Briefing for August 23-27, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for August 23-27, 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 August 27, 2021

Supreme court ends eviction moratorium: From the New York Times: “The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Biden administration’s latest moratorium on evictions, ending a political and legal dispute during a public health crisis in which the administration’s shifting positions had subjected it to criticism from adversaries and allies alike. The court issued an eight-page majority opinion, an unusual move in a ruling on an application for emergency relief, where terse orders are more common. The court’s three liberal justices dissented. The decision puts hundreds of thousands of tenants at risk of losing shelter, while the administration struggles to speed the flow of billions of dollars in federal funding to people who are behind in rent because of the coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic hardship. Only about $5.1 billion of the $46.5 billion in aid had been disbursed by the end of July, according to figures released on Wednesday, as bureaucratic delays at the state and local levels snarled payouts. The majority opinion, which was unsigned, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority.” 

Child Tax Credit lifted 3 million kids out of poverty in July: CNBC reports that the first installment of the expanded child tax credit lifted 3 million kids out of poverty in July, according to a Columbia University study. “That reduction represented a 25% cut in the monthly child poverty rate to 11.9% from 15.8%, according to the analysis published Thursday. ‘This is huge for low-income families,’ said Zachary Parolin, a researcher at the university’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy and a report co-author. Child poverty is a measure of the share of kids living in households below the poverty line. The Columbia analysis uses a monthly poverty measure that differs from the U.S. official metric, which is published once a year, to determine the real-time effect of pandemic-era aid programs. The average two-parent, two-child family would be considered poor if their income is less than roughly $2,300 per month, per the Columbia measure.” 

How to keep our policy discussions focused on kids: Writing for Newsweek, Nat Kendall-Taylor and David Alexander make the case that the Child Tax Credit expansion also is a good example of something policymakers should do more of — explicitly link policy changes with tangible benefits in the lives of children. “Last month, many American families saw a bump in their bank statements as the new child tax credit, enacted as part of the American Rescue Plan, was directly deposited into their accounts. The deposits were carefully labeled ‘child CTC,’ making this one of the few social service programs that reminds Americans every month of the link between federal policy and kids. Our research suggests that Americans need this reminder, and that more consistently associating overarching policy with kids — when there’s a clear link between the reform and children’s wellbeing — is a powerful step toward ensuring we prioritize younger and future generations in politics. As the Biden administration and Congress move from the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal to the admittedly tougher-to-pass ‘human infrastructure’ bill, we must keep children in the conversation. Rather than limit talk of children to daycare and education (two big pieces of the yet-written plan), policy makers would do right to educate both the public and their colleagues on the very tangible effects of strong housing policy, health care and climate reforms on kids. The more often Americans make the connection between kids and the wide range of issues that affect them, the likelier it is they’ll be included in policy conversations — and thus benefit from those policies’ adoptions.” 

Pandemic windfall for schools comes with few strings attached: From the Associated Press: “As the federal government releases historic sums of pandemic aid to the nation’s schools, it’s urging them to dream big, to invest in seismic changes that will benefit students for generations to come. But many districts say they have more urgent problems to tackle first. In Detroit, that means fixing buildings with crumbling ceilings and mold infestations. Like other school systems, Detroit is caught between the Biden administration’s lofty aspirations and bleak realities. The district is using some of the government money to hire tutors, expand mental health services and cut class sizes. But at least half of its $1.3 billion windfall is being set aside to make long-neglected repairs. ‘For decades, we have been inequitably funded to deal with the enormous needs that poverty and racial injustice have created in our city,’ Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told The Associated Press in an interview. ‘Now with the COVID-19 relief, we’re going to be able to put a significant dent into the challenge.’ The administration has encouraged schools to take leaps, not steps, with the funding. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has called it a time for bold innovation that breaks down inequities and rethinks all aspects of schooling.”

