Briefing for April 27-May 1, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for April 27-May 1, 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 May 1, 2020

Retail COVID-19 testing has been inadequate in black communities: Since the White House announced a public-private partnership to set up testing sites in large retail stores, 63 testing sites are operating, or announced to open as of April 24. But only eight — about 13 percent — are in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Six Appalachian states didn’t expand Medicaid; their free clinics are bearing the brunt of COVID-19: Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have elected to expand Medicaid. Of the 14 that have not, six are in the Appalachian region: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Advocates argue that Medicaid expansion has bolstered the nation’s front-line health care defenses — foremost, community health centers and hospitals serving underserved areas — and that the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the urgency of enrolling more people in the program

Pandemic offers opportunity to restructure U.S. policies toward the poor: An opinion piece for CNN from Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and the Rev. William Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.

Harris bill would address racial disparity of pandemic: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will introduce, on Monday, legislation to create a task force to address the racial disparity plaguing communities of color amid the coronavirus outbreak. The COVID-19 Racial Disparities Task Force Act, which BuzzFeed News received in advance, would require the director of Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, to create a panel of health care experts and community leaders to gather data and provide recommendations on the coronavirus response in communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by the disease.

Gillibrand urges disability protections in future COVID-19 relief packages: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) co-led a letter alongside Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) urging Congress to protect people with disabilities in the next coronavirus relief package. The priorities urged by the letter:

  • Boost Medicaid funding to support people with disabilities, including an increase in the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).
  • Provide at least $50 billion in additional funding for Medicaid Home- and Community-Based Services (HCBS) programs to keep people with disabilities in their homes and get them necessary support.  
  • Provide emergency income relief for people with disabilities, including through confirming that COVID-19 stimulus checks do not impact their benefit eligibility in programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program.
  • Protect the civil rights of people with disabilities, including through collecting disability-specific COVID-19 outcome and testing data. 
  • Expand paid leave protections for the disability community.
  • Ensure people with disabilities can access food and medication by requiring access to 90-day supplies of medication and medical support services, food and medicine delivery, and other critical services.
  • Expand access to Personal Protective Equipment for people with disabilities and their caregivers to ensure that medical services can be safely provided.

No income and no. 88,000 in line; unemployed life in America: State unemployment systems have been crushed under the weight of a record-breaking 30 million Americans who filed claims in six weeks as businesses crippled by the coronavirus pandemic laid off and furloughed workers.

How COVID-19 broke the U.S. healthcare system: Even with a $175 billion bailout, many hospitals are facing critical cash shortages due primarily to cancellation of most elective procedures.

LA City Council urges moratorium on debt collection: Debt collection should be halted during the coronavirus crisis, the Los Angeles City Council urged in a proposal that passed unanimously Wednesday. The proposal, introduced by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, does not take any immediate action to halt the practice but calls on Mayor Eric Garcetti to impose a moratorium on debt collection. It also asks the mayor to declare collection and credit agencies to be nonessential businesses during the emergency order spurred by the pandemic.

New law tries to help student veterans: President Trump signed the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 earlier this week after it received broad support in the House and Senate. The bill will restore GI Bill benefits to veterans whose campuses closed or who were forced to withdraw from classes because of the virus.

Pandemic is straining families’ ability to afford basic needs: Low-income and Hispanic families are the hardest hit.

A food supply crisis or a hunger crisis? The American Enterprise Institute explores that question at a virtual event on Monday featuring Dianne Schanzenbach, Scott Winship, Angela Rachidi, Joseph Glauber and Vincent Smith, director of agricultural studies at AEI.

Briefing for April 30, 2020

Shelter-at-home rules upend child abuse protection system: Social distancing restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus have taken a steep toll on the already fragile systems U.S. cities and states use to track and prevent child abuse and neglect. Chronically understaffed and underfunded agencies across the country say calls to the hotlines they rely on to flag abuse and neglect are down by as much as 70%. Teachers report U.S. child abuse cases far more than any other group of people, but stay-at-home restrictions have curtailed their collective ability to look out for children’s well-being. Doctors, who also report many cases, are typically not seeing children for routine checkups at this time. 

