Briefing for April 26-30, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for April 26-30, 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.

If you would like to receive a daily briefing, feel free to email to subscribe.

Briefing for April 30, 2021

Some kids never logged on to online school – now what? Politico reports that after Connecticut became the first state to guarantee a laptop to every elementary and high school student who needs one, the digital divide did not magically disappear. “Thousands of Connecticut’s students did not log onto remote classes, even after the state allotted tens of millions of federal aid dollars for its ambitious remote learning program. Many families didn’t take advantage of subsidized internet. It’s still not clear how many students originally needed connections, the state’s education technology director said, nor is it certain how many children are still disconnected from remote learning today. “We have this misconception that ‘if you build it, they will come,’” said Doug Casey, the executive director of the Connecticut Commission for Educational Technology. “The big takeaway for us,” Casey said, “is that there is a lot more to all this remote and blended learning than simply a connection and a device. That’s table stakes. That does not get you to success any more than every kid getting a textbook ensures they all get A’s.” 

The educational equity crisis and the road ahead: Writing for the Brown Center Chalkboard at the Brookings Institution, Heather J. Hough, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, acknowledges the depths of the education crisis prompted by the pandemic but also says recovery is possible. “We can begin by nurturing student social and emotional well-being to support academic progress.But we must also go further to reimagine the very systems in which students learn. By redesigning schools to be restorative places—places where students feel safe, known, supported, and fully engaged in learning—we can lay the groundwork for long-term and systemic transformation. Such a system should prioritize relationships between families, students, and educators, address whole-child needs, strengthen staffing and partnerships between schools and community partners, and empower teams to rebuild and reimagine systems. This transformation must happen in every school and district in the country, and especially in those serving low-income students and students of color who have for too long been ignored. The new one-time federal funding for these efforts is critical, but local, state, and federal leaders should be planning now to improve and expand overall school funding in a way that provides sufficient funding for education systems and ensures the equitable distribution of funding to those schools and districts serving students with the highest levels of need. The old adage goes, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inequities in our society and in our schools, but the disruption in the status quo presents an opportunity to reimagine and rebuild our educational systems to better serve America’s students.” 

Advocates detail ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence against women: From the Associated Press: “Cases of domestic violence against Indigenous women and children and instances of sexual assault increased over the past year as nonprofit groups and social workers scrambled to meet the added challenges that stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic, advocates said Tuesday. Their testimony came in the opening session of a two-day summit focused on ending violence against Indigenous women and children. Native American leaders from pueblos throughout New Mexico and from the Navajo Nation gathered virtually for the event. The victim advocates who shared their stories pointed to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that were instituted in the early months of the pandemic. Many domestic violence victims were stuck at home with their abusers, believing there was nowhere else to turn while advocates themselves faced challenges getting to work and finding new ways to connect with victims and share information about resources.” 

State and local decisions crucial to success of American Rescue Plan: As reactions to President Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress continued to come in, Robert Gordon, senior counselor for Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, and Michelle Jolin, CEO of Results for America, wrote for the New York Times that spending decisions by state and local officials will be crucial to the overall success of the stimulus. “Even passionate and seasoned officials and their staffs have had little time to consider anything beyond the immediate crisis. While they fend off padded proposals from vendors, the normal political process churns toward what policy wonks call the “peanut butter spread” problem — in other words, giving everyone something, yet falling short of lasting change. There are ways to avoid that. Based on decades of experience with every level of government, we would organize efforts around five principles. First, target a few big goals, to narrow and galvanize efforts. Second, fund initiatives with strong evidence of large long-term returns. Third, use these one-time funds in ways that are themselves one-time, or have a path to sustainability. Fourth, address racial and economic inequity, delivering for those left furthest behind. Finally, measure success. Putting these principles into action, we’d focus on serving the children who have suffered most from the pandemic. School closures, parents’ job losses and social isolation have set back children in ways we are only starting to understand.” 