Black women face a crisis within a crisis: CNN examines concerns that the maternal health crisis already facing Black women could be made even worse by the pandemic. The “pandemic already has laid bare existing health disparities. Yet, it’s too soon to tell what long-term impact the pandemic will have on the maternal health crisis, experts say. Pregnant women remain at high risk for severe complications and hospitalization if they contract COVID-19, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strengthened its recommendation for them to get vaccinated. The disparity has reemerged as an urgent issue for both lawmakers and health care providers after a slate of bills to combat the crisis were introduced in Congress earlier this year. New data also shows that Black women continue to face a greater risk of childbirth complications than White women. The US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. About 700 women die each year in the US due to a pregnancy-related complication either during pregnancy or within the year after delivery, says Dr. Wanda Barfield, Director of the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health. ‘What’s even more striking is when you’re looking at the differences between Black and White women,’ she says. Policymakers say federal legislation is key to overcoming centuries of health care bias and barriers to access that have led to poor outcomes for Black mothers.” 

What cities need to quell mounting housing concerns: Writing for Bloomberg Cities, Beth Blauer, the executive director of the Centers for Civic Impact at Johns Hopkins University, says that while much more data is needed for policymakers facing tough decisions on the mounting housing crisis, there are useful data sets city officials can use. Her suggestions: 

  1. Housing assistance applications and backlogs: Families that are applying for assistance are often eligible for home-saving measures. Local leaders should track applications closely and work with state programs to ensure they can assist families seeking help.  
  2. Eviction hotlines and 211: These can be invaluable information about housing insecurity.  
  3. Housing code violations: This data is usually available in cities that issue violations. Households that default on regular maintenance or are unable to keep in compliance with local ordinances are often doing so because they lack the resources to keep the house up to code. Cities should track violations and offer assistance.  
  4. Utility payment defaults: These are an early warning sign that economic hardship is settling into a household.  
  5. School enrollment data: As school returns, school systems will have granular data on families that are no longer attending consistently, or children who do not show up on the first day. This data is an indicator of housing instability among families.

Briefing for August 26, 2021

Expanded child tax credit is boon for low-income, rural families: The expansion of the Child Tax Credit accomplished through the passage of the American Rescue Act last year represents one of the most impactful policy changes in the poverty/opportunity space in recent memory. A recent analysis by Samuel Hammond and Robert Orr at the Niskanen Center offers new evidence that rural and/or Red State Americans may see the biggest benefits of all. The Niskanen study estimates that across the next 12 months, the CTC expansion will boost consumer spending by $27 billion, generate $1.9 billion in revenues from state and local sales taxes, and support the equivalent of over 500,000 thousand full-time jobs at the median wage. Hammond discussed the study recently with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Rental aid holdup threatens eviction catastrophe: Politico reports: “The Treasury Department said Wednesday that state and local governments had disbursed just over 10% of federal rental assistance funds as of the end of July, indicating that millions could be at risk of losing their homes once eviction protections end. The Treasury data showed that bottlenecks continued to plague the $46.5 billion program that Congress first authorized in December to help keep tenants housed and landlords on solid financial footing amid a nationwide eviction moratorium. The latest version of the ban is set to expire Oct. 3 and could be blocked in the coming days as the Supreme Court considers a legal challenge from real estate groups and property owners. Treasury said that state and local officials distributed less than $1.7 billion of the assistance in July, marking a slight increase over the more than $1.5 billion they got out the door in June. Excluding administrative expenses, state and local governments disbursed about $4.8 billion over the first seven months of the year. Tribal governments spent an additional $72 million, including on administrative expenses. The latest figures underscore the challenge the Biden administration faces in pressuring governors and mayors to accelerate the release of federal funds.” 