Chicago announces partnership with Airbnb to provide safe lodging for abuse victims: In a partnership announced Tuesday by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Airbnb and HotelTonight – a member of the Airbnb family – will facilitate places to stay for survivors that call the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline to flee a violent situation.

Administration has not released FEMA funds used to help with burials: FEMA has helped pay for the burials of victims of past disasters. But months into the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has not opened up a fund that would supply funds for burial expenses. Families of COVID-19 victims have been forced to turn to religious centers and GoFundMe. FEMA offered funeral assistance after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. The amount varies, but a September 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office found that FEMA paid about $2.6 million in response to 976 applications for funeral costs of victims of three 2017 hurricanes, or an average of about $2,700 per approved application. But with the coronavirus, the funding stream has remained closed, despite calls from politicians including New York Democrats Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

More than three million more Americans file for unemployment benefits: Thirty million workers have filed unemployment benefit claims since mid-March.

More states threaten to strip workers of benefits if they choose not to return to work: Iowa, Oklahoma and other states reopening soon amid the coronavirus outbreak are issuing early warnings to their worried workers: Return to your jobs or risk losing unemployment benefits. “These states are offering people the choice to endanger your life or starve,” said Damon A. Silvers, the director of policy and special counsel for the AFL-CIO.

The safety net can do better for people with health conditions and special needs: Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute writes for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: “The economic fallout from this pandemic means that more Americans will experience poverty in the months and immediate years to come. This realization comes on the heels of the longest economic expansion in history, when many Americans escaped poverty through a combination of employment and government supports for working people. While progress on poverty may stall in the face of the impending economic downturn, policymakers can reform safety net policies to blunt the long-term effects for one particularly vulnerable group — those with disabilities and health issues.”

Employers stretch the definition of ‘essential’: A number of employers have pushed the boundaries of what counts as essential to the absolute breaking point.

Over 70% of inmates tested in federal prisons have COVID-19: The response from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to the growing coronavirus crisis in prisons has raised alarm among advocates and lawmakers about whether the agency is doing enough to ensure the safety of the nearly 150,000 inmates serving time in federal facilities. New figures provided by the Bureau of Prisons show that out of 2,700 tests systemwide, nearly 2,000 have come back positive.

COVID-19 doesn’t care what’s in your record; no one else should either: Marshan Allen of the Restore Justice Foundation and Quintin Williams of the Heartland Alliance call for using a public health standard, not a traditional criminal justice standard, in deciding which inmates to release during the coronavirus outbreak.

Medicare applications raise anxiety for seniors during pandemic: Advocates for older people say the main problem involves certain applications for Medicare’s “Part B” coverage for outpatient care. It stems from the closure of local Social Security offices during the coronavirus pandemic.

Isolated Florida seniors to get robotic therapy dogs: The Florida Department of Elder Affairs announced that it began delivering nearly 400 therapeutic robotic pets to “socially isolated seniors and adults living with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia (ADRD).” The agency said the dogs can help combat social isolation and depression among older adults and those with ADRD “by improving overall mood and quality of life.”

Briefing for April 29, 2020

One county stands alone in coronavirus race reporting: Douglas County in Nebraska is so far the only county to record the race and ethnicity of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, and that’s due in large part to how the Douglas County Health Department has been conducting their outreach. To make sure they are equitably supplying resources, information, and testing, the department hired a team of people to interview anyone who called in with symptoms, and then adds those details to a contact-tracing map that better shows where their blind spots have been. This story comes from the special COVID-19 collection of the Solutions Journalism Network.

