Briefing for August 3-7, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for August 3-7, 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 August 7, 2020

Health care workers of color nearly twice as likely as whites to get COVID-19: Health care workers of color were more likely to care for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, more likely to report using inadequate or reused protective gear, and nearly twice as likely as white colleagues to test positive for the coronavirus, a new study from Harvard Medical School researchers found. The study also showed that health care workers are at least three times more likely than the general public to report a positive COVID test, with risks rising for workers treating COVID patients. 

‘Worst nightmare’ — Laid-off workers endure loss of $600 in aid: An unemployed makeup artist with two toddlers and a disabled husband needs help with food and rent. A hotel manager says his unemployment has deepened his anxiety and kept him awake at night. A dental hygienist, pregnant with her second child, is struggling to afford diapers and formula. Around the country, across industries and occupations, millions of Americans thrown out of work because of the coronavirus are straining to afford the basics now that an extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits has expired. “My worst nightmare is coming true,” said Liz Ness, a laid-off recruiter at a New Orleans staffing agency who fears she will be evicted next month without the added help from Washington. “Summer 2020 could be next year’s horror movie.” 

Real life horror stories from the world of pandemic motherhood: Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, writes in the New York Times: “This crisis should help us finally recognize that mothers are raising the next generation of citizens; motherhood is not a private frolic like hang gliding.” 

U.S. adds 1.8 million jobs: The unemployment rate fell to 10.2% in July, the Labor Department reported Friday. That’s down from a peak of 14.7% in April, but still far above the 3.5% rate in February before the coronavirus pandemic led to mass economic shutdowns across the country. The economy also added 1.8 million jobs in July, the department said, a slowdown from a 4.8 million gain in June. The number of unemployed is up by 10.6 million since February. 

The underemployment crisis: Even before the pandemic, roughly one in 10 workers wanted to log more hours

What $25 means to hungry kids: No Kid Hungry is calling for a 15% increase in SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 crisis. If that doesn’t sound like much, here’s what it would put in your shopping cart: 

  • Pint of blueberries: $1.98 
  • 12 oz bag of baby carrots: $1.88 
  • Gallon of whole milk: $3.18 
  • A dozen eggs: $1.50 
  • Jar of peanut butter: $5.44 
  • 8-pack of yogurt: $3.98 
  • One package of sliced cheese: $3.97 
  • One pound of whole-grain spaghetti: $1.28 
  • Jar of pasta sauce: $2.74 

Obama’s Medicaid expansion keeps gaining ground under Trump: President Trump is still trying to overturn “Obamacare,” but his predecessor’s health care law keeps gaining ground in places where it was once unwelcome. Missouri voters approved Medicaid expansion this week by a 53% to 47% margin, making the conservative state the seventh to do so under Trump. That leaves only a dozen states opposed to using the federal-state health program for low-income people as a vehicle for covering more adults, mainly people in jobs that don’t provide health care. 

More baby boomers could be forced into retirement by pandemic: More baby boomers are likely to face involuntary retirement with the new surge in COVID-19 cases, says a new report from The New School’s Retirement Equity Lab. Nearly 2.9 million Boomers have left the workforce since March. The number of boomers forced into retirement since the pandemic began will probably climb to 4 million in three months, the study predicts

College residence hall advisers demand hazard pay: Breaking up a crowded party in a student residence hall was never easy. Now, it could turn dangerous. It’s just one concern that undergraduate and graduate students who serve as advisers in the University of Pennsylvania’s residence halls have raised as the start of the fall semester approaches. In a petition, resident and graduate advisers have demanded safer working conditions, hazard pay, and clear protocols for what to do when students break rules designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. 

The co-ops that brought electricity to Depression-era farms are now building rural internet: But while rural fiber optic networks have spread swiftly over the past five years, their progress has been uneven. In North Dakota, for example, fiber optic co-ops cover 82% of the state’s landmass, while Nevada has just one co-op. And in the states where the utilities do exist, they tend to serve the whitest communities. 

Richard Nixon bears responsibility for the childcare crisis: Nixon vetoed the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Act (CDA) of 1971 that would have established a national public child-care program. These public child-care centers were to be universally available to all families on a sliding-scale basis.  

Briefing for August 6, 2020

‘The kids will forget’  Janitors, housekeepers and custodians brace for college openings: With the fall semester beginning soon, support staff at colleges and universities worry about inconsistent safety protocols and maskless students jeopardizing their health. They are the people who clean the classrooms, tend the grounds, sort the mail and keep students fed, but every interaction raises their risks. And sitting the semester out is not an option if they want to earn a living. 