Safety-net hospitals struggle to keep pace with COVID’s toll: The Washington Post profiles a healthcare worker at New Orleans’ Touro Infirmary as an example of the crushing toll the pandemic has had on safety-net hospitals. “The pandemic is straining the nation’s already stretched health-care system, but there are differences in the suffering. ‘These are some of the hospitals that are our last line of defense and first line of care for so many communities,’ said Cameron Webb, a physician and senior policy adviser for COVID-19 equity on the White House COVID-19 Response Team. ‘They’re standing between people and a complete lack of access to care. They’ve been hit hard by this pandemic.’ But this wave, fueled by the delta variant, said John F. Heaton, president and chief medical officer of LCMC Health in New Orleans…  ‘is in many ways different than the three waves we’ve experienced before.’ Not only has the virus mutated, making it more transmissible and possible for vaccinated people to infect others, but victims are younger with fewer chronic conditions, doctors and respiratory therapists say. And one of the biggest differences with this wave is the atmosphere. A staffing shortage has left hospitals across the country with fewer respiratory therapists and nurses, and those who remain are fatigued and increasingly frustrated. Hospitals have more non-COVID-19 patients, and many medical centers have yet to reduce elective procedures and other non-urgent care, or only recently began scaling back. With no national shutdown keeping people at home and prohibiting public gatherings and crowds, the virus has greater potential to spread.” 

New York state’s excluded worker fund could be national model if workers can navigate restrictions: Next City reports: “On April 19, 2021, after over a year of civil disobedience from immigrant rights advocates including hunger strikes, protests in front of Jeff Bezos’ house, and a bridge shutdown, New York state’s immigrant rights community successfully got a relief fund for undocumented workers into the state budget. It was rightly hailed as monumental in its scope: more than $2.1 billion would be available to people without legal immigration status across the state — a number estimated at about 800,000 people of working age. Of those, up to 290,000 are expected to receive relief, according to Fiscal Policy Institute. The fund officially opened to applications on August 2. But advocates are concerned that people who need the most assistance could be shut out by the state’s strict requirements. Since before the fund began accepting applications on August 2, advocates feared that proving identity, residence and lost income would be hurdles for immigrants. When those regulations were made public July 27, days before the fund opened to applicants, some of those fears were borne out. ‘Because the regulations were so stringent and did not allow for the kind of documentation that our community members might have access to, it’s unfortunately going to be shutting out a number of workers, maybe thousands, especially from the cash economy system,’ says Vanessa Agudelo, a Peekskill, N.Y. councilperson and a manager of public engagement for the Hudson Valley with the non-profit New York Immigrant Coalition.” 

Missouri waits until October for expanded Medicaid coverage: An editorial in the Kansas City Star takes state officials to task for slow-walking implementation of Medicaid expansion voters approved nine months ago. “Medicaid remains unexpanded in Missouri, nine months after voters ordered lawmakers to provide the service, and one month after the state Supreme Court affirmed that order. The continuing delay is a failure of leadership that starts with Gov. Mike Parson and trickles all through the state bureaucracy. It ensures weeks of continued suffering for the working poor, who can’t get the coverage they need and are owed. Missouri must do more to get them a Medicaid insurance card. It isn’t clear why it’s taking so long. In early August, in a video provided to state employees (and later to The Star Editorial Board), Missouri Family Services Director Kim Evans said training and computer changes would delay Medicaid verification until Oct. 1. ‘We need to be ready with all of our training, our policy, everything that we need for Oct. 1,’ she said. ‘While people can start applying now, the applications will sit there until we have the eligibility piece in, which will be Oct. 1.’ Why will they ‘sit there?’ Her statement reflects the fine print on the application website operated by the Missouri Department of Social Services. ‘If you are applying for the new adult expansion coverage, applications will not be processed until after Oct. 1, 2021,’ it says.”