One in five adults report food insecurity during pandemic: New data from a nationally representative Urban Institute survey of nonelderly adults conducted between March 25 and April 10 shows the COVID-19 pandemic has already taken a significant toll on families’ abilities to meet basic needs, especially their ability to afford an adequate diet. Food insecurity was the most commonly reported hardship among all adults and among adults in families who lost work or income. More than one in five (21.9 percent) reported their household has experienced food insecurity in the previous 30 days; the proportion increased to nearly one in three (29.6 percent) among families who lost work or income. 

Poll: Half of Americans financially impacted by pandemic: Half the country has been personally economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and overwhelming numbers of Americans do not think schools, restaurants or sporting events with large crowds should reopen until there is further testing, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

Iowa warns workers to return to jobs or lose benefits: Iowa is warning furloughed workers that they will lose their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return when their employer calls them back to work. Gov. Kim Reynolds is moving to partially reopen 77 of the state’s 99 counties Friday, relaxing restrictions that were intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Pandemic could lead to loss of 4.5 million child care slots: Center for American Progress analysis estimates that if child care providers do not receive adequate support while they are closed for more than two weeks, roughly half of U.S. child care capacity is at risk of disappearing.

At least 72% of ICE detainees could have virus in 90 days, report predicts: A new paper, a collaboration of experts from a number of universities and the Government Accountability Project, predicts that within 90 days, between 72 and nearly 100 percent of people in ICE custody will be infected with the coronavirus.

Black Texans already face health care disparities – COVID-19 is making it worse: As the coronavirus spreads, black people are less likely to have access to proper health care and more likely to have health issues that make the virus more dangerous.

Prison protests increase: Faced with inaction on the part of state and corrections officials, incarcerated people in jails, prisons, and detention centers are protesting their treatment during the COVID-19 outbreak.

From prison to pandemic – what re-entry looks like during a pandemic: Reentering society after a lengthy prison sentence is difficult even in the best of times. But these days, it’s harder than usual. Jobs are scarce, resources are limited, and support systems have been forced apart. Those leaving prison are finding that adjusting back to “normal” life isn’t an option right now.

Mixed signals from Justice Department continue on prisoner releases: “I don’t know how to describe their behavior other than to say it’s cruel,” longtime public defender David Patton told Slate.

NYPD removes 100 people from subway in one day: Police in New York City removed more than 100 people from the subways in just one day — as concerns surge about the homeless camping out in near-empty subway cars during the coronavirus crisis, Commissioner Dermot Shea said Tuesday.

This is what coronavirus capitalism looks like: From a CNN analysis: “COVID-19 continues to awkwardly expose the weird morality of American capitalism, where it’s OK for companies to swarm for government help while individual families and small businesses struggle.”

Does the pandemic offer an opportunity for structural economic changes: The coronavirus outbreak has put the country’s economic and class divisions into stark relief. But is this the moment to make fundamental changes? Or is now too risky?

Trump’s immigration executive order doesn’t make the country safer: Former Reagan administration official Linda Chavez and Scott Roehm, head of the Washington, D.C. office of the Center for Victims of Torture, argue in a USA Today op-ed that the president’s order brings a “cruel irony . . . immigrants of all stripes — including thousands of torture survivors, many of whose wounds have not healed — are disproportionately on the front lines providing all of us with essential services, often at tremendous personal risk.”

Drones to the rescue for Florida seniors: Early next month, CVS will start using UPS drones to deliver prescriptions in Florida’s largest retirement community. The Villages, about an hour northwest of Orlando in central Florida, is home to about 135,000 people, many of them considered high-risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus deals older workers a double blow: Retail and food services employ large numbers of low-wage, 55-plus workers.

‘I miss the hugs’: Seniors grapple with social isolation: Many seniors now find themselves alone in the middle of a pandemic. Some have lost spouses and friends, while others have recently moved to new homes with unknown neighbors. For those seniors, the COVID crisis has intensified the loneliness they face. 

