Briefing for February 1-5, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for February 1-5, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

We are struck that one of the few certainties about the coronavirus outbreak is that low-income communities and workers in low-income, service sector occupations will be disproportionately impacted — likely in devastating fashion.

One step in combatting this will be to share information about what is happening and what can be done. That’s why we are offering a daily news service summarizing relevant stories, which you can read below.

If you would like to receive a daily briefing, feel free to email to subscribe.

Briefing for February 5, 2021

‘Cruel’ race for vaccines leaves many seniors behind: With millions of older Americans eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and limited supplies, many continue to describe a frantic and frustrating search to secure a shot, beset by uncertainty and difficulty. The efforts to vaccinate people 65 and older have strained under the enormous demand that has overwhelmed cumbersome, inconsistent scheduling systems. The struggle represents a shift from the first wave of vaccinations — health care workers in health care settings — which went comparatively smoothly. Now, in most places, elderly people are pitted against one another, competing on an unstable technological playing field for limited shots. “You can’t have the vaccine distribution be a race between elderly people typing and younger people typing,” said Jeremy Novich, a clinical psychologist in New York City who has begun a group to help people navigate the technology to get appointments. “That’s not a race. That’s just cruel.” 

Judge orders Oregon inmates to be prioritized for vaccinations: A judge has ordered all inmates in the Oregon prison system to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations — a move that should make prisoners immediately eligible for inoculation. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the preliminary injunction issued on Tuesday orders all Oregon Department of Corrections inmates be offered a vaccine as part of phase 1A, group 2, of Oregon’s COVID-19 vaccination plan — putting prison inmates in the same category as people living in nursing homes and other congregate care settings. 

Indigenous Americans dying at twice the rate of white Americans: The Guardian reports: “COVID is killing Native Americans at a faster rate than any other community in the United States, shocking new figures reveal. American Indians and Alaskan Natives are dying at almost twice the rate of white Americans, according to analysis by APM Research Lab shared exclusively with the Guardian. Nationwide, one in every 475 Native Americans has died from COVID since the start of the pandemic, compared with one in every 825 white Americans and one in every 645 Black Americans. Native Americans have suffered 211 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 121 white Americans per 100,000.” 

Biden issues disaster declaration for Navajo Nation: President Biden declared on Wednesday that a major disaster exists for the Navajo Nation over COVID-19 and ordered more federal assistance to fight the pandemic at the nation’s largest Native American reservation. COVID-19 has claimed more than 1,000 lives on the Navajo Nation and more than 28,000 cases have been reported on the reservation of 173,000 people. 

Trauma and exhaustion overwhelm health care workers: From The New York Times: “Doctors, paramedics and nurses’ aides have been hailed as America’s frontline COVID warriors, but gone are the days when people applauded workers outside hospitals and on city streets. Now, a year into the pandemic, with emergency rooms packed again, vaccines in short supply and more contagious variants of the virus threatening to unleash a fresh wave of infections, the nation’s medical workers are feeling burned out and unappreciated. Over the last year, there have been the psychological trauma of overworked intensive care doctors forced to ration care, the crushing sense of guilt for nurses who unknowingly infected patients or family members, and the struggles of medical personnel who survived COVID-19 but are still hobbled by the fatigue and brain fog that hamper their ability to work. Researchers say the pandemic’s toll on the nation’s health care work force will play out long after the coronavirus is tamed. The impact, for now, can be measured in part by a surge of early retirements and the desperation of community hospitals struggling to hire enough workers to keep their emergency rooms running.” 

Farmworkers say employers, regulators don’t enforce safety regulations: Farmworkers, despite their status as essential workers during the pandemic, felt shortchanged, vulnerable and disposable, an updated study comprised of in-depth interviews from more than 60 farmworkers by the California Institute for Rural Studies, a policy research center based in Davis, and partner entities shows. Respondents say they were unprotected from COVID-19 by the very employers and agencies who wrote the emergency regulations intended to keep them safe. “While farmworkers have been lauded as essential and heroic in the mainstream media, many farmworkers would have traded this praise for actual protections such as hazard pay, sick pay, better protections, and readily accessible masks at their worksites and communities,” the study stated. 

The pandemic is hurting child care — parents are paying the price: Roughly 700,000 parents with young children have left the workforce in the past year due to child care issues, according to a recent data analysis from the Center for American Progress. That includes parents who were laid off and stopped looking for work due to lack of child care, as well as those who left their jobs specifically to care for their kids. “Without further relief and the promise of sustained investment in the child care sector, America could be facing a child care shortage so severe that many parents may not be able to rejoin the workforce, hindering an economic recovery,” says the analysis, which examines data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Mitt Romney unveils child allowance plan: The momentum for expanding child benefits as the pandemic rages on grew on Thursday as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) rolled out a new proposal to provide at least $3,000 per child to millions of American families, lending bipartisan support to President Biden’s push to dramatically expand child benefits. Romney’s proposal would provide $4,200 per year for every child up to the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per year for every child age 6 to 17. Senior Democrats are currently drafting legislation as part of their $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal that would provide $3,600 per year for every child up to the age of 6, as well as $3,000 for every child age 6 to 17. Unlike Democrats’ plan, Romney’s Family Security Act would be paid for, in part, by eliminating Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a welfare program, as well as other existing federal tax credits for children and working families. 

More than 200 groups join call for rent cancellation, debt relief: A diverse coalition of national and local groups are calling on the White House and members of Congress to cancel rent and enact housing debt forgiveness to avert “an eviction crisis.” More than 200 organizations highlighted their demands with an ad published Wednesday in USA Today. “For the 12 million Americans who are behind an average of $5,000 each on rent, even an eviction moratorium is not enough,” the ad, spearheaded by groups including the Action Center on Race and the Economy, People’s Action, and Right to the City Alliance, states. “To prevent an eviction disaster and the public health crisis that would come with it, we need immediate action that provides full debt relief,” it continues. “Housing is the cure.” 

Briefing for February 4, 2021

Line cooks, agriculture workers at highest risk of COVID-19 death, new study shows: Essential workers in kitchens and in agricultural settings are most at risk of death from the coronavirus, according to a study that adds a new urgency to the race to vaccinate those on the front lines of the pandemic. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, examined the occupations of those who have died in California since the beginning of 2016. In the past year, researchers found an especially high rate of excess mortality — the measure of how many people died over what might have been an ordinary period among those who work in proximity to others. Line cooks experienced the most substantial number of excess death in 2020, the study found, followed by agriculture workers, bakers and construction laborers. Those who work in delivery occupations — shipping clerks, truck operators and delivery drivers — also experienced higher rates of death last year. 
Rural Americans also appear to be more vulnerable to the virus: A study from the Economic Research Service at the Department of Agriculture cites several factors that have increased the danger for rural Americans from the coronavirus

  • Older age — measured using an older adult population scale, which is defined as the percentage of residents who are age 65 and older, double-counting those age 75 and older to account for the increased vulnerability of those individuals. 
  • The presence of underlying medical conditions — defined as the 2014-18 average annual natural cause mortality rate. 
  • People may also be more vulnerable when they have difficulty accessing medical care, measured as lacking health insurance or residing more than 32 miles from a county with an intensive care hospital. 

Hazard pay for grocery workers gets a big push in Los Angeles: From The Los Angeles Times: “Grocery stores, which have served as a lifeline during the pandemic, are now at the center of an increasingly bitter political battle as labor unions and politicians fight to secure hazard pay for workers who have kept the businesses going. Labor groups scored a victory on Tuesday, when Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to back a proposal requiring grocery stores to temporarily pay workers an extra $5 an hour. The raises — also called ‘hero pay’ — have become a hot issue in progressive cities in California and beyond, with backers saying grocery workers have put their health at risk to serve customers as COVID-19 has spread. There have been numerous outbreaks at supermarkets and other retailers, with workers getting sick and in some cases spreading the coronavirus to family members. But grocery owners are fighting back. Following Long Beach’s mandate to pay its workers an extra $4 an hour, grocery giant Kroger announced it would close a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less location in the city.” 

Psychiatrists warn the pandemic may be driving up kids’ suicide risk: NPR looks at a Las Vegas school district that has seen 19 suicides since the pandemic began: “Suicide is complex, involving layers of risk factors, including biological and environmental ones. And it’s hard to know the exact factors involved in the deaths of these 19 students. But the sudden rise in deaths has school district officials worried that the coronavirus pandemic may have played a role. And educators and mental health care providers in other parts of the United States have the same concern. In recent months, many suicidal children have been showing up in hospital emergency departments, and more kids are needing in-patient care after serious suicide attempts. ‘Across the country, we’re hearing that there are increased numbers of serious suicidal attempts and suicidal deaths,’ says Dr. Susan Duffy, a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Brown University. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between April and October 2020, hospital emergency departments saw a rise in the share of total visits that were from kids for mental health needs.” 

New playbook presents housing as a fundamental right: The Ford Foundation and Community Change have partnered to create A New Deal for Housing Justice, a new playbook for equitable housing with more than 100 policy recommendations informed by more than 400 ideas shared by grassroots leaders. Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity spoke with Lynn M. Ross, the managing editor of the project, who said the pandemic has made clear how crucial housing is to every American. “Truly, everyone was impacted and everyone had to grapple, no matter where they were, with what it meant to be home, whether that meant being home all of the time, to be unhoused, to have a home that you might potentially be forced out of. Everybody had to think about it and the importance of it. So, I really hope that as we eventually emerge from this and we have this new administration and we have a lot of new leaders at the state and local level, that people are asking some different questions about the kind of communities they want to live in and the kind of policies that will support livability, housing justice and the access to opportunity that everyone deserves. This about agreeing that housing is a right.”  

Biden administration to reconsider public charge policy: A series of executive orders signed by President Biden to end the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their families includes reestablishing the Task Force on New Americans and a review of “regulations, policies, and guidance that have set up barriers to our legal immigration system,” including a review of the Trump Administration’s Public Charge rule. The rule, which makes it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards if they use certain kinds of public assistance, has been seen by several experts as discouraging many immigrants from accessing needed benefits such as TANF or WIC during the pandemic. 

Briefing for February 3, 2021

Just 5% of vaccinations have gone to Black Americans: Black and Latino Americans are falling behind in the nationwide race to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even in blue states and localities praised for championing racial equity during earlier phases of the pandemic. So far, the U.S. has racial and ethnic data for only about half of the vaccine doses given. Among those, just 5% have gone to Black Americans and only 11% were given to Latino recipients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A POLITICO analysis of the available data suggests the disadvantaged and underserved communities are being bypassed, including in those states that have not yet publicly broken out data by race and ethnicity. 

How the Biden administration can begin to address the equity crisis in vaccination: Writing for The Washington Post, Uché Blackstock, an emergency physician and founder and chief executive of Advancing Health Equity, and Oni Blackstock, a primary care and HIV physician and founder and executive director of Health Justice, outline four steps the Biden/Harris administration should take to make the vaccine process more equitable: 

  • Black people must be explicitly prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccines. 
  • Bring the vaccines to the people and meet them where they are, using community centers, faith-based organizations, schools and mobile vaccination units run by credible and trustworthy community-based organizations. 
  • Stand up an expansive public health campaign that would provide education and address concerns about the vaccine in a clear, digestible and culturally responsive manner. 
  • The Health and Human Services Department and the CDC must mandate that states collect complete racial and ethnic demographic data, including Zip codes of those who are vaccinated, to help target public health efforts toward Black communities.

Vaccine rollout needs to veer from America’s past practices: Writing for USA Today, Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and Julie Morita, executive vice president of RWJF, call for being sure that the right arms are receiving vaccinations: “Let us make the vaccine rollout a model of American public health. One’s health and well-being should not be determined by one’s wealth, connections, access or ZIP code. This approach may have been our nation’s past, but we must not let it be our future.” 

Mutual aid networks find roots in communities of color: From the Associated Press: “Amid the unfolding disaster of COVID-19 have been moments of generosity, whether it’s people pulling together support for college students who’ve been tossed out of dorms, or collecting money to help restaurant workers, street vendors and movie theater employees pay for their medicine, groceries and rent. These mutual aid support networks, in which communities take responsibility to care for one another rather than leaving individuals to fend for themselves, have proliferated across the country as the pandemic turns lives upside-down. The nonprofit Town Hall Project created Mutual Aid Hub to track all the various collective efforts when the coronavirus began its rapid global spread in March. Back then, it counted only 50 mutual aid groups, but by May, the number grew to more than 800 in 48 states, driven by what the hub’s lead organizer Shivani Desai called a ‘grassroots explosion of organizing.’” This story comes from a special COVID-19 collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network. 

CBO report — U.S. unemployment will stay above pre-pandemic levels ’til the end of the decade: The nation’s unemployment rate will not return to its pre-pandemic levels through the rest of this decade, meaning millions could be out of work even after vaccines are widely distributed, according to a projection released this week by the Congressional Budget Office. The nonpartisan office also projected a faster-than-expected rebound in economic growth as the nation’s economy recovers more quickly than analysts had initially expected. The U.S. economy is expected to grow by 4.6% this year before returning to more typical growth levels of slightly above 2% by 2023. Last year represented the worst year for gross domestic product since World War II, with the pandemic leading to a 3.5% contraction in the economy. 

Without transportation, many in need have no chance to get vaccine: While state and local governments have been busy planning for and distributing vaccines, many have left out an important piece: how to provide transportation to people who can’t get to those sites. Millions of older adults and low-income people of color who are at higher risk of contracting the virus don’t have cars, don’t drive or don’t live near public transit. Some are homebound. Some live in rural areas far from vaccination sites. “It’s incredibly complicated how the vaccine planning played out across the country. Transportation was overlooked,” said Denny Chan, a senior staff attorney at Justice in Aging, a national legal advocacy organization for low-income older adults. 

Meatpacking companies, OSHA face investigation over coronavirus in plants: A House subcommittee is investigating coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants, citing the deaths of more than 250 employees nationwide and accusing the Trump administration of failing to enforce worker safety laws. Rep. James Clyburn, (D-S.C.), chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, announced the probe in a press release this week. He said he sent letters requesting documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, part of the Department of Labor, as well as three of the country’s largest meatpacking companies: Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA. “Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths,” Clyburn wrote to the agency. “It is imperative that the previous Administration’s shortcomings are swiftly identified and rectified to save lives in the months before coronavirus vaccinations are available for all Americans.” 

Briefing for February 2, 2021

Progressive thinktank leaders call for Congress to pass $1.9 trillion rescue plan: Leaders of the National Employment Law Center, Economic Policy Institute, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Center for American Progress and Roosevelt Institute wrote to congressional leaders on Monday urging them to pass President Biden’s full COVID-19 recovery proposal. “The risk from providing too little in relief and economic recovery far outweighs the risk of providing too much. We urge you to act quickly to pass a robust pandemic relief package to control the virus, address hardship, and boost the economy,” the letter said. 
Missing in school reopening plans  Black families’ trust: Even as more districts reopen their buildings and President Biden joins the chorus of those saying schools can safely resume in-person education, hundreds of thousands of Black parents say they are not ready to send their children back. That reflects both the disproportionately harsh consequences the virus has forced on nonwhite Americans and the profound lack of trust that Black families have in school districts, a longstanding phenomenon exacerbated by the pandemic. It also points to a major dilemma: School closures have hit the mental health and academic achievement of nonwhite children the hardest, but many of the families that education leaders have said need in-person education the most are most wary of returning. 
Race and ethnicity data missing for nearly half of coronavirus vaccine recipients, study finds: Race and ethnicity data was missing for nearly half of all coronavirus vaccine recipients during the first month shots were available, further stymieing efforts to ensure an equitable response to a pandemic that continues to unduly burden communities of color, federal researchers reported Monday. The findings on vaccination data illustrate that a long-standing lack of information on the race and ethnicity of who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, has carried over to who has been inoculated. 
Vaccine skepticism lurks in town infamous for syphilis study: The Associated Press reports from Tuskegee, Alabama: “Lucenia Dunn spent the early days of