Briefing for December 7-11, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for December 7-11, 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 11, 2020

States try to save small businesses as federal aid remains deadlocked: From The New York Times: “With the economic recovery faltering and federal aid stalled in Washington, state governments are stepping in to try to help small businesses survive the pandemic winter. The Colorado legislature held a special session last week to pass an economic aid package. Ohio is offering a new round of grants to restaurants, bars and other businesses affected by the pandemic. And in California, a new fund will use state money to backstop what could ultimately be hundreds of millions of dollars in private loans. Other states, led by both Republicans and Democrats, have announced or are considering similar measures. But there is a limit to what states can do. The pandemic has ravaged budgets, driving up costs and eroding tax revenues. And unlike the federal government, most states cannot run budget deficits.” 

Stealing to survive — More Americans are shoplifting as aid runs out: Shoplifting is up markedly since the pandemic began in the spring and at higher levels than in past economic downturns, according to interviews with more than a dozen retailers, security experts and police departments across the country. But what’s distinctive about this trend, experts say, is what’s being taken — more staples like bread, pasta and baby formula. “We’re seeing an increase in low-impact crimes,” said Jeff Zisner, chief executive of workplace security firm Aegis. “It’s not a whole lot of people going in, grabbing TVs and running out the front door. It’s a very different kind of crime — it’s people stealing consumables and items associated with children and babies.” 

Black Americans are justifiably wary of vaccines — Their trust will have to be earned: Michele Norris writes in the Washington Post: “Trust is earned. We all know that. But if a national vaccine campaign is to succeed, we must quickly figure out how to earn the confidence and cooperation of African Americans who are justifiably wary of a coronavirus vaccine. The world is at war with COVID-19, but a successful distribution of a vaccine in the United States will be won and lost on a battlefield with a long history of medical racism. Government-approved medical experiments from the past have undermined Black America’s trust in this moment. ‘Vaccine hesitancy’ from Black Americans is different from an ‘anti-vaxxer’ stance. It’s not that Black Americans don’t believe in vaccines. They don’t trust a public health system that has in too many cases engaged in grievous harm by experimenting on Black bodies without consent or ignoring the specific needs of Black people.” 

Fewer Black kids are getting flu shots, worrying health officials: More Americans have been getting flu shots this year, apparently heeding the advice of health officials fearful of a flu and coronavirus double pandemic, public health officials said Wednesday. But the flu vaccination rate for Black children is down, fueling worries that Black Americans may be turning away from shots. “It’s certainly a point of concern,” said Dr. Ram Koppaka of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which posted new flu vaccination data Wednesday. “We’ll monitor this over the coming weeks very closely.” 

Trump vaccine plan will fail people of color: Writing in USA TODAY, Dr. Eric Schneider, senior vice president for policy and research at The Commonwealth Fund, argues that the administration’s plan to distribute the coronavirus vaccine to states based on the size of their populations is inherently unfair to communities of color. “When we make this decision on the basis of speed above all else, we risk failing to distribute the vaccine equitably. We’re not prioritizing those who are at the highest risk of getting COVID-19 and dying from it — especially Black people. In a pandemic that has starkly revealed the myriad ways the structural racism embedded in American life leads to worse health outcomes for communities of color, ignoring equity would be a serious mistake.” 

With fall graduation off but football very much on, college students have questions: As coronavirus case numbers continue to increase across the nation, manycolleges have canceledin-personfallgraduationceremonies, which are usually held in December. Official announcements often cite health concerns. But several students told NPR that these cancellations came while other in-person activities were allowed to take place, leading to confusion and frustration among graduating seniors. Across the country, studentshavestartedpetitionsin hopes of getting their institutions to reconsider hosting in-person graduation ceremonies. The petitions offer suggestions on how graduations could still be held safely. For instance: limiting the number of guests each student can bring and assigning sections for each family. Many petitions also call attention to the large, in-person events that are still on. The University of Missouri petition notes, “It is difficult for students to accept that Mizzou is able to hold football games with 20,000 guests but refuse to provide us with a socially distanced commencement alternative to do the one thing that we all came here to do: celebrate our achievement of graduating.” 

Minnesota teens push suit that leads to jobless benefits: After losing jobs as a result of the pandemic, a group of Minnesota high school students helped lobby the Minnesota Legislature for unemployment benefits. Their efforts led to a lawsuit backed by the grant-making group Youthprise, and on Dec. 1, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that high school students in Minnesota can get unemployment payments under the CARES Act. Across the country, about 18% of high school students ages 16–17 hold jobs. The earnings of low-income student workers — who are disproportionately Black and Latino — are extremely important to them and their families.