It’s time to acknowledge the kids: Leading for Kids President David Alexander wants public officials to speak directly to youth about the coronavirus outbreak, “to respond to their questions and concerns directly, and to see and prioritize them as the individuals they are.”

Briefing for April 28, 2020

Survey: One in five Detroiters will be out of money in three months due to pandemic: About half of Detroiters say they are more likely than not to run out of money in the next three months due to the COVID-19 crisis, and 1-in-5 say they definitely will — assuming the economic shutdown continues for that long without families receiving additional support. That’s according to new results from a rapid-response COVID-19 survey from the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, which has polled Detroiters about their changing city since 2016. The COVID-19 wave of the representative survey was open from March 31 through April 9, during which time the city of Detroit’s total COVID-19 tally reached more than 6,000 confirmed cases and 345 coronavirus-related deaths.

‘I never planned to become a worker on the front line of a pandemic’: A first-person account in the New York Times of a Louisiana Dollar General worker. “Things can’t go on like this,” Kenya Slaughter writes. “We deserve hazard pay and better scheduling. We deserve to be taken care of just like we do for our customers.”

Hard hit Navajo Nation comes together to protect its most vulnerable: Coronavirus infections and deaths are ripping through the Navajo Nation, located across three different states. With an already vulnerable population, coordinating care and information is not easy.

Judge blocks Treasury plan to disperse aid money to Native Americans: A federal judge blocked the Treasury Department from sending coronavirus relief money meant to benefit Native American tribes to certain for-profit Native corporations.

Minority and women business owners losing out on federal aid: “Based on how the program is structured, we estimate that upwards of 90% of businesses owned by people of color have been, or will likely be, shut out of the Paycheck Protection Program,” said Ashley Harrington, director of federal advocacy and senior council for the Center for Responsible Lending, a non-profit group that combats abusive lending practices and recently examined the loan program’s parameters.

How equitable lending to small businesses can aid recovery: The Urban Institute’s new conversation series, Evidence to Action, hosts a virtual discussion this afternoon on the need for equitable small business lending during the pandemic recovery. Urban Institute President Sarah Rosen Wartell will be joined by Brett Theodos, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, Noel Poyo, executive director at the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, and Jason Tepperman, managing director at Promontory Local Credit. 

A third of New York City food pantries have closed: According to city officials, since the COVID-19 crisis began, approximately 35 percent of the city’s roughly one thousand food pantries, soup kitchens, and mobile pantries have closed. That’s pushed needy residents to take trains across the city to find help wherever they can.

COVID-19 has made Chicago’s affordable housing crisis even worse: Even before the pandemic, 63 percent of African American renters and 56 percent of Latino renters in Chicago were cost-burdened.

Half of Richmond transit drivers call out of work to protest lack of hazard pay: Drivers for the transit system in Virginia’s capital city called out of work in protest on Monday as they seek hazard pay in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Briefing for April 27, 2020

USDA let thousands of pounds of food rot as food banks ran low: Tens of millions of pounds of American-grown produce is rotting in fields as food banks across the country scramble to meet a massive surge in demand, a two-pronged disaster that has deprived farmers of billions of dollars in revenue while millions of newly jobless Americans struggle to feed their families. While other federal agencies quickly adapted their programs to the coronavirus crisis, the Agriculture Department took more than a month to make its first significant move to buy up surplus fruits and vegetables — despite repeated entreaties.

Newsom announces meal delivery program for California seniors: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a partnership with FEMA, local governments and local restaurants that will fund the preparation and delivery of three meals a day, seven days a week to eligible seniors.

Steps Congress should take to avoid massive U.S. food insecurity: Increase SNAP’s monthly benefits by 15%; standardize the state eligibility criteria for SNAP to include all households making below 200 percent of the poverty line. “These two changes will dramatically improve the lives of millions of Americans by reducing poverty and making it easier to put food on the table. History provides us with bountiful evidence,” writes Jacquelyn Corley, M.D., a neurosurgery resident physician at Duke University Hospital and senior research fellow at the Harvard Program in Global Surgery and Social Change, and Hussain Lalani, M.D. M.P.H., an Internal Medicine resident physician in the Hill.