Appalachia needs more than a one-time check  Could UBI be the answer? A joint reporting project by 100 Days in Appalachia, Scalawag and Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity looks at the growing popularity of universal income in coal country. 

COVID-19 outbreaks in agricultural communities raise harvest fears: As harvest season approaches in other parts of the country, residents and migrant laborers in agricultural communities are particularly at risk of widespread infection. Across the U.S., rural communities have been largely spared the worst of the pandemic, but the influx of new people who live together in tight quarters where social distancing is difficult is raising fears of viral outbreaks. 

Many households with lower incomes couldn’t afford basic necessities because of the pandemic: Nearly half of lower-income U.S. households report being unable to completely pay for at least one basic expense because of the coronavirus, according to a survey conducted by the research and policy organization Prosperity Now and sponsored by H&R Block. About 24% of respondents said they had skipped paying bills or paid late because of the pandemic’s economic blow; some also said they had forgone essential medical care (17%), couldn’t afford the kind or quantity of food they needed (17%), or didn’t pay their full rent or mortgage amount (10%). Another 10% reported having overdrafted their bank account or borrowed from a payday lender, pawn shop or car-title lender. 

American hospitals are still segregated — That’s killing people of color: Paul Glastris and Phillip Longman of the Washington Monthly write in the Washington Post: “ … America’s deeply segregated hospital system may have also played a largely unnoticed but outsized role in killing Black and Hispanic Americans. According to data compiled by the Lown Institute and published in the Washington Monthly, where we are editors, the best-funded and most prestigious hospitals in America, such as the Cleveland Clinic and Massachusetts General, generally avoid treating poor people in their local communities and fill their beds instead with affluent patients blessed with generous health-care plans. Low-income and minority patients, who generally have more meager health insurance or none at all, are forced to use under-resourced safety net institutions such as those owned and operated by municipal governments.” 

Data from 10 cities show COVID-19 impact based on poverty, race: Neighborhood income and other structural factors have significant impacts on whether an individual in the area has been infected with or died from COVID-19, a new national study finds. Areas with high populations of marginalized and minoritized populations that have historically been disinvested in were the hardest hit by the virus early in the pandemic, according to the research letter, “Assessment of Community-Level Disparities in Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Infections and Deaths in Large US Metropolitan Areas,” published in JAMA Network Open. The research looked at data from the combined statistical areas (CSAs) of 10 major U.S. cities: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and Seattle. 

Pandemic relief priorities for Black families: The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies offers four key priorities for any new coronavirus relief package: 

  • Provide financial support for Black workers by extending the $600 per week federal supplement to state unemployment insurance and the Earned Income Tax Credit, increasing SNAP benefits, providing rental assistance, and providing fiscal relief to states and localities 
  • Sustain Black businesses by extending the period for forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and streamlining the forgiveness process, mandating data collection on loan forgiveness, providing significant funding for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), and strengthening the Minority Business Development Agency 
  • Expand internet access among Black households by providing a $50 a month emergency broadband subsidy for households in need, and allocating $4 billion for laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, routers, and modems that can be used at home by students, school staff, and library patrons 
  • Protect our democracy by allocating to states at least $3.6 billion for administering elections, and requiring that states provide online and same day voter registration opportunities, provide accessible vote-by-mail with due process protections, provide at least 15 days of early in-person voting, and develop plans to ensure sufficient staffing and equipment to protect the health of poll workers and in-person voters during early in-person voting and on Election Day 

‘Like a horror movie’ — A small, border hospital battles the coronavirus: The New York Times reports: “A tense rescue scene has been unfolding for weeks outside a small rural hospital on the Mexican border that has been the first line of defense against one of the most voracious coronavirus outbreaks in the country. Nearly every day, a crew at Starr County Memorial Hospital prepares a patient whom its doctors are unable to help, loads the gurney into a helicopter and stands back as the aircraft roars into the country sky. ‘Very, very unfortunately, of all of the patients we have transferred, none have come back alive,’ said Dr. Jose Vazquez, the health authority in Starr County, a remote section of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas that before the coronavirus outbreak did not have a single I.C.U. bed.” 

Workers are drowning  How Congress can help: From CLASP: “As Congress debates the next relief package, policymakers must center equity and work to increase the economic security of people with low incomes, particularly Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, immigrants, youth of color, and people impacted by the criminal justice system — all of whom face the greatest barriers to good jobs with comprehensive benefits and family-sustaining wages.” 