Why New York’s homeless rate skyrocketed for single adults but dropped for families during the pandemic: CBS News looks at a new report that shows the rate of homeless, single adults in New York City reached record levels during the pandemic, while the number of homeless families declined. “Experts say the trend is tied to short-term pandemic relief, like eviction moratoriums, but is likely not sustainable. An all-time high of 20,822 single adults slept in New York City shelters each night in February, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless. Meanwhile, the data shows the number of homeless families sleeping in city shelters dropped by nearly 2,500 between February 2020 and February 2021. That decline is mostly due to the state’s eviction moratorium, according to Giselle Roither, a policy director for the organization. New York’s eviction moratorium is set to expire May 1, although state lawmakers have signaled a willingness to keep it through the end of August. Up to an estimated 1.2 million people in New York are at risk of eviction in the state, according to a database kept by consulting firm Stout.”

Briefing for April 29, 2021

Calling for big government, Biden bets on a nation tested by crisis: Jim Tankersley of the New York Times frames President Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night: “President Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda might have seemed unthinkable as the United States was emerging from its last recession, when austerity politics still ruled the Capitol and even a Democratic president was reluctant to push huge tax increases on corporations and the rich. But Mr. Biden has a significant chance of signing at least a large chunk of his plans into law this year, partly because of a pandemic that reminded many Americans that big government could deliver money to help sustain them and speed efforts to end the crisis. What the president is promising from the government in the years to come is a long list of tangible improvements in Americans’ daily lives: smoother roads, cheaper child care, cleaner and more reliable electricity, more years of free schooling for toddlers and young adults, paid leave for workers whose lives are upended by illness and faster internet service in rural areas and elsewhere.” Key details of Biden’s proposal:

  • $225 billion focused on expanding child care and making it more affordable for working families 
  • $200 billion for free, universal pre-school for all 3- and 4-year-olds 
  • $109 billion to cover two free years of community college 
  • $225 billion over a decade towards establishing paid family and medical leave 
  • $45 billion towards nutrition program 
  • Extending the expansion of the Child Tax Credit until 2025 and making it permanently refundable.

Praise for Biden’s focus on kids: Columnist Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post is one of many analysts praising President Biden’s focus on children in the American Families Plan, particularly his proposals to make child care more affordable and an extension of the expansion of the Child and Dependent Tax Credit. “America has learned a lot of hard lessons this past year. Among them: how fragile the country’s child-care infrastructure is and how much of the rest of the economy shuts down when it fails. As schools went virtual and child-care facilities closed because of the pandemic, parents — particularly mothers — left the workforce in droves. The Biden administration appears to be taking these lessons to heart. As part of its “American Families Plan,” which costs an estimated $1.8 trillion over a decade, the White House is proposing at least two major expansions of the child-care system. They are intended to improve access and affordability to high-quality care in the near term and to make the entire system more resilient over the long term, should the country again face severe shocks such as those of 2020.” 

Community health centers to get $1 billion to become state-of-the art facilities: From USA Today: “Hundreds of community health centers across the country can begin applying for a share of $1 billion in new funding for major construction and renovation projects, the Biden administration announced Tuesday.  The Department of Health and Human Services, which provided the information first to USA TODAY, said the money will help meet President Joe Biden’s goal of improving equity in battling COVID-19 and in providing health care services generally. The nation’s nearly 1,400 federally funded health centers largely benefit underserved communities, such as the poor, minorities and people living in rural areas. Those centers already received more than $6 billion from the federal government to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, coronavirus testing and treatment for vulnerable populations. Both types of funding were included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package approved in March.” 

Building a social movement for mental health: America faced a mental health crisis before the coronavirus hit last year, and the stress and anxiety of the pandemic have only made that crisis worse, with low-income and at-risk communities often bearing a disproportionate brunt. A new mental health awareness organization, Inseparable, hopes to tap into that shared experience with a focus on rebranding mental health as intrinsically linked to physical health. Inseparable was founded by Bill Smith, a former political operative who worked with GOP consultant and former White House (George W. Bush) Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove before working in the marriage equality movement and helping found Civitas Public Affairs Group. Smith founded Inseparable after his own family’s experience with mental health struggles. Smith spoke recently to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