Briefing for August 25, 2021

Sadness and death: Inside the VA’s state nursing home disaster:Politico investigation finds that elderly and disabled veterans were among the hardest hit during the pandemic. “Soldiers who’d survived battles couldn’t survive the pandemic, as viruses spread through many VA homes that lacked proper controls. More than 1,400 people — at least 1,394 residents and 40 staff — died of coronavirus in 110 state veterans homes, according to a POLITICO analysis. The death toll is almost certainly even higher; data from another four dozen homes, mostly in the South, hasn’t been publicly reported. Many of those states are now contending with the worst of the Delta variant. Even without the statistics from those homes, the death rate in state-run facilities was more than twice that of homes run directly by the VA itself. Residents in state VA homes often died in large clusters: 110 at a 126-bed home in western New York, 62 (plus two staff) in one at the southern tip of Maryland, 47 at a complex in rural Wisconsin, 44 near the shore of Lake Erie in Sandusky, Ohio. More than half the deaths occurred well into the pandemic, after testing, protective gear and other resources became more available, and after much had been learned about how to contain the virus and prevent its devastating spread, including by asymptomatic staff. It was tragic. But not inevitable. ‘For a long time the state veterans homes were neglected,’ said Linda Schwartz, a former Air Force flight nurse who ran veterans affairs for the state of Connecticut and served as a high-level VA official in the Obama administration. ‘It’s been terrible — and in some ways shameful — that veterans were in this situation,’ added Schwartz.” 

Many older Americans still aren’t vaccinated, making the Delta wave deadlier: The New York Times reports: “The United States has a far higher share of seniors without full vaccine protection than many other wealthy countries, a key risk factor driving serious COVID-19 illness and death, a Times analysis shows. As the Delta variant has torn across the country, America’s pace of vaccinations has sped up after months of relative stagnation, and full federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday could extend that momentum. Just over half of Americans are now fully vaccinated. But national averages mask the high rate of older Americans who remain deeply vulnerable. Older people still account for most COVID-19 deaths, and in many counties, especially in the South and Mountain West, seniors without full vaccination make up more than 10% of the total population. ‘We have swaths of populations in counties who are healthy Americans, over 60, who are not vaccinated,’ said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. ‘These people are at extreme risk, and they don’t realize it.’” 

Why parents kept their children home from school: Jessica McCrory Calarco, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University, writes for the Atlantic that more data is available to help explain the gulf between White and Black families’ decisions on sending their kids to school during the pandemic. “My colleagues and I conducted an online survey of 1,668 U.S. parents with school-age children, which we fielded through the polling firm Ipsos in December 2020. Looking at parents whose children had the option of attending school in person (i.e., at a physical school building for at least part of the week), we examined what predicted whether those families chose in-person or remote schooling (i.e., online instruction or homeschooling) and their accounts of the choices they made. We found, as we describe in a new working paper, that the biggest factor for many families was rather concrete: whether a parent or other adult was available during the school day to supervise kids. And because of racial inequality in America — and, specifically, because of racial inequalities in the layoffs that came early in the pandemic — whether such an adult was home varied greatly by race. Among families in which no parent lost a job and all parents remained employed full-time, 64% chose the in-person instruction option when it was available to them. By contrast, among families in which either parent lost a job and did not return to full-time paid work, only 35% opted for in-person instruction when they had that choice.” 

Florida hasn’t asked for $820 million in federal food assistance for children: The Tampa Bay Times reports that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has not yet applied for up to $820 million in food assistance to more than 2 million Florida children, raising concerns from food assistance groups and others who note that child hunger remains a significant problem. “The federal program, called the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, was created last year to help feed children who missed meals because they weren’t attending schools in person during the pandemic. The program deposits money to a card for families of children who qualify for free or reduced meals at their school. It was created by the federal government last year to ensure children were still being fed while they attended school remotely. Florida participated in the program during the previous school year, estimating in its application that the state would be eligible for $1.2 billion to feed 1.2 million children from August 2020 through June 2021. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended the program through this summer, however, the state did not apply. That means parents of children who qualify for free or reduced lunches are missing out on an extra $375 to help pay for their kids’ meals this summer. The program would pay $2.26 for breakfast, $3.60 for lunch and $0.96 for a snack for an estimated 2.1 million children in Florida each day.” 