DACA workers are helping save lives while worrying about their own: The Supreme Court will soon decide the fate of 650,000 so-called Dreamers across the country. Lawyers say terminating protections for them during a pandemic would be ‘catastrophic.’

Aspen Institute rolls out new Criminal Justice Reform Initiative: The initiative will bring together people and organizations to amplify and uplift policy and systems changes aimed at reducing mass incarceration within state and local jurisdictions. Aspen will curate ongoing discussions with formerly incarcerated individuals, researchers, advocates, and policymakers in the field using the Institute’s digital platforms. The work will be particularly focused in neighborhoods or zip codes where there are concentrations of high rates of incarceration and poverty.

How Coke and Pepsi made millions bottling water in Detroit as residents faced shutoffs: Consumer Reports looks at how the beverage giants were allowed to keep bottling in Detroit, despite substantial uncollected water bills.

Lawmakers push for small business loans for payday lenders: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressing the Trump administration to let payday lenders gain access to small business rescue money, going to bat for companies that have been accused of engaging in predatory behavior toward lower-income people.

Where Americans live far away from the emergency room: A New York Times interactive map shows everywhere outside a 30-minute drive from the nearest hospital offering the kind of inpatient medical care needed to treat coronavirus.

Closed hospitals leave rural patients stranded: A for-profit company bought three struggling hospitals in West Virginia and Ohio. Doctors were fired, supplies ran low and many in need of care had to journey elsewhere. Then the doors shut for good.

Experts fear domestic violence surge in Appalachia: In Appalachia, specific considerations and limitations make the already precarious experience of trying to escape abuse even more difficult. Add in the COVID-19 crisis, a time of both unprecedented stress and lack of access to services, and people in abusive situations in the region may find it even harder to reach help.

Coronavirus is ravaging one of the nation’s wealthiest, majority-black counties: Prince George’s County, one of the nation’s wealthiest majority-black counties, has reported the most coronavirus infections and some of the highest death tolls in the Washington, D.C. region. In the hardest-hit neighborhoods, African American and Latino residents make up more than 70 percent of households. The grim statistics mirror data showing black Americans are more likely than white Americans to be infected with the novel coronavirus and more likely to die of it.

Job losses higher among people of color: The March jobs data show a number of racial and ethnic disparities in the economic impact of the coronavirus. For example: the share of white people who are employed fell by 1.1% last month. That rate fell by substantially more for black people (a 1.6% drop), Asian Americans (1.7%), and Latinos (2.1%). Economist Christian Weller highlighted this data and more at Forbes earlier this month.

New York’s coronavirus workers are overwhelmingly people of color: “It’s not a secret and it’s very clear. …We divided the city at the beginning of the coronavirus into essential employees and nonessential employees and that term was used all over the city,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told BuzzFeed News. “I heard it. I said, ‘This is coded language.’” Black, Hispanic, and Asian people make up more than 70% of the city’s essential workers, including transit, childcare, health care, cleaning service, and postal employees.

How Las Vegas became ground zero in the jobs crisis: As the bottom fell out of the American economy, few places were hit harder than Las Vegas, where a full one-third of the local economy is in the leisure and hospitality industry, more than in any other major metropolitan area in the country. Most of those jobs cannot be done from home.

Coronavirus could exacerbate Census undercount of minorities: The 2020 US census was always going to be a tough task, even before the country fell victim to a global pandemic. As coronavirus outbreaks hit minority populations especially hard, experts and advocates worry that these traditionally undercounted populations will fare even worse.

Uninsured, unemployed and undocumented: Housekeepers in Arizona fight to receive the paychecks they’re owed after being laid off.

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