Briefing for December 10, 2020

Renters are on the brink of eviction, financial ruin: From the Center for Public Integrity and Mother Jones: A nationwide ban on evictions is the only thing standing between millions of jobless Americans and homelessness — and it’s set to expire Dec. 31, weeks before President-Elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office. Donald Trump’s administration could extend the moratorium on evictions in his final days in office, the lame duck Congress could pass a bill that temporarily halts evictions, or Biden could issue a new ban after he is sworn in on Jan. 20. But for millions of Americans who collectively may be as much as $24 billion behind in rent payments to their landlords by January, the ban is only a temporary fix for an impending economic calamity. Without widespread rent relief for low-income Americans who lost their jobs and had little or no financial buffer before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, landlords everywhere almost certainly will try to force their tenants to move out the moment an eviction moratorium is lifted. The people most likely to be affected by mass evictions are non-white Americans, the same people who are more likely to die or lose their jobs because of the coronavirus. 
Cities need better relief programs to weather the looming eviction crisis: To stave off the worst case eviction scenario, local governments are increasingly turning to rent relief programs, dispersing a pot of funds as one-off grants to hard-up renters. The Brookings Institution offers things to consider when making those programs more effective

  • Who is eligible to receive rent relief? 
  • How will the city ration funds across eligible applicants? 
  • What does the application process involve? 
  • How do rent relief programs interact with other housing programs? 
  • One-time rent relief cannot substitute for long-term housing subsidies. 

How COVID has impacted poverty in America: PBS’s Frontline takes a deep dive into the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s most at-risk populations, abruptly reversing years of gains in reducing child poverty and poverty overall. 

With no agreement on the horizon from Congress, businesses turn to GoFundMe: Facing an avalanche of new coronavirus cases and renewed restrictions on indoor dining, desperate bar and restaurant owners are relying on the charity of patrons to survive. GoFundMe reported more than $625 million raised between March and September related to COVID-19, with nearly 60% going toward fundraisers for small businesses and unemployed workers.  

Pandemic is leaving students of color behind: As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt schooling across the country, students are falling behind — and none more than Black and Hispanics, a report by McKinsey & Company found. That will have long-term implications on their earnings and health, said Silicon Valley-based Emma Dorn, global education practice manager at McKinsey and co-author of the report. “One of the great travesties of this pandemic is that it has hit the most vulnerable among us the hardest,” she said. “There really is an imperative now to direct those resources to the students who need it most.” 

Trump administration declines to tighten soot rules, despite link to COVID deaths: The Trump administration on Monday declined to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and COVID-19 death rates. In one of the final policy moves of an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a regulation that keeps in place the current rules on tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, instead of strengthening them, even though the agency’s own scientists have warned of the links between the pollutants and respiratory illness. In April, researchers at Harvard released the first nationwide study linking long-term exposure to PM 2.5 and COVID-19 death rates. 

States could be the new laboratories for paid leave policies: Angela Rachidi from the American Enterprise Institute talks to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity about the latest from the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Leave and how the experiences of the pandemic may lead states to take the lead in pushing for new policies. 

Safety looks like full bellies in a pandemic: The Mustard Seed Project in Durham, NC is one of a growing number of food mutual aid programs run by Black women that are springing up around the South in the face of the hunger epidemic spurred by the pandemic. The social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have heightened the needs of the South’s most vulnerable residents. As state and federal governments fail to provide enough financial aid and strategies to stop the harmful impacts of the pandemic, local projects are stepping in to fill major gaps in care. Many of these projects eliminate financial thresholds or social barriers, such as religion, to accessing resources. As they have been throughout U.S. history, Black women are positioned on the front lines of community-based care work, particularly for those who are most vulnerable during crisis — children, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and unhoused people. The story comes from a special COVID collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network.  

Briefing for December 9, 2020

The looming unemployment compensation crisis: The Brookings Institution looks at the myriad of ways nearly 14 million Americans could lose unemployment compensation in coming weeks

  • Approximately 9.5 million will lose unemployment compensation on December 26 due to the expiration of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. 
  • Approximately 500,000 will lose unemployment compensation on December 26 due to the expiration of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program because they live in a state where extended benefits have triggered off. 
  • Approximately 870,000 will lose unemployment compensation once they exhaust regular unemployment insurance benefits because they live in a state where extended benefits have triggered off. 
  • Approximately 680,000 will lose unemployment compensation once they exhaust extended benefits. 
  • Approximately 2.2 million will be in danger of losing unemployment compensation once they exhaust regular benefits because they live in a state where extra benefits remain available for now but are likely to trigger off within several weeks. 

Amid a history of mistreatment, doctors struggle to persuade African-Americans of vaccine safety: Black people are nearly three times more likely than whites to die of COVID-19 because of health-care disparities, preexisting conditions and increased exposure at jobs deemed essential. Black children are losing more ground than their peers because of school shutdowns, and Black workers have been devastated by pandemic-related job losses. Yet fewer than half of Black Americans say they would get a coronavirus vaccine, compared with 63% of Hispanic people and 61% of white people, according to a December report from the Pew Research Center. Many Black people say they do not trust the medical establishment because of glaring inequities in modern-day care and historical examples of mistreatment. The spread of misinformation about the vaccine development process hasn’t helped either. 

The education crisis  kids are in ‘freefall’: The Markup looks at growing evidence of problems now reverberating around the United States as grades come in and students see sliding marks, raising concerns about how far behind students are falling — and why they’re being academically punished during a pandemic. “I can say from my perspective, being graded makes it feels real — I’m more apt to try on an assignment if I know a letter grade is attached to it,” said RAND Corporation assistant policy researcher Melissa Diliberti, herself a Ph.D. candidate, who has been researching how educators are approaching remote learning. “But I also, as a student, appreciate some level of leniency. It’s hard to focus on things or to feel like the stuff you’re doing is worthwhile or important when the world is going to pieces around you.” 

What seniors can expect when vaccines become available: Kaiser Health News looks at some of the hurdles seniors can expect to face when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, including the likelihood that there will be priority groups even with the 65-and-older population, particularly those with specific health issues. A recent study found conditions that create the greatest risks for seniors are sickle cell disease, chronic kidney disease, leukemias and lymphomas, heart failure, diabetes, cerebral palsy, obesity, lung cancer and heart attacks, in that order. 

How a renewed focus on public housing could be a key to recovery: From Kriston Capps for Bloomberg City Lab: “The Biden administration will have a narrow window in 2021 to set their agenda, and a long list of competing needs: Beyond the raging pandemic and the climate crisis, the new president will confront an ailing economy, steep racial and income inequality, and a potentially cataclysmic wave of housing instability. Some progressive advocates say that President-elect Joe Biden could tackle all of those at once by embracing a long-neglected national infrastructural need — public housing — as the engine for the recovery. That’s the argument put forward by the Justice Collaborative Institute, a progressive nonprofit, in a new report to promote housing as a human right as well as a tool for achieving a variety of liberal wish-list items.”

Indianapolis offers a snapshot of the nation’s hunger epidemic: The results of two surveys conducted by Indy Hunger Network in February and June reveal how significantly the COVID-19 pandemic has affected hunger across Marion County. The report, published in late October, found that, while nonprofits and federal aid nearly doubled the number of meals being distributed to food-insecure Hoosiers, the need also doubled

The challenges of virtual school for immigrant families: Broke In Philly and Philadelphia Chalkbeat offer the stories of three immigrant families and their struggles to overcome language barriers, technological and cultural differences all of which are underlined in a virtual education system

The epidemic underlines the problems with parole systems New York’s in particular: From The Intercept: “Even as New York’s incarcerated population has decreased significantly over the years, along with the number of people reincarcerated because of parole violations, the state has continued to reincarcerate parolees at almost twice the national average, according to an analysis by Columbia University’s Justice Lab. In New York City, hundreds of people have landed at Rikers Island over noncriminal behavior even as the pandemic made the jail, at one point in the spring, one of the largest COVID-19 hot spots in the country. But the coronavirus only exacerbated a broken parole system that has long served as one of the greatest drivers of incarceration in New York state, sending thousands of people back to jails and prisons every year and setting them back in their efforts to readjust to life after incarceration.”

Briefing for December 8, 2020

Millions of hungry Americans turn to food banks for the first time: In the pandemic of 2020, with illness, job loss and business closures, millions more Americans are worried about empty refrigerators and barren cupboards. Food banks are doling out meals at a rapid pace and an Associated Press data analysis found a sharp rise in the amount of food distributed compared with last year. Meanwhile, some folks are skipping meals so their children can eat and others are depending on cheap food that lacks nutrition. Those fighting hunger say they’ve never seen anything like this in America, even during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. An AP analysis of Feeding America data from 181 food banks in its network found the organization has distributed nearly 57% more food in the third quarter of the year when compared with the same period in 2019. Feeding America estimates those facing hunger will swell to one in six people, from 35 million in 2019 to more than 50 million by this year’s end. The consequences are even more dire for children — one in four, according to the group. Some states have been hit especially hard: Nevada is projected to vault from 20th place in 2018 to 5th place this year in food insecurity, according to a report from Feeding America. In four states — Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana — more than one in five residents are expected to be food insecure by year’s end, meaning they won’t have money or resources to put food on the table, the report said. 

A pandemic epicenter, Queens now sees dramatic rise of hunger: Jordan Salama writes for National Geographic: “In November 2019, levels of food hardship hovered around 50% among households in neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona, according to Poverty Tracker, a city-wide study by the poverty-fighting nonprofit Robin Hood in partnership with Columbia University. ‘Before the pandemic, food hardship was actually probably higher than people recognize,’ said Sarah Oltmans, Robin Hood’s chief of grant strategy. ‘Sometimes, or often, you’re running out of food at the end of the month, or you’re worried that your food will run out.’ The situation has only worsened since the pandemic ravaged this part of Queens, which came to be known as the ‘epicenter of the epicenter’ of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. in spring 2020. ‘Queens being kind of the epicenter of the pandemic, it’s also maybe the center of the economic fallout, too,’ said Oltmans. 

One in six U.S. restaurants have closed permanently during the pandemic: More than 110,000 restaurants have completely closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an estimate by the National Restaurant Association. The advocacy group predicts that as of Monday, 17% of restaurants have permanently closed, which is about one in six restaurants nationwide. The number also marks an increase from September, when the group said about 100,000 restaurants had closed. 37% of operators said it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now, according to a survey released Monday by the National Restaurant Association.  

More than 1,000 migrant children in U.S. custody have tested positive for COVID-19: More than 1,000 migrant children in U.S. government custody have tested positive for coronavirus since March, according to the federal agency charged with their care. In total, there have been 1,061 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases among unaccompanied migrant children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal agency run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Of the 1,061 cases, 943 children have recovered and been moved from medical isolation, according to the agency. Currently, 118 children have tested positive and remain in medical isolation, though none of the children have required hospitalization. 

ER visits, long waits climb for kids with mental health issues: From The Associated Press: “When children and teens are overwhelmed with anxiety, depression or thoughts of self-harm, they often wait days in emergency rooms because there aren’t enough psychiatric beds. The problem has only grown worse during the pandemic, reports from parents and professionals suggest. With schools closed, routines disrupted and parents anxious over lost income or uncertain futures, children are shouldering new burdens many are unequipped to bear. And with surging numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, bed space is even scarcer. By early fall, many Massachusetts ERs were seeing about four times more children and teens in psychiatric crisis weekly than usual, said Ralph Buonopane, a mental health program director at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Boston. ‘I’ve been director of this program for 21 years and worked in child psychiatric services since the 1980s and it is very much unprecedented,” Buonopane said. His hospital receives ER transfers from around the state.”

Navajo Nation tracers work to control coronavirus on vast lands: As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its tenth month, and infection rates spike across the country to levels that have begun to overwhelm hospitals, the situation remains especially dire on the Navajo Nation, the largest reservation in the U.S., stretching across high desert plateaus of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico but served by only a handful of chronically underfunded hospitals. More than a third of COVID-19 deaths in New Mexico are among Native Americans, who make up 11% of the state’s population. To date, 17,700 Navajo, out of nearly 175,000 who live on the reservation, have contracted the virus and nearly 700 on the reservation have died from complications. Navajo Nation government officials have said in recent days that intensive care unit beds are at 100% capacity. The work of contact tracing in the Navajo Nation is especially difficult and tiresome because of the logistical challenges. 

Briefing for December 7, 2020

A ‘lost generation’ new research shows students sliding backward, especially those most at risk: From the Washington Post: “After the U.S. education system fractured into Zoom screens last spring, experts feared millions of children would fall behind. Hard evidence now shows they were right. A flood of new data — on the national, state and district levels — finds students began this academic year behind. Most of the research concludes students of color and those in high-poverty communities fell further behind their peers, exacerbating long-standing gaps in American education. A study being released this week by McKinsey & Co. estimates that the shift to remote school in the spring set white students back by one to three months in math, while students of color lost three to five months. As the coronavirus pandemic persists through this academic year, McKinsey said, losses will escalate. ‘I think we should be very concerned about the risk of a lost generation of students,’ said former education secretary John B. King Jr., who is now president of Education Trust, an advocacy and research group focused on equity issues.” 

Pandemic upends public services and jobs in red and blue states: Patricia Cohen of The New York Times writes: “The coronavirus pandemic has inflicted an economic battering on state and local governments, shrinking tax receipts by hundreds of billions of dollars. Now devastating budget cuts loom, threatening to cripple public services and pare work forces far beyond the 1.3 million jobs lost in eight months. Governors, mayors and county executives have pleaded for federal aid before the end of the year. Congressional Republicans have scorned such assistance, with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, calling it a “blue-state bailout.” But it turns out this budget crisis is colorblind. Six of the seven states that are expected to suffer the biggest revenue declines over the next two years are red — states led by Republican governors and won by President Trump this year, according to a report from Moody’s Analytics. 

‘Existential peril’ for mass transit across the nation: Across the United States, public transportation systems are confronting an extraordinary financial crisis set off by the pandemic, which has starved transit agencies of huge amounts of revenue and threatens to cripple service for years. The profound cuts agencies are contemplating could hobble the recoveries of major cities from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where reliable transit is a lifeblood of the local economies. 

The high cost of the looming eviction wave: Recent estimates found that between 6.7 million and 13.9 million households could be at risk of eviction. If 25% of newly evicted people become homeless, the costs to public health and social safety net programs would be astronomical — between $62 billion and $129 billion, according to a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Innovation for Justice program at the University of Arizona. The hefty price includes the cost estimates for running programs that newly homeless people interact with, such as emergency shelters, inpatient medical care at hospitals, emergency medical care, foster care, and juvenile delinquency programs. 

Hunger crisis worsened by ‘public charge’ rule by Trump administration: Another reason for the swelling lines at local food pantries: President Trump’s newly expanded regulation that blocks access to green cards for legal immigrants who are deemed likely to accept any government assistance. Even with citizen children who clearly qualify for federal assistance, undocumented immigrant parents are eschewing programs like food stamps and are flocking to food pantries. That, in turn, is badly straining relief agencies and presenting a challenge to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who could confront rising hunger by expanding government programs but will not be able to quickly undo the Trump administration’s expansion of a Clinton-era regulation that is pushing immigrant families away from those programs. 

As winter hits, homeless shelters face big challenges against the coronavirus: As the country heads into winter and it becomes more difficult for people experiencing homelessness to safely remain outdoors, shelters face a major challenge preparing for the increased demand the drop in temperatures will bring while observing restrictions to prevent coronavirus outbreaks. Homeless shelters have had to adapt this year, with most reducing the number of people allowed inside to limit virus exposure for guests and staff members, said Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. The coming winter and the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium at the end of the year have advocates concerned that a big wave of people will need shelter in a system that is already strained. 

People of color more at risk of COVID-19 spread at work: According to the Urban Institute, Black, Latinx and Native American workers are particularly vulnerable to infection on the job. Many are in industries considered essential, or work in service industries in states with fewer COVID-19 restrictions and cannot do their jobs from home. This report comes as the CDC is in the process of evaluating which groups should get vaccines before others. More than half of Black, Latinx and Native American workers have jobs that put them at a greater risk of getting sick, said report author Lisa Dubay. 

Pandemic response still hobbled by lack of data about specific populations: From Buzzfeed News: “Earlier this week, North Dakota reached a grim landmark as the pandemic spreads like wildfire across the country — 1 in every 800 people in the state has died of COVID-19. More than 1 in 10 residents has had the virus. But who are these people? Even as the U.S. gets deeper into the third wave of the pandemic, the demographic breakdown of who has been infected still contains large gaps, including in the predominantly white, rural states where cases are now skyrocketing. Despite the urgent need to prevent further tragedy during the holidays, there’s little way for officials to target their response without a clear picture of what’s happening on the ground.” 

Biden faces a poverty crisis:
Dylan Matthews of Vox looks at the scope of the hunger and employment crises the new administration will face: “The upshot is this: Depending on the scale of the broader economic recovery, between 4.9 million and 11.8 million more people will be living in poverty in January 2021 than were in January 2020.” 

Moratorium on student loan payments extended through January: On Friday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos extended the suspension of federal student loan payments through the end of January, giving Congress and the incoming Biden administration time to put in place a longer moratorium. “The coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges for many students and borrowers, and this temporary pause in payments will help those who have been impacted,” DeVos said in a statement. “The added time also allows Congress to do its job and determine what measures it believes are necessary and appropriate.” 

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