Biden administration asks Supreme Court to save eviction moratorium: From the Washington Post: “The Biden administration on Monday urged the Supreme Court to leave in place a moratorium on evictions in parts of the country ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, saying it is a ‘lawful and urgently needed response to an unprecedented public emergency.’ A coalition of landlords and real estate trade groups in Alabama and Georgia are challenging the latest moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued Aug. 3 and intended to run through Oct. 3. ‘Congress never gave the CDC the staggering amount of power it claims,’ the groups said in a brief filed Friday night with the justices, asking them to block the latest version of the moratorium. There is reason to think the high court might agree. In June, the justices on a narrow vote left a previous version of the eviction ban in place, when it was supposed to expire at the end of July. Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who cast the deciding vote, said he thought the ban should be allowed to wind down. But he added that he believed CDC lacked authority, and that congressional action would be needed to impose a new moratorium.”

Briefing for August 24, 2021

Pandemic unveils growing suicide crisis for communities of color: From a collaboration between Kaiser Health News and “Science Friday”: “Interviews with a dozen suicide researchers, data collected from states across the country and a review of decades of research revealed that suicide is a growing crisis for communities of color — one that plagued them well before the pandemic and has only been exacerbated since. Overall suicide rates in the U.S. decreased in 2019 and 2020. National and local studies attribute the trend to a drop among white Americans, who make up the majority of suicide deaths. Meanwhile, rates for Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans — though lower than their white peers — continued to climb in many states. (Suicide rates have been consistently high for Native Americans.) ‘COVID-19 created more transparency regarding what we already knew was happening,’ said Sonyia Richardson, a licensed clinical social worker who focuses on serving people of color and an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where she researches suicide. When you put the suicide rates of all communities in one bucket, ‘that bucket says it’s getting better and what we’re doing is working,’ she said. ‘But that’s not the case for communities of color.’”

States gripped by Delta variant face case surge with fewer health workers: Politico reports: “Hospitals and lawmakers in states gripped by the Delta variant are offering nurses tens of thousands of dollars in signing bonuses, rewriting job descriptions so paramedics can care for patients and pleading for federal help to beef up their crisis-fatigued health care workforces. The alarming spread of new cases is draining the pool of available health workers in ways not seen since the pandemic’s winter peak, forcing officials to improvise and tear up rules dictating who cares for whom. Governors and hospital directors warn that the staffing crisis is so acute that patients, whether suffering from COVID-19, a heart attack or the effects of a car accident, can no longer expect the level of care that might have been available six weeks ago. ‘The scenario we feared in 2020 is, unfortunately, now, a reality,’ said Becky Hultberg, president of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, which is calling in the National Guard for help and suspending many non-emergency surgeries as it nears its ICU capacity. Nearly 87,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S., the most since early February. The overwhelming majority are unvaccinated. Several states have already surpassed their winter peaks, and the numbers are expected to get worse with schools opening and the weather turning colder. Hospitals can respond by adding beds and ordering more protective gear. But they’re stuck fighting over the same finite pool of nurses, lab techs, nurse assistants and front desk workers, whose ranks have already been depleted by retirements and resignations. The Delta variant’s transmissibility — the U.S. is averaging 140,000 cases per day, up from 12,000 six weeks ago — is leaving few regions untouched, making it harder to call for reinforcements.” 

Census data suggests America’s hunger problem may be waning but food assistance continues to top pre-pandemic levels: From the Washington Post: “Hunger around America is improving, compared with a month ago, according to the most recent U.S. census data. But food insecurity has a long way to go before returning to pre-pandemic levels. Self-reported food insecurity for the week ending Aug. 2 was at its lowest levels since the start of the coronavirus pandemic for households with children, according to the census data. That dovetails with strong jobs numbers, stronger economic growth and other bright spots in the economic recovery. But food stamps enrollment is still way up, 2 million more than last year and 6 million more than in 2019. And food banks are still seeing dramatically more need than during pre-pandemic times. Plus money doesn’t go quite as far, as the cost of many grocery items — including beef, poultry, eggs and dairy — continues to tick higher, as it has for well over a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” 

