Briefing for August 31-September 4, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for August 31-September 4, 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.

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Briefing for September 4, 2020

The true cost of providing safe childcare during the pandemic: Despite the critical role of childcare in supporting the economy, there is a lack of clear understanding as to what it really costs to provide quality childcare — particularly as childcare programs face new guidelines and challenges responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this, the Center for American Progress has developed an interactive calculator that estimates the cost of providing childcare that meets pandemic-related state guidelines. Initial analysis finds that providers are facing, on average, a 47% increase in operating costs during the pandemic, with even higher increases for programs serving 3- and 4-year-olds. 

Why Black aging matters too: Old. Chronically ill. Black. People who fit this description are more likely to die from COVID-19 than any other group in the country. They are perishing quietly, out of sight, in homes and apartment buildings, senior housing complexes, nursing homes and hospitals, disproportionately poorfrail and ill after enduring a lifetime of racism and its attendant adverse health effects. Yet, older Black Americans have received little attention as protesters proclaim that Black Lives Matter and experts churn out studies about the coronavirus. “People are talking about the race disparity in COVID deaths, they’re talking about the age disparity, but they’re not talking about how race and age disparities interact: They’re not talking about older Black adults,” said Robert Joseph Taylor, director of the Program for Research on Black Americans at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. A Kaiser Health News analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscores the extent of their vulnerability. It found that African Americans ages 65 to 74 died of COVID-19 five times as often as whites. In the 75-to-84 group, the death rate for Blacks was 3½ times greater. Among those 85 and older, Blacks died twice as often. In all three age groups, death rates for Hispanics were higher than for whites but lower than for Blacks. 

Domestic violence shelters are filling up and cities are looking to hotels for help: Since the early days of the pandemic, even as other crimes plummeted, reports of domestic violence have climbed around the world. In Denmark, for instance, calls to emergency domestic violence shelters more than doubled in mid-March, and remained high through the end of spring. While national data aren’t available for the U.S., initial police reports from major cities suggest an increase in domestic violence reports between 10% and 20%. Globally, there has been an estimated 25% increase in reports of domestic violence — enough to lead the United Nations to label it a “shadow pandemic.” The combination of a higher demand, and in some cases existing facilities running at limited capacity to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, has led governments and organizations working in the field to look outside designated shelters for housing — specifically, to hotels

The latest hurdle for transgender people facing homelessness: According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homelessness among transgender individuals has increased by 88% since 2016, and 63% of the transgender homeless population is unsheltered — meaning they do not reside in a shelter or in transitional housing. Yet even in the face of this stark reality, the Trump administration has moved to restrict access to homeless shelters for transgender people. A recently proposed HUD rule attempts to undermine the 2016 Equal Access Rule by allowing sex-segregated shelters to discriminate against transgender people. The proposal allows these shelters to make placement determinations based solely on biological sex and not gender identity, ignoring clear case law for what constitutes gender identity discrimination and the plain meaning of sex and erroneously claiming that such placements are not discriminatory. 

The low-cost steps that could be taken right now to ease hunger and homelessness on college campuses: Writing for the Hechinger Report, Abigail Seldin, CEO and co-founder of the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation, and Alice Yao, Senior Counsel at Student Defense, call for the U.S. Department of Education to create an Office of Basic Needs to incentivize schools to ensure students have enough to eat and a place to sleep. 

‘Emotionally exhausting’  Grad student workers feel the stress of the pandemic: Graduate students have faced disruptions in their research and had their stipends stretched thin during the coronavirus crisis. They are tasked with running courses and guiding undergrads through the uncertainty of this semester, while navigating their own classes, worrying about future funding and a dismal academic job market. With the addition of the ever-present threat of an outbreak, the stress can become unbearable. 