Pandemic may delay graduation for students of color: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a striking, paradoxical impact on low-income and minority college students. At least 30% of Black, Latino and Asian American students say the pandemic has increased their perceived value of a college education, compared to only 11% of white students. Yet, students of color and low-income students are much more likely to say they’re planning to take fewer classes in the fall, likely delaying their graduation

Bridging the water access gap through COVID-19 relief: The Center for American Progress calls for these provisions in new coronavirus legislation to insure clean water and sanitation:  

  • National moratorium on water shut-offs and $100 million to utilities to restore all residential water services nationwide 
  • $45 million to begin removing lead from drinking water 
  • Water assistance for households with low incomes 

Briefing for August 5, 2020

Fed study — COVID-19 overwhelmingly hits counties with mostly Black businesses: The Black community has been disproportionately battered by the coronavirus, as numerous studies have shown. Now, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has quantified just how hard an economic punch the pandemic has delivered. Thirty counties account for 40% of receipts from Black-owned businesses, and 19 of those areas — roughly two-thirds — have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, according to new research from the New York Fed. By contrast, counties with more white-owned firms have a lower share of cases. 

‘Insulin or groceries’ — How reduced unemployment impacts struggling Americans: Millions of struggling out-of-work Americans are in limbo after the additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, leaving many fearful of how they will survive and pay their bills without the extra jobless aid.  

‘Our government is gambling with human life’ — Renters and experts brace for an ‘unprecedented’ eviction wave as federal relief bill stalls: Last month, according to the Census Bureau, nearly 25 million people reported they had little to no confidence they would be able to pay rent in the next month, and almost 30 million people said they didn’t have enough to eat. Meanwhile, talks to pass a second relief package have stalled in Congress as a lifeline for 30 million Americans — $600 a week in extra federal unemployment benefits — expired. 

For the unemployed, rising grocery prices stretch budgets even more: The cost of groceries has been rising at the fastest pace in decades since the COVID-19 pandemic seized the U.S. economy, leading to sticker shock for basic staples such as beef and eggs and forcing struggling households to rethink how to put enough food on the table. Long-standing supply chains for everyday grocery items have been upended as the pandemic sickened scores of workers, forced factoryclosures and punctured the carefully calibrated networks that brought food from farms to store shelves. Even while some of the sharpest price hikes have eased somewhat, the overall effects are being felt most acutely by the nearly 30 million Americans who saw their $600 enhanced unemployment benefit expire last Friday — exacerbating concerns that the recession’s long tail could worsen food insecurity for years to come. 

Missouri votes to approve Medicaid expansion over opposition of GOP leaders: Missouri became the 38th state to expand Medicaid eligibility on Tuesday, with voters shrugging off Republican opposition to narrowly approve a constitutional amendment providing health coverage to more than 200,000 uninsured Missourians. With 99% of polls reporting, the Medicaid expansion ballot measure, known as Amendment 2, was ahead by 74,000 votes. 

Michigan health officials order COVID-19 testing for agriculture and migrant workers: On Monday, Michigan health officials issued a new emergency order requiring coronavirus testing for agriculture and food processing workers. Robert Gordon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), cited recent outbreaks at farms and food processing plants. “The men and women who work in our fields and food processing plants are at particular risk for COVID-19, and they need and deserve protection,” Gordon said. 

As pandemic shutters casinos, Native American communities reel:
For years, gambling has offered an economic lifeline to many Native American reservations. What now

Alabama and Mississippi’s troubling coronavirus curve: Health experts fear Alabama and Mississippi may be the next COVID-19 hotspots

What Black people need to know about vitamin D: Black people are more likely to suffer from severe COVID-19 and commonly have lower levels of vitamin D. Is there a connection?

Briefing for August 4, 2020

Nearly half of communities with low incomes have no ICU beds: As COVID-19 continues to strain the country’s hospital system, new research exposes a striking gap in access to ICU care from one community to the next. The study, published Monday in Health Affairs, examined an area’s median household income compared to the number of ICU beds per 10,000 residents over 50 years old — the age cohort at greatest risk for COVID-19 hospitalization. Nearly half of the communities with a median income under $35,000 had no ICU beds at all in their ZIP code cluster, compared to only 3% of communities with a median income over $90,000. 

Pandemic hits minority-owned small businesses disproportionately hard: Minority-owned small businesses have been hit disproportionately hard due to the pandemic and corresponding economic crisis, according to a new special report released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife. Minority-owned business owners are more likely than non-minority owners to report difficulty obtaining loans, express fears about permanently closing, and predict declining revenues in the coming year. 