Colleges rush to sign students up for food stamps as pandemic rules expand eligibility: From CalMatters: “This past school year, Madeline Waters struggled to find a way to pay for food while also studying for classes. As a nutrition major at Sacramento State, she wasn’t unfamiliar with what skipping meals could mean for her academic career. So this spring she applied, yet again, for food stamps. ‘I was really hungry, and my brain cells were barely functioning,’ she said. ‘I was trying to get food and I’d fill out the paperwork and I was trying to make sure I covered everything.’ Waters had already been turned down twice for CalFresh, California’s name for the federal food assistance program. But in March, she said, her life dramatically changed for the better when her application was approved. Waters’ success stems from a federal law passed during the COVID-19 pandemic that temporarily expands food stamp eligibility for college students. In response to the law, some California community colleges and universities are stepping up their efforts to help students apply for CalFresh. The new rules will remain in effect until 30 days after the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration lifted. Food insecurity can have a real impact on students’ academic performance and well-being, experts say. ‘Average GPA is lower compared to peers who have their basic needs met,’ Suzanna Martinez, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, said during an April webinar. ‘We also know that (food insecurity) impacts mental health.’  

Asian-Americans are invisible victims of the pandemic: Writing for the Baltimore Sun, health services researcher Lanlan Xu makes the case the impact of COVID-19 on Asian-Americans has been underplayed. “COVID-19 has claimed more than 600,000 lives in the U.S. yet hidden in that number is how deadly the pandemic has been for Asian Americans. Emerging evidence shows that the COVID-19 mortality rate for Asian Americans is the highest among all races and ethnicities for some subpopulations. Yet sadly, this loss remains largely invisible. According to a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services, Asian nursing home residents had the highest COVID-19 mortality rate among all race/ethnic groups. Similarly, Health Affairs revealed that Asian American Medicare beneficiaries had the highest COVID-attributed mortality rate in 2020. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of 50 million U.S. patients also found Asian Americans had the highest risk of hospitalization and death when tested positive for COVID-19. Asian Americans are dying at an alarmingly high rate. Why is there so little public discussion about why this is happening, and how we should remedy it? The invisibility of Asian American health issues is largely rooted in the model minority myth, a stereotype that paints all Asian Americans as successful and problem-free. Asian Americans are not the focus of health equity research, or the target for culturally specific resources, because they are not considered a population facing challenges by those who incorrectly accept this myth.”

Briefing for August 23, 2021

Cutoff of jobless benefits is found to get few back to work: From the New York Times: “The cutoff of federal unemployment benefits in much of the country was meant to bring a flood of workers back to the job market. So far, that flood looks more like a trickle. A total of 26 states, all but one with Republican governors, have moved to end some or all of the expanded unemployment benefits that have been in place since the pandemic began. The governors, along with many business owners, have argued that the benefits discourage returning to work when many employers are struggling to hire. Several recent studies, however, have concluded that the extra payments have played only a small role in this year’s labor shortages. And they found at most a modest increase in employment in states that abandoned the programs — most of them in June — even as millions of jobless workers have had to cut spending, potentially hurting local economies. ‘The idea was that there were lots of jobs — it was just that people weren’t looking. That was the narrative,’ said Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts economist who was an author of one of the studies. ‘I don’t think that story holds up.’” 

