for delivering menstrual products that is believed to be one of the nation’s first. Medley and McGlone helped give out 1.9 million menstrual products last year and hope their hub — called the SPOT (Safety Programming for Optimal Transformation) leads to a national focus on period poverty. Medley spoke recently with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Lagging vaccination rates among rural seniors hint at brewing rural-urban divide: Some rural communities have done well, with COVID-19 vaccination rates that equal or exceed urban communities in their states. But an NPR analysis of county-level vaccination data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows signs of an emerging rural-urban divide. When looking at vaccination rates of all adults 18 and older, rural counties appear to have largely kept pace with their urban counterparts, with rural rates on average landing within five percentage points of urban rates in most states. However, among people who are 65 years old or older, the gap between rural and urban counties is wider in most states. Urban counties’ vaccination rates outpace rural ones in all but seven states for which there’s complete data. In 17 states, urban rates exceed rural rates by five or more percentage points.

USDA extends universal free lunch through next school year: From the Washington Post: “The United States Department of Agriculture announced on Tuesday that it would extend universal free lunch through the 2021-2022 school year, in an effort to reach more of the estimated 12 million youths experiencing food insecurity. In March, the USDA said these waivers, which made school meals more flexible to administer, would be extended only to Sept. 30, leaving schools and families uncertain about what next school year might look like. Child nutrition program waivers, which aimed to cut through red tape to allow kids to eat free even outside normal meal times, were implemented at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when millions of families faced financial strain, hunger, and hardship. The waivers allowed schools and community organizations to adapt programs to better meet the needs of children and families.” 

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