Penn study shows disproportionately high infection rates in Black, Hispanic women: Researchers at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine found that Black and Hispanic pregnant women in Philadelphia have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies at five times the rate of their white counterparts in April and May.  

The basic facts about women in poverty: From the Center for American Progress: “In the United States, more women than men live in poverty. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, of the 38.1 million people living in poverty in 2019, 56% — or 21.4 million — were women. The coronavirus pandemic has put individuals and families at an increased risk of falling into poverty in the United States, as they face greater economic insecurity, due in large part to unprecedented unemployment that has disproportionately affected women.” 

Hardship and well-being in the U.S. after the CARES Act: A new brief from Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan reviews the impact of the federal coronavirus legislation and presents five key findings. 

  • Some evidence indicates that rates of some hardships have stabilized or declined from their peak after implementation of key CARES Act provisions, yet hardship remains high. 
  • Throughout the pandemic, more than 1 in 6 households have reported not being able to afford food when needed. 
  • Currently roughly 10% of adults report failing to make timely rent or mortgage payments and 17% have slight or no confidence in their ability to pay next month’s rent. 
  • Households with children report considerably higher rates of hardship than those without. 
  • Elevated levels of hardship demonstrate the need for expanded federal income support to ensure the material well-being of families. 

Data shows hundreds of businesses illegally denied sick leave during pandemic: An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and NBC News finds that as of June 12, nearly 700 companies had violated the law’s paid-leave provisions and owed back wages to hundreds of employees, according to Labor Department records. Violators include six McDonald’s franchises and the owners of Comfort Suites, Courtyard by Marriott and Red Roof Inn franchises. 

Many Black, Latinx and poor families who needed aid the most never got a stimulus check: Congress approved $1,200 payments to most adults and $500 for children as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March. A new study from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center finds that nearly 40% of adults who live at or below the poverty level never received a payment

Idaho is only state skipping COVID-19 relief for school-lunch families: When schools closed their classroom doors in March, a result of the coronavirus pandemic’s initial roll through the U.S., officials looked for ways to provide lunches to students who rely on school for daily meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program that same month in order to provide families with extra money for food, and 49 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to that program so that people can receive so-called meal replacement benefits. The lone state not to join? Idaho

‘Food is more important right now’ — Pandemic forces some to struggle paying energy bills: While the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in job losses left and right, Evansville, Ind., resident Aerial Jones was thankful she and her husband kept working. Then the bills started coming in. With two kids at home eating more food and using more energy, her electricity bill doubled — costing as much as $400 a month to run her three-bedroom home. Jones, an assistant manager at an apartment complex, had never before worried about paying for her utility bill. But now she turned to a payment plan from her utility company to make ends meet without sacrificing other necessities. “Expenses have gone up … groceries have gone up,” Jones said. “Food is more important right now.” 

Full court press for Medicaid expansion in Missouri: Missourians go to the polls today to vote on Amendment 2, a ballot initiative that would enshrine Medicaid expansion in the state constitution, delivering health insurance coverage to eligible residents. 

Coronavirus changed the homeless support system in Seattle  Could it be working better for Black people? King County, Wash., is no longer using an evaluation to assess the vulnerability of homeless residents and early data shows Black people have been more likely to get housing.  

With hurricane season approaching and coronavirus peaking, New Orleans officials fear residents won’t evacuate: Emergency managers in Louisiana struggling with how to fold COVID-19 precautions into their evacuation plans as the 2020 hurricane season enters its most active phase say their worst fear is that people won’t leave in advance of catastrophic storms because they’re more afraid of catching the virus. 

Essential food workers are at a unique risk for COVID-19 infection — Some are fighting back: More than 43,000 meatpacking and food processing workers have tested positive for COVID-19 this year. 

Generation COVID’  Children have been hit from all sides: Ailen Arreaza, Bethany Robertson and Justin Ruben of ParentsTogether write in the Guardian: “For millions of members of Gen C — especially children in low-income families, kids with learning challenges, and Black and brown children hampered by systemic oppression — the pandemic has meant a food security crisis, piled on top of an educational equity crisis, piled on top of a school funding crisis, piled on top of a mental health crisis. Unless Congress acts quickly to rescue Gen C, a generation of kids and, with them, our nation’s future, could be lost.” 