How a Seattle neighborhood tackled food insecurity during the pandemic: Solutions Journalism Network shares this story about how Seattle’s South Park neighborhood has turned an initially chaotic mutual aid response into a long-term, replicable system. “Over the past year, more than 20 food supply organizations have contributed in one form or another to providing hot meals to residents through the community center. Neighborhood sharing tables that went up just before the governor’s order have expanded; some have been converted into sharing sheds and some have adjacent refrigerators. These pantries supply everything from pre-made sandwiches to socks, sourced not only from the broad network of organizations, but also from South Park residents themselves, who have helped contribute $20,000 (so far) to keep them stocked. Local fundraising efforts to help South Park residents pay their bills and stay in their homes have also grown, along with the need, says Lashanna Williams, an active South Park resident . . . “South Park represents this idea of solidarity, not charity,” said Jessica Gasperini, a longtime South Park resident who operates one of the five sharing stations, with an adjacent community refrigerator. “It’s not about, you know, sitting in a position of power or privilege and doling out charitable deeds and goods,” says Gasperini. “It’s really about togetherness and locking arms and making sure that we all survive.” 

The last mile for the stimulus: The Daily Yonder republishes an essay by Tom Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, that looks at some of the reasons why COVID relief funds have still not made it to some at-risk communities. “In the past year or so, Congress has passed the largest stimulus bill in American history — twice. Almost $6 trillion has been allocated in response to Covid-19 to date, and at least $3.7 trillion has been disbursed or committed. These have been critical investments to help small businesses and unemployed workers get to the other side of this crisis.  Despite this funding, we still hear from many people across our district [Federal Reserve’s Fifth District, which covers South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, D.C., West Virginia, and Maryland] that they are struggling to pay the rent, feed their families, and stay connected to work and school — even though these are areas Congress has targeted . . . . What is standing between the trillions of dollars in support and the people who need it? Talking with community leaders throughout our district, we’ve heard four key themes. Whether communities are working to provide short-time emergency aid (such as housing assistance) or long-term infrastructure (such as broadband), delivering the “last mile” requires awareness, capacity, simplification and alignment.”

Briefing for April 28, 2021

Administration advances emergency COVID workplace rules after weeks of delay: Politico reports: “The Biden administration is advancing emergency workplace safety rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus after weeks of delay and growing pressure from Democrats and safety advocates. The Labor Department sent the safety standards to the Office of Management and Budget for review Monday night, according to a DOL spokesperson, the first step before they are released publicly and go into effect. “OSHA has been working diligently on its proposal and has taken the appropriate time to work with its science-agency partners, economic agencies, and others in the U.S. government to get this proposed emergency standard right,” the spokesperson said. Shortly after taking office, President Biden gave the Labor Department a March 15 deadline to decide whether mandatory workplaces safety rules were necessary to protect workers from COVID-19. But after the deadline passed, the agency said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh requested additional layers of review of the rules “based on CDC analysis and the latest information regarding the state of vaccinations and the variants.” 

Did PPP loans work? $800 billion later, we still don’t know: NPR focuses on Paycheck Protection Program recipient Andrew Leckie in Washington state, whose restaurant and catering business was saved by the infusion of federal funds. “But despite plenty of success stories like Leckie’s, there’s little consensus on how many paychecks it actually protected, a question that lingers as the PPP is due to wind down in coming weeks after it depletes all of its available funds. The program, after several extensions passed by Congress, guaranteed more than 10 million loans to small businesses during the pandemic at a cost of more than $770 billion so far. The Small Business Administration oversaw the program, and initial demand was overwhelming. The first $350 billion Congress set aside for loans was snapped up in less than two weeks. But it was hit by controversies from the start. People were outraged when wealthy and well-connected outfits like the burger chain Shake Shack and the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team got loans, while others were left on the sidelines. Some big borrowers were shamed into giving the money back. “The scale of this program is so beyond anything the Small Business Administration has had to run previously, it’s mind-blowing,” says Sean Moulton of the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.  “How well did it work? I don’t think anyone has a good answer to that question,” he adds.” 