Tenants won with the administration’s new evictions ban, but say they need more: President Trump’s eviction moratorium was an unexpected surprise. But to stave off a disastrous housing crisis, organizers say Democrats — including Joe Biden — must embrace bolder measures

Eviction ban still has major deficiencies: As concerns over mass evictions have mounted in recent weeks, housing experts see the Trump administration’s executive order as addressing only part of a complicated problem. It’s an “incomplete solution,” says Solomon Greene, a senior fellow and housing expert at the Urban Institute. One major shortcoming of the new policy is that once it expires in December, the tenants who were on the brink of losing their homes will still be responsible for all the rent that they can’t afford to pay now. “While the moratorium extension is a step in the right direction, it won’t adequately meet the needs of millions of families who are behind on their rent,” Peggy Bailey, vice president of housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in a statement to Time. 

Rural journalists deal with mental health woes brought by pandemic: With the epidemic still burning through the country and public trust in the media at an all-time low, rural journalists struggle with added pressures and mental stress of the new and dangerous reality they help cover in the news

Briefing for September 3, 2020

Minivans at the food pantry — Meet America’s new needy: From the New York Times: “The pandemic has exposed the fragile nature of success for millions of Americans: material markers of outward stability, if not prosperity, but next to nothing to fall back on when times get tough. In long conversations around the country this August — at kitchen tables, in living rooms and in cars during slow-moving food lines with rambunctious children in the back — Americans reflected on their new reality. The shame and embarrassment. The loss of choice in something as basic as what to eat. The worry over how to make sure their children get a healthy diet. The fear that their lives will never get back on track.” 

Workers keeping America fed are going hungry in the Heartland: Hunger is surging in the heart of the breadbasket, showing just how dire the problem has become during the pandemic. About one-third of those relying on food shelves, large-scale and emergency food distributions now are doing so for the first time, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. In parts of Minnesota, that number is closer to 70%. 

States and counties mandate COVID-19 testing for farm workers: A handful of states and counties are creating COVID-19 testing mandates for agricultural workers after clusters of positive cases were linked to farms, labor camps and food-packing facilities across the country. Agricultural workers have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their lack of health insurance and living conditions, experts say, noting that many seasonal farmworkers, for example, will be housed together and travel to and from work in groups. 

People of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, yet they are underrepresented in vaccine trials: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, writes for the Washington Post: “Six months into our battle against COVID-19, the disease has killed more than 181,000 Americans, and the pandemic continues to disproportionately affect communities of color. Black AmericansLatinosAsian Pacific Islanders and Native Americans are significantly more likely than white Americans to be diagnosed with COVID-19, be hospitalized over it and die of the disease. Despite these appalling trends, the most promising COVID-19 vaccine trials are reportedly failing to recruit participants of color. This threatens the trials’ validity, since vaccine candidates can vary in effectiveness across different racial and ethnic groups. It is also potentially catastrophic for people of color, who are disproportionately represented among front-line and essential workers — and who are suffering the worst health and economic effects of this pandemic.” 

Sent home to die: In New Orleans, hospitals sent patients infected with the coronavirus into hospice facilities or back to their families to die at home, in some cases discontinuing treatment even as relatives begged them to keep trying. 

As the pandemic rages on, Lake Charles mayor fears his city will be forgotten:Lake Charles, La. Mayor Nic Hunter tells NPR that his city of 80,000 will have residents out of power for weeks to come as it tries to recover from Hurricane Laura. 

Jail stores should provide affordable necessities, not generate punitive profits: Prison stores have become a key source of safe food and PPE during the pandemic — all the more reason to support legislative efforts to slash commissary prices like California Senate Bill 555, Anne Stuhldreher writes for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity. Stuhldreher directs the Financial Justice Project in the San Francisco Treasurer’s Office. 

The childcare industry’s plight: From Axios: “Without financial help, 50% of day care centers will go out of business, erasing some 4.5 million slots for young kids, the Center for American Progress projects.” 

The pandemic is the perfect time for a parents’ revolution: Seniors have AARP. Mothers and fathers desperate for childcare solutions need a movement just as powerful

‘No justice, no Derby’  Louisville struggles with racial tensions: Tensions over the Kentucky Derby — as well as the juxtaposition between its colorful pageantry and the poverty of its surrounding community — have long existed. But 2020 sharpened that divide: When it appeared that a delayed Derby would still host nearly 23,000 guests, even as the city reeled from Breonna Taylor’s death and calls continued for charges against the officers involved, activists condemned the race and demanded its cancellation. The race, now set for Saturday, will be run without spectators because of the public health risks amid the pandemic. Officials’ unprecedented announcement in late August, which described the Derby as “a time-honored American tradition … about bringing people together,” did little to quell efforts to boycott or disrupt it. 