Briefing for August 3, 2020

U.S. lacks plan to get vaccine to communities of color devastated by virus: The United States is mounting the largest vaccination effort in its history — without a plan on how to reach racial and ethnic groups that have not only been devastated by the virus, but are often skeptical about government outreach in their communities. 

Early coronavirus drug trials tested mostly white people; next phase aims for more diversity: From CNBC: “In the Moderna trial, run by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, 40 of 45 participants were white, while Oxford University researchers noted the findings of their initial trial with AstraZeneca ‘are not easily generalisable, as this is a first-in-human study of fairly young and healthy volunteers, the majority of whom were white.’”  

One day in the life of the pandemic in Los Angeles: From the Los Angeles Times: “The pandemic may have slowed the city, but it hasn’t stopped it. Starting well before dawn, essential workers toil at factories and markets and restaurants. Some remain deep into the night; the lucky ones work from home. Parks and beaches and hiking trails beckon those desperate for a break. But COVID-19 has not been an equal-opportunity scourge. Those who see no choice but to work outside their homes are far more exposed than those who have the luxury of sheltering in place. Those in crowded households are far more likely to fall ill than those who live alone or in small families.” 

Ten bucks and nowhere to go — How the pandemic and a broken unemployment system is upending people’s lives: For four months, Daniel Vought’s unemployment benefits application had been snared in red tape at the D.C. Department of Employment Services, a black hole of unanswered emails, phone holds and automated voice messages offering delays instead of answers. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the nation’s capital have been sucked down the same confusing abyss. Through July 29, the employment office has fielded more than 133,000 claims, nearly five times the number processed in all of 2019. 

Pandemic’s weight falls on Hispanics and Native-Americans as death toll tops 150,000: From the Washington Post: “When the virus first swept across the country, it devastated Black communities, killing African Americans at a disproportionately high rate in nearly every jurisdiction that published race data. In recent weeks, Hispanics and Native Americans have made up an increasing proportion of COVID-19 deaths. The disease now accounts for nearly 20% of all deaths among those groups, higher than any other race or ethnicity in recent weeks, according to a Post analysis of the CDC data.” 

America’s first female recession: From The 19th, the new nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom reporting on gender, politics and policy: “Double-digit unemployment. Increased hours of child care. Lost hours and benefits. In three months, women lost a decade’s worth of economic advancement. How long will it take to catch back up?” 

Virus-hit Texas readies for hurricane threat: COVID-19 has complicated the state’s preparedness — and experts are worried about the impact on a vulnerable population

COVID-19 is killing most affordable housing just when it’s most needed: After the eviction cliff, a different U.S. housing crisis looms: Low-cost home production is lagging, thanks to construction slowdowns and budget cuts.   

A new gentrification crisis: The coronavirus recession could wipe out minority-owned businesses, fueling displacement from historic ethnic neighborhoods. 

Rise of infection rate among front-line workers: A new study finds that “…in the U.K. and the U.S.A., risk of reporting a positive test for COVID-19 was increased among front-line health-care workers. Health-care systems should ensure adequate availability of PPE and develop additional strategies to protect health-care workers from COVID-19, particularly those from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds.” 

Virtual hearings have created a ‘caste system’ in American courts: Precautions meant to minimize the spread of COVID-19 — like remote hearings by video conferencing — have drastically changed the way people experience the judicial process, leaving some at a distinct disadvantage

Support young workers by expanding the EITC in the next pandemic relief package: A new brief from CLASP calls for support of the House-passed Heroes Act, which “…would temporarily expand the eligibility for childless workers to encompass those between 19 and 66 (with the exception of college students, who would become eligible at the age of 25). The Heroes Act would also temporarily expand the EITC refund to a maximum of $1,438 for childless workers. Because of both changes, this bill will allow 3.5 million young adults workers to receive the EITC.”  

Black lung and COVID-19 — ‘Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I am’: An eastern Kentucky pastor is helping educate coal miners with black lung disease about the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Five ideas for covering how the pandemic impacts communities with low incomes and communities of color: Tim Nickens at the Poynter Center has five takeaways from conversations with health care experts

  • It’s not all gloom and doom — some health care experts see a chance to push lasting and fundamental change in the system. 
  • Data, data, data. 
  • The story is bigger than the pandemic:  Health care experts say the coronavirus has exposed how racism, power imbalances and inequities in areas such as housing, employment and age contribute to what they label health inequities. 
  • Personal connections are important: Mindful of racist practices of the past or biases of the present, there is a distrust of doctors in some minority communities that could be overcome if there were more doctors of color. 
  • Highlight racial and ethnic inequities without stigmatizing.  

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