Briefing for December 21, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for December 21, 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 December 21, 2020

Holidays expose widening inequality among U.S. families: From The Washington Post: “Vastia Sylvester told her teenage daughter weeks ago: no Christmas gifts this year. The single mother usually goes all-out. In 2019, she spent more than $1,000 on an iPhone, Nintendo Switch and other gifts for her family. But this year has been ‘stress on top of stress on top of stress,’ said the 30-year-old Brooklyn-based model and actor, who has been out of work since March. ‘My credit cards are maxed out. We’re behind on rent, and they’re about to lift the freeze on evictions,’ said Sylvester, who shares a two-bedroom apartment with her daughter, mother and two brothers. ‘How can we think about Christmas when we don’t know how we’re going to survive?’ It’s a common refrain this year, especially among low-wage earners who’ve been disproportionately affected by job losses during the coronavirus recession, with 1 in 8 households — or 1 in 6 with children — reporting they don’t have enough to eat. Nearly 12 percent of the country is living in poverty, up 2.4 percentage points since June and the biggest spike in six decades, according researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame. Poverty rates — the U.S. federal poverty level is $26,200 a year for a family of four — have risen the most among Black families, children and those with a high school education or less. Yet many at the other end of the income scale are actually better off financially than they were before. The pandemic has forced them to cut back on travel, dining out and other discretionary spending. Savings rates have jumped to record highs, leaving more cash to spend for the holidays.”

Key provisions of the stimulus deal: As Congress prepares to vote on the $900 billion, last-minute coronavirus relief measure, here’s a great overview of key provisions from Politico:

  • $166 billion in direct checks — Individuals making up to $75,000 a year will receive a payment of $600, while couples making up to $150,000 will receive $1,200, in addition to $600 per child. The deal also makes the stimulus checks more accessible to immigrant families.
  • $120 billion in extra unemployment help — Jobless workers will get an extra $300 per week in federal cash through March 14. The legislation also extends employment benefits to self-employed individuals, gig workers and those who’ve exhausted their state benefits.
  • $325 billion small business boost — Pandemic-ravaged small businesses would see a total of $325 billion, including $284 billion in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, $20 billion for businesses in low-income communities and $15 billion for struggling live venues, movie theaters and museums — a major priority for Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. 
  • Food and farmer assistance — The year-end package includes $13 billion to bolster food stamp benefits by 15 percent, although it doesn’t expand SNAP eligibility. Farmers and ranchers will also see another $13 billion round of direct payments to help cover pandemic-induced losses. 
  • Rental aid and an eviction ban — Of the $25 billion in federal rental assistance, $800 million is set aside for Native American housing entities. A federal eviction ban has been extended through the end of January. 
  • Infusion for schools and child care — Included in the $82 billion total for colleges and universities is more than $4 billion for a governors’ relief fund, more than $54 billion for public K-12 schools and nearly $23 billion for a higher education fund. Separately, the child care sector.

One in five U.S. prisoners have had COVID-19: One in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate more than four times as high as the general population. In some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. As the pandemic enters its tenth month—and as the first Americans begin to receive a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine—at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected, more than 1,700 have died and the spread of the virus behind bars shows no sign of slowing. New cases in prisons this week reached their highest level since testing began in the spring, far outstripping previous peaks in April and August. 

‘Losing a generation’: Fall college enrollment plummets for first-year studentsHundreds of thousands of students decided to put off higher education this year. According to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse, undergraduate enrollment this fall declined by 3.6% from the fall of 2019. That’s more than 560,000 students and twice the rate of enrollment decline seen last year. Most of that decline occurred at community colleges, where enrollment fell by more than 10%, or more than 544,000 students. “To see this level of decline all at once is so sudden and so dramatic,” says Doug Shapiro, who leads the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse. “It’s completely unprecedented.” 

How to help kids build resilience during the chaos of the pandemic: A special report from the PBS NewsHour offers suggestions on how to help kids navigate the difficulties of the pandemic: reassure them about their safety; stick to a routine; and regulate. “We cannot rest easy saying, ‘Kids are resilient, and they’ll be fine, and we’ll just let it ride,’” said Dr. Jack Shonkoff, who founded and directs Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. “We should be very worried. 

Can vaccines counter the racial inequities of the pandemic? In Tennessee, state officials are doing something unusual. They are taking a portion of their share of vaccine shots off the top and rushing it to places beset by poverty, poor housing and other factors most linked to the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on people of color. Explaining the move recently, Michelle D. Fiscus, who leads Tennessee’s immunization program, said, “COVID-19 has revealed that great disparity in outcomes for Black Americans.” The approach illustrates the urgent effort by public health agencies to make sure inoculation against a virus that has ravaged communities of color — killing 1 in 1,000 Black Americans by the fall — saves the lives of the most at-risk people. The task is made more difficult by the need to reverse the inequities endangering people of color without enshrining an explicit system of racial preferences in the distribution of shots, which could prompt political blowback and legal challenges. It is harder still because of the limited initial supply of the vaccine, which is pitting essential workers, who are disproportionately people of color, against older Americans. 

Pandemic is starting to hit North American meat packing plants again: Meat packers across North America are bracing for a resurgence of coronavirus cases, trying to avoid the shutdowns that left supermarket shelves empty earlier in the pandemic. Cargill Inc. has temporarily idled one of its beef plants in Canada after some employees tested positive and will keep the plant shut at least through next week. JBS, the world’s top meat producer, sent thousands of vulnerable U.S. workers home on paid leave, while Sanderson Farms Inc. said it’s now facing higher absenteeism at its plants than earlier in the pandemic. 

CDC warns of substantial increase in fatal drug overdoses during pandemic: The U.S .has seen a substantial increase in fatal drug overdoses and set a record for deaths from overdoses in the year that ended in May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported late last week. The worst of the deaths coincide with closures and other measures taken to control the pandemic, the CDC said in a health alert. Data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) indicates that approximately 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred in the US in that period. “This represents a worsening of the drug overdose epidemic in the United States and is the largest number of drug overdoses for a 12-month period ever recorded,” the CDC alert said.

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