The rush back to colleges is leaving behind more at-risk students: Politico reports on troubling data indicating that the pandemic has discouraged more at-risk students from seeking four-year college degrees. “A rebounding economy, prevalence of COVID-19 vaccines and in-person learning may not be enough to draw students who have turned their backs on a postsecondary education. That prospect has sent college and career advisers scrambling to connect with at-risk students. Many stepped away from school to help their families by taking low-paying jobs in the pandemic-ravaged economy, missing out on an education that might have set them up for more lucrative careers. The shift to online learning for high schoolers also cut off in-person outreach, a crucial tool for reaching these young people. Students’ decisions this month could widen an already existing income gap, potentially exacerbating inequities for a new generation. ‘If we don’t go get these students, there are students who just aren’t going to show up at our institutions,’ Wil Del Pilar, The Education Trust’s vice president of higher education policy and practice, said in an interview. ‘Low-income students and students of color don’t take a gap year — they leave school and then we’ve lost them in higher ed.’ Economic uncertainty and a chaotic transition to online learning spurred by COVID-19 shoved more than 727,000 undergraduates off the college path in 2020. And 2021 is charting a similar path.” 

After pandemic ravaged nursing homes, new laws protect residents: Kaiser Health News reports: “During the first 12 months of the pandemic, at least 34% of those killed by the virus were residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, even though they make up fewer than 1% of the American population. The vaccine has since reduced virus-related nursing home deaths to about 1 in 4 COVID-related fatalities in the United States, which have risen to more than 624,000, according to The New York Times’ coronavirus case tracker. ‘Part of what the pandemic did is to expose some of the underlying problems in nursing homes,’ said Nina Kohn, a professor at Syracuse University School of Law and a distinguished scholar in elder law at Yale Law School. ‘This may present an opportunity to correct some of the long-standing problems and reduce some of the key risk factors for neglect and mistreatment.’ According to a review of state legislation, 23 geographically and politically diverse states have passed more than 70 pandemic-related provisions affecting nursing home operations. States have set minimum staffing levels for nursing homes, expanded visitation, mandated access for residents to virtual communications, required full-time nurses at all times and infection control specialists, limited owners’ profits, increased room size, restricted room occupancy to two people and improved emergency response plans.” 

What will it take to get high school students back on track? Writing for Education Week, Robert Balfanz, research professor at the Center for the Social Organization of Schools and director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, calls for three strategies to get high school students back on the path to graduation and college or career training: 

  1. “Early-warning systems. Before they can begin to address students’ needs, schools need to identify what they are. Which students have high odds of not graduating? What strategies can get them back on track.” 
  2. “College and career guidance. Providing students with access to comprehensive college and career guidance is also critical to education recovery. The decline in financial-aid applications and college enrollment among low-income students last fall was attributable partly to the shortage of guidance counseling, already dire pre-pandemic and only exacerbated by virtual learning conditions.” 
  3. Partner with AmeriCorps and its nonprofit partners. After more than a year of virtual instruction, we also know that many students are yearning for personal connection and attention. A strong relationship with a mentor, tutor, or success coach can be the difference between a student dropping out or graduating with a clear plan for life after high school.”

Booming sales at dollar stores show ever-widening income inequality. From the Washington Post: “A growing number of Americans are relying on dollar stores for everyday needs, especially groceries, as the coronavirus pandemic drags into its 18th month. Chains such as Dollar General and Dollar Tree are reporting blockbuster sales and profits, and proliferating so quickly that some U.S. cities want to limit their growth. The 1,650 dollar stores expected to open this year represent nearly half of all new national retail openings, according to Coresight Research. Foot traffic at the largest such chain, Dollar General, is up 32% from pre-pandemic levels, far outpacing the 3% increase at Walmart, one of the few retail winners of last year, according to, which analyzes shopping patterns using location data from 30 million devices. Analysts say the explosive rise of dollar stores is yet another example of how the pandemic has reshaped the economy and widened the gulf between the wealthiest and poorest Americans. Rising grocery prices — inflation is up 5.4% from last year — coupled with disproportionately high job losses among low-income workers have left many of the most vulnerable Americans in even worse shape. ‘It’s a striking disparity: In this country, there is now dollar-store land and there is Whole Foods land,’ said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit advocacy group. ‘And if you live in Whole Foods land, it’s very hard for people to understand just how desperate circumstances are for the rest of the country.’”

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