Briefing for September 2, 2020

The pandemic recession is reaching a dire turning point: Without an extra $600 a week in unemployment assistance, many Americans are on the brink of not being able to pay rent or put food on the table. 

Trump administration moves to halt evictions during pandemic: The Trump administration announced Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invoke its authority to halt evictions through the end of the year in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The moratorium — a draft of which was posted to the Federal Register — is the most significant step taken so far by the White House to fend off what experts predict will be a flood of evictions across the country, after enhanced federal unemployment aid and a federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July. 

Now in government aid boxes — A letter from President Trump: Millions of Americans who are struggling to put food on the table may discover a new item in government-funded relief packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat: a letter signed by President Donald Trump. The message, printed on White House letterhead in both English and Spanish, touts the administration’s response to the coronavirus, including aid provided through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative to buy fresh food and ship it to needy families. 

Why the coronavirus more often strikes children of color: One of the notable features of the new coronavirus, evident early in the pandemic, was that it largely spared children. Some become severely ill, but deaths have been few, compared to adults. But people of color have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and recent studies have renewed concern about the susceptibility of children in these communities. They are infected at higher rates than white children and hospitalized at rates five to eight times that of white children. Children of color make up the overwhelming majority of those who develop a life-threatening complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. Of more than 180,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19, fewer than 100 are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But children of color comprise the majority of those who have died of COVID-19. “They live in homes where their parent or caregiver doesn’t have the luxury of telecommuting, so they are at increased risk of exposure,” said Dr. Monika K. Goyal, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington. “They are also more likely to live in multigenerational households. It’s all connected.” 

The urgent case for permanent paid leave: Diana Boesch of the Center for American Progress outlines the lessons learned from the emergency paid leave law that could help shape more effective national, permanent legislation: 

  • Cover all workers 
  • Include short- and long-term medical and caregiving leave 
  • Provide sufficient duration of leave and automatic triggers 
  • Ensure adequate wages across all types of leave 
  • Allow workers to care for their family and loved ones 
  • Ensure employment protections for workers who use paid leave 
  • Provide effective outreach, education, oversight and enforcement 

Zoom overload, COVID-19 hardship — Thousands of Los Angeles kindergartners are no-shows: Kindergarten enrollment is down sharply in Los Angeles public schools and elsewhere, signaling that many parents of the state’s youngest students face heavy burdens with online learning and may be opting out of traditional public schools or moving out of L.A. amid the coronavirus crisis. The drop of 6,000 kindergarten students in the nation’s second-largest school district represents a 14% decline since last year. When combined with anecdotal reports of inconsistent kindergarten attendance in live online classes, some virtual classrooms appear to be at about 50% to 75% capacity. 

Homeless people in rural America struggle to find help: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that rural Americans, in general, may be at higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus because they are older, have higher rates of chronic disease and are more likely to have a disability. And rural homeless people have inadequate access to health care or transportation to an ever-decreasing number of hospitals

‘Tidal wave’ of power cuts may be coming as electric companies resume shutoffs: The beginning of September looms as yet another deadline for Americans suffering economic losses from the pandemic as utility companies resume cutting power to customers who have fallen behind on their bills. In some states, moratoriums preventing them from doing so are ending, and in other states, utility company pledges to keep customers connected are winding down. Residents in Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Indiana and Illinois are all at risk of shutoffs in early September; shutoffs can resume in late September or October in North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.  

Briefing for September 1, 2020

USDA to allow free meals through end of year after criticism: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will extend free meals for kids through the end of this year, as long as funding allows, following criticism from educators and parents. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdueannounced Monday that the department will continue its Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option, including flexibilities it has allowed during the coronavirus pandemic, into the fall. Perdue’s announcement indicated the meals would be served through the end of 2020 or “until available funding runs out.”  