Paid leave could be Biden’s next major push: As President Biden prepare to give an address tonight to a joint session of Congress, Edward-Isaac Dovere of the Atlantic reports that passing a paid leave bill will be a major priority for the administration. “Congress has never done much to help Americans who aren’t in the House or Senate take paid leave either. But action is coming, Richie Neal promised me. As the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Massachusetts Democrat is one of the most powerful people on Capitol Hill. When congressional leaders met with Biden in the Oval Office at the beginning of February, Neal told the president that whatever the White House’s plans might be, he would include paid leave in upcoming legislation. “And I’m going to be with you,” Neal said Biden told him. (The president and his aides have publicly remained cagey about his plans.) Last week, Neal held a Zoom hearing on caregiving, enabling women from all over the country to testify, and today he’s releasing a paid-leave proposal he’s hoping Biden will support. “There’s a rhythm to legislative life, and the pandemic has been so gripping that now is the time to do it, while the memories are fresh,” Neal told me last week. He ticked through the statistics about the number of people who are unemployed or have left the workforce, about how many women have been forced to choose between their job and child care. “You could actually meld this need, and treat it simultaneously as a good long-term investment in worker productivity and address a real, pressing social need,” Neal said.” On Tuesday, Neal released what he’s calling the Building an Economy for Families Act, which would create a new entitlement of 12 weeks’ leave through a public program administered by the Treasury Department, existing comprehensive state paid-leave programs, or employers providing high-quality benefits. The White House released details of the $1.8 trillion American Family Plan Wednesday morning, including a proposed $225 billion for a paid family and medical leave plan, $800 billion to permanently extendthe one-year tax cuts under the American Rescue Plan, including an expansions of the Child Tax Credit, and $200 billion for universal preschool for all three and four-year-old children. 

Pandemic imperiled non-English speakers more than others: Kaiser Health News and WBUR report: “Hospitals across the country have reported more hospitalizations and deaths of Black and Latino patients than of whites. Black and Brown patients may be more susceptible because they are more likely to have a chronic illness that increases the risk of serious covid. But when the Brigham (and Women’s Hospital in Boston) team compared Black and Brown patients with white patients who had similar chronic illnesses, they found no difference in the risk of death from COVID. But a difference did emerge for Latino patients who don’t speak English. That sobering realization helped them home in on a specific health disparity, think about some possible solutions and begin a commitment to change. “That’s the future,” said Dr. Karthik Sivashanker, Brigham’s former medical director for quality, safety and equity. 

West Virginia gives people under 35 $100 savings bonds for being vaccinated: West Virginia will give $100 savings bonds to residents ages 16 to 35 who get vaccinated against COVID, Gov. Jim Justice announced earlier this week, as reported by CNN. “Every single one of our young people — we’re going to give a $100 savings bond to every single one that steps up and takes their vaccines,” Justice, a Republican, said at a news conference. About 52% of the state’s 1.5 million eligible residents have received at least one dose, according to the governor. If at least 275,000 of younger West Virginians get vaccinated, it will increase the state’s total to more than 70%. Early in the year, West Virginia led the nation in terms of getting shots in arms. Now the state’s vaccination rate is on par with the rate across the country. About 54% of people 18 or older in the US have gotten at least one dose and 37% of them arefully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Briefing for April 27, 2021

UBI projects abound during pandemic, but questions remain for some: The Washington Post focuses on Stockton, CA as an example of the growing number of cities around the country – and the world – experimenting with universal basic income policies. “Three years — and one pandemic — later, the Stockton experience offers lessons on the promises of the policy and its limitations. The idea of a universal basic income — that every citizen receives a regular, unconditional cash payment from the government — is gaining traction worldwide, including in the United States, where it is buoyed in part by the federal stimulus measures that are credited with softening the blow of the economic crisis of 2020. On the local level, the concept of a basic income is being explored in more than 40 cities, such as St. Paul, Minn.; Gary, Ind.; and Atlanta, with more than a dozen pursuing pilot programs. For the Stockton participants, the program appears to have been a success. A recent study by researchers who helped design the program found that full-time employment levels increased among the group of people who received the money. Mental and emotional health improved as well, the researchers found. But the program was just a shadow of what UBI proponents, such as former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, believe is possible.It was not universal: Only 125 people participated, and it did not offer a full income, but rather $500 per month in cash. The program ended without a replacement. And (former Stockton Mayor Michael) Tubbs, who earned so many plaudits for the effort, was voted out of office in November, losing by more than 10 points to a Republican amid criticism of how he managed larger issues in the city, such as homelessness and crime.” 

Vaccine hesitancy remains high among essential workers: From Axios: “Essential workers who are not in health care are less likely to want a vaccine than the rest of the general public, according to new figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation . . . According to the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, more than 20% of essential workers who don’t work in health care settings say they will definitely not get the vaccine, compared to 7% of non-essential workers. Nearly half (48%) of essential workers not in health care settings have either already gotten the vaccine or will get it as soon as possible. And 22% said they’d get a vaccine if their job gave them $200. Nearly 20% said $50 would be enough to convince them, and another 23% would get the vaccine if their employer arranged for a medical provider to come to their work to administer the vaccine.” 

A new benefit raises an old question: Which mothers should work? The New York Times reframes the perennial debate about which American mothers deserve financial debate within the context of the expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which will go to all but the wealthiest families. “The simplicity of the plan cuts through old ideas of who’s deserving, “narratives that we know are grounded in stereotypes and moral measuring sticks,” said Celeste Watkins-Hayes, a sociologist at the University of Michigan. Instead, the proposal “just makes sure parents have the resources they need to raise their families.” Yet the thing that makes the Biden child credit so revolutionary, its universality, is also what makes it controversial. Policymakers disagree on whether all families merit direct financial assistance from the government, or whether it should be reserved for parents — including single mothers — who work for pay. The debate over time has not been about whether mothers should work or stay home with their children, but which mothers should work or stay home. The answer, in American policies, has long depended on characteristics like their income, family structure and, especially, race, researchers said.” 

CTC expansion should be made permanent: Writing for USA TodayDeepak Bhargava, former president of Community Change, and Dorian Warren, co-president of Community Change, applaud the Biden administration’s increase of the Child Tax Credit but say more needs to be done. “Our job now as organizers is twofold. First, we have to make sure that the 10 million low-income people who are eligible but don’t file taxes claim their benefits. Second, we fight again to make the expansion of the child tax credit and its sister, the earned income tax credit (which was expanded to up to $1,500 for adults not raising children at home), permanent fixtures to help people living on the brink.” 

Immigrants hit hard by pandemic fear eviction, housing squeezeNPR profiles a suburban housing complex near Washington, D.C. that offers a microcosm of the challenges facing many immigrants during the pandemic. “The Southern Towers apartment complex in Alexandria, Va., —right outside Washington, D.C.,—is like a city. It has five massive high-rise apartment buildings, along with its own bank, dry cleaners, and 7-Eleven. Buses stream through the parking lot, constantly picking up and dropping off tenants, who use the transit system to get to work at nearby office buildings, hotels, restaurants, and nursing homes. About 4,000 people live here. About 60% are immigrants, mostly from Africa, and a majority of the tenants are Black. Many of them work in service industries —as cooks, Uber drivers, nursing aides— jobs that have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Many of these residents have struggled to pay rent over the past year and been threatened with eviction. “I live month to month. So, I don’t have money to pay rent. They take me in court,” says Mahlet Kassa, an immigrant from Ethiopia who worked at a nursing home until last March. She’s lived at Southern Towers for almost seven years.” 

USDA announces summer P-EBT expansion: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Monday announced a new effort funded by the American Rescue Plan to provide adequate nutrition to more than 30 million children over the summer by expanding Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits. “Summer months are difficult for low-income children because they lack access to school meals that fill a nutrition gap during the school year. When school is out of session, summer feeding programs—considered a lifeline for some families—reach just a small fraction, typically less than 20%, of the number served during the school year. This summer, USDA will offer P-EBT benefits to all low-income children of all ages, helping families put food on the table during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The expansion of P-EBT benefits over the summer is a first-of-its-kind, game-changing intervention to reduce child hunger in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By providing low-income families with a simple benefit over the summer months, USDA is using an evidenced-based solution to drive down hunger and ensure no child has to miss a meal.” P-EBT was established in March 2020 to provide food dollars to families to make up for meals missed when schools have closed due to COVID-19. The program was set to expire on September 30, 2021, but through the American Rescue Plan Act, benefits are now available for the duration of the pandemic, including during the summer months.” 