With science and scriptures, Baltimore pastor is fighting COVID-19 vaccine skepticism: Researchers have alreadyraised concerns about the number of Americans who are wary of the vaccines in development for COVID-19, and particularly the number of Black Americans, who are far more likely to say they are skeptical. Given the country’s history of mistreating Black patients in medical studies, Baltimore pastor Terris King understands why the congregants of his Black Baptist church may hesitate to get the vaccine when it’s available. King is hoping he can combat that skepticism the same way he’s convinced his congregants to wear masks and stay home when they can — through his weekly sermons. And he’s hoping to take those teachings national. He’s already working alongside both academic and religious institutions in Baltimore and beyond to broaden his reach before a potential vaccine is approved. 

Whether it’s hurricanes or COVID-19, disasters are driving a mental health crisis: The country’s primary aid for mental health after disasters is the Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Every year, the program distributes an average of $24 million, or 1% of FEMA’s annual total relief fund, to send mental health workers into disaster-stricken communities and provide other support. But the Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations found that this help usually lasts about a year, even though it reaches only a fraction of survivors and the psychological effects can linger for much longer

Students learning English face extra hurdles in online classes: Many English language learners (ELLs) will have a tougher time than their English-proficient counterparts learning remotely. Many ELLs are also grappling with issues related to poverty and the pandemic that make remote learning even more challenging. “I think the fear is that even under the best circumstances this form of instruction is simply not ideal [for ELLs],” says Melissa Lazarín, whose work at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) deals with issues regarding ELLs. “It is likely that English learners will still not receive the support that they need to meaningfully participate in remote learning and instruction, which could set them back in terms of both their language and academic gains.” 

Loan company sued thousands of low-income Latinos during pandemic: A months-long investigation by ProPublica revealed that Oportun Inc., which was founded to help Latino immigrants build credit, routinely uses lawsuits to intimidate a vulnerable population into keeping up with high-interest loan payments — even amid COVID-19. 

The pandemic has exposed how broken our housing system is: The brittle network of pandemic-era protections is about to break. While courtrooms have been closed for months, protecting at-risk tenants, pressure has accumulated in the system. According to Noelle Porter, director of Government Affairs for the National Housing Law Project, in many jurisdictions landlords have been filing evictions at a faster clip, and a backlog has slowly grown. During the pandemic, other landlords have engaged in harassment and illegal tactics like lockouts that have led to tenant self-evictions, especially for undocumented renters fearing immigration issues. The fissures will soon become obvious; Global advisory firm Stout, Risius and Ross found that roughly $21.5 billion in back rent is already owed, and a joint study by the National Low Income Housing Institute, Aspen Institute, and Eviction Lab predicts up to 40 million Americans are at risk of evictions by year’s end.  

Can you get a fair trial during a pandemic? Courts are grappling with how to balance public health concerns with defendants’ right to a timely trial by jurors who reflect their communities. “Anyone who gets a trial that is constitutionally deficient is going to end up appealing if they’re convicted,” said Nina Ginsberg, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “They’ll have a whole other level of constitutional claims that are going to end up getting litigated.” 

Coronavirus caseloads increasing among Hispanic teens: Data emerging about two groups coming down with COVID-19 have caused some public health officials to pay more attention to Hispanic teens. The coronavirus is continuing to infect a younger population, with recent data suggesting more teenagers are testing positive. At the same time, positive cases among Hispanics of all ages have increased. 

Briefing for August 31, 2020

After Laura — Trying to recover from a hurricane during a pandemic: Hurricane Laura is the first major test of whether the Gulf Coast is prepared to handle two disasters at once. Coronavirus case numbers in Southwest Louisiana were already spiking at an alarming rate. Then a Category 4 hurricane came ashore.

Looming fight — Millions of disabled workers could ask for COVID-19 protections under ADA: At least 27 million workers under the age of 65 suffer from medical conditions — including heart disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease — that put them at increased risk of dying from COVID-19, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Such conditions tend to be more prevalent among people of color. As these people head back to work, employers may be required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make reasonable accommodations to protect them in workplaces or allow them to work from home.

Parents with low incomes turn to neighbors, family for help with distance learning: Instead of the small learning groups and private tutors some wealthy parents are arranging for their children this school year, many low-income parents are turning to family members, neighbors and friends for childcare and help navigating distance learning. As part of these informal networks, parents are using text messages and online workshops to reach other parents, or even a knock on a door to wake a child up for school.

Chicago considers offering free childcare for families with children learning remotely: Chicago officials are working on a plan to provide free childcare for at least the first quarter of the upcoming school year as a return to remote learning is again expected to strain working class families during the pandemic.

States confront new pandemic challenge — getting flu shots to apathetic Americans: State health officials are desperately ramping up flu vaccination efforts, hoping to prevent health care systems already taxed by Covid-19 from being overrun by the rapidly approaching influenza season. Massachusetts is requiring every kid to get a flu shot to attend school or childcare. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer got vaccinated on live television, stressing that immunization could help save precious hospital resources. Local and state health departments are buying record amounts of vaccine, hiring new staff to provide shots at senior residences and homeless shelters, and they are planning to offer immunizations at COVID-19 testing sites.

Breonna Taylor’s life was changing — then, the police came to her door: The New York Times with a deep dive into the life and times of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Black woman killed by police in her home in Louisville, Ky.

College students brace for ‘second curve’ of COVID-19 — its mental health impact: More than half of 50,307 college students who participated in the American College Health Association’s Spring 2020 National College Health Assessment reported receiving mental health services from their current campus health or counseling center in the last year. Those numbers are expected to dramatically increase as students return to college this fall, experts predict. “Many experts believe there’s going to be a second curve, which is the mental health impact of COVID,” said Alison Malmon, founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization Active Minds, a group geared toward bringing mental health awareness and education to young adults. “And schools have a responsibility to be responsive to their students’ mental health.”

Mississippi county was ‘already off the cliff with no safety net. Then COVID came’: Tchula, MS is the poorest town in the nation’s poorest county, the most forgotten place in America. “We were already off the cliff with no safety net,” said Holmes County Supervisor Leroy Johnson. “Then COVID came.” People in Holmes County have contracted the coronavirus twice as often as residents of Hinds County – home to Jackson, Mississippi’s capital city — and died from the disease seven times as often. The rate of infection in Holmes County is more than three times the national average.

The rent eats first, even during a pandemic: Matthew Desmond writes for the New York Times: “Rent — it’s the greediest of bills. For many families, it grows every year, arbitrarily, almost magically, not because of any home improvements; just because. “Demand,” they say, when they hand you a new lease with a stiff rent hike. Or “costs are rising.” What they mean is: “Because I can.” And unlike defaulting on other bills, missing a rent payment can result in immediate and devastating consequences, casting families into poverty and homelessness. If you can’t afford enough food, you can usually qualify for food stamps. If you miss a mortgage payment, you typically have 120 days before your bank can initiate the foreclosure process. But if you can’t pay your rent, you can lose your home in a matter of weeks.”

San Quentin tells its own pandemic story: In early June, when Adamu Chan, a forty-one-year-old poet, dictated his verse over the phone from San Quentin, the coronavirus had already begun to spread through the prison. By the end of that month, San Quentin, which stands imposingly on the northern rim of the San Francisco Bay, became the second-largest hot spot for COVID-19 in the United States. Chan was afraid. His unit remained relatively unaffected, but his friends — “my community,” he said — in other areas of the prison were rapidly coming down with the disease. To date, twenty-two people have died. Chan read his poem, “Secret Ocean,” to Anastasia Sotiropoulos, his artistic partner on the outside, in successive fifteen-minute phone calls, interrupted by automated screening messages. The final version — sparse and emotionally intense, evoking isolation and longing — appeared in July, in a special issue of the Prison Renaissance Zine Project: “Incarceratedly Yours, covid-19 Issue.” It ends, “I see your footprints in the sand and anticipate our union.”

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