City leaders may be more optimistic about park equity than they should be: From Bloomberg CityLab: “U.S. parks became crucial during the pandemic as they offered urban dwellers both solace and a safe space to meet with others, and mayors recognized as much. Three-quarters of mayors surveyed last summer said they expected residents to spend more time in green spaces than they did in the pre-pandemic days. But mayors may be “overly optimistic” in their perception of how accessible and welcoming parks are for communities of color, says Katharine Lusk, the lead author of a new report based on Boston University’s annual Menino Survey of Mayors that she and her colleagues conducted between June and August 2020 among 130 city leaders. Roughly 7 in 10 mayors said that their residents lived within walking distance to green spaces and 84% said park investments responded to all residents. More than three-quarters reported that parks are safe for all users, and a slightly higher proportion said that Black residents could use them without fear of police. But past research points to a lack of diversity in many urban parks even when they are located close to communities of color — a concern that seemed to be on few mayors’ radar, according to the report.”

Briefing for April 26, 2021

Federal aid to renters moves slowly, leaving many at risk: The New York Times’ Jason DeParle writes: “Four months after Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental aid, only a small portion has reached landlords and tenants, and in many places it is impossible even to file an application. The program requires hundreds of state and local governments to devise and carry out their own plans, and some have been slow to begin. But the pace is hindered mostly by the sheer complexity of the task: starting a huge pop-up program that reaches millions of tenants, verifies their debts and wins over landlords whose interests are not always the same as their renters’. The money at stake is vast. Congress approved $25 billion in December and added more than $20 billion in March. The sum the federal government now has for emergency rental aid, $46.5 billion, rivals the annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Experts say careful preparation may improve results; it takes time to find the neediest tenants and ensure payment accuracy. But with 1 in 7 renters reporting that they are behind on payments, the longer it takes to distribute the money, the more landlords suffer destabilizing losses, and tenants risk eviction.” 

Medical debt engulfs more people as pandemic takes toll: From NBC News: “Data collected by Credit Karma, a finance company, shows that the country’s already large amount of medical debt spiked during the pandemic, affecting more people, likely because of the number of workers who lost their employee-sponsored health insurance. Medical debt among Credit Karma’s members spiked by $2.8 billion, or about 6.5 percent, from the end of May to the end of March. The number of people with past due medical debt grew by nearly 9 percent, from 19.6 million to 21.4 million . . . A survey published last month by LendingTree found that 60 percent of Americans who were polled faced medical debt, with 53 percent saying the debt was greater than $5,000 and 72 percent saying it prevented them from pursuing key financial milestones, like buying a home or having a child.” 

Rural ambulance crews have run out of money and volunteers: From the New York Times: “The ambulance crews that service much of rural America have run out of money and volunteers, a crisis exacerbated by the demands of the pandemic and a neglected, patchwork 911 system. The problem transcends geography: In rural, upstate New York, crews are struggling to pay bills. In Wisconsin, older volunteers are retiring, and no one is taking their place.The situation is particularly acute in Wyoming, where nearly half of the population lives in territory so empty it is still considered the frontier. At least 10 localities in the state are in danger of losing ambulance service, some imminently, according to an analysis reviewed by The New York Times. Many of the disappearing ambulances are staffed by volunteers, and some are for-profit ambulance providers that say they are losing money. Still others are local contractors hired by municipalities that, strained by the budget crisis of the pandemic, can no longer afford to pay them. Thousands of Wyoming residents could soon be in a position where there is no one nearby to answer a call for help.” 

Elizabeth Warren to introduce $700 billion child care proposal: The 19th reports that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) will introduce a proposal this week that would “devote at least $700 billion over the next decade to revamping the nation’s decimated child care infrastructure. That level of investment has support from seven other senators, who signed onto a letter — first shared with The 19th — that calls on the Biden administration to include the historic child care commitment in its next big spending bill, the American Families Plan. “President Biden has a historic opportunity to not only help our country recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, but also to build a stronger caregiving economy,” Warren told The 19th. “We can’t just tinker around the edges: $700 billion over ten years is what it will take to fix our broken child care system and ensure that women and families are not left behind in our recovery.” 

Pause in J&J vaccine usage hit at-risk communities hard. Buzzfeed News reports that the pause in usage of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine hit at-risk communities particularly hard. “For most Americans, the pause of the J&J vaccine over the last week has had little to no effect on their ability to get vaccinated. Because that vaccine was the most recent to be authorized and is in short supply due to manufacturing snafus, J&J made up less than 5% of the US’s vaccine stock at the time it was paused. But for healthcare providers struggling to find people at the margins — including those living on the streets, moving through shelters, or otherwise lacking a permanent address — J&J’s vaccine was a short-lived blessing. In its absence, they say, some of the most at-risk people in the US aren’t getting another type of shot. And even if the pause lifts, they may not get vaccinated then, either, some clinicians fear, because they’ll have concerns that it’s unsafe. “The pause is a big bummer for us,” Van Yu, chief medical officer of the nonprofit Center for Urban Community Services, told BuzzFeed News. “I’m sitting on 185 doses. That’s 185 people who aren’t getting vaccinated until there’s an un-pause.” The Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Drug administration announced Friday night that usage of the J&J vaccine can resume. 

More people than ever need legal aid – but the pandemic has taken a big bite out of legal aid funding hard: From NBC News: “The several hundred legal aid organizations around the country help the poorest Americans deal with challenges from eviction and unemployment to domestic violence and medical debt. Even before the pandemic, there was not enough funding for these groups to meet the needs of the 57 million Americans who qualified for their services, recent studies show. With demand now rising as court proceedings begin to resume, legal aid groups say they should be adding attorneys, but instead are scrambling to fill budget gaps and trying to dodge staff cuts. More than $2 billion went to legal aid in 2019, from nearly a dozen different kinds of public and private sources. The biggest is the federal government. The first federal stimulus package in March 2020 included some emergency funds specifically for legal aid organizations, but there has been no additional relief money for the . . . (132) legal aid groups that receive funding from Congress, despite two more COVID-19 stimulus packages.” 

Struggling to stay afloat, people turn to strangers online: The Washington Post looks at the growing use of crowdfunding by struggling Americans for whom government assistance simply wasn’t enough. “Sites like GoFundMe, Kickstarter or even Facebook allow people and businesses to establish a cause — or set up a page laying out why they (or someone they are raising the money for) need money, and what the cash will go toward. After demand spiked last year, GoFundMe in October formalized a new category specifically for rent, food and bills. More than $100 million had been raised at that time year-to-date for basic living expenses in tens of thousands of campaigns during 2020 — a 150 percent increase over 2019. Both Vancouver-based FundRazr and U.K. crowdfunding website GoGetFunding report similar, though smaller, trends for last year, as well as honeymoon sites PlumFund and HoneyFund. But a year into the pandemic, some individual crowdfunding campaigns are reporting little success raising donations to cover basic expenses. And the movement illuminates a widening divide in the country during the most unequal recession in modern history.” 

The safety net program Congress forgot: In an op-ed for the Hill, Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, and Matthew Cortland, a senior fellow at Data for Progress, call for the Biden administration to enhance and reform the Supplemental Security Income program – a $794 per month benefit come 8 million elderly and disabled Americans rely on – as part of the soon-to-be-announced American Families Plan. “During the campaign, President Biden pledged to right these wrongs, committing that people with disabilities and seniors should never have to live in poverty in America. His historic disability policy platform spoke to each of these shameful policy failures. Biden committed to raise SSI benefits to the federal poverty level; update outdated asset limits and income rules; eliminate the cruel in-kind support and maintenance rule; and abolish SSI’s marriage penalties. Now a coalition of House and Senate Democrats are urging Biden to make good on his promises to the 8 million disabled and elderly SSI beneficiaries. They are calling on him to include these long-overdue SSI updates in the American Family Plan, to finally bring the decades of shameful neglect of this critical program to an end.”

If you know somebody who would appreciate these updates, feel free to share this website. 

Again, if you want these updates in the future, please email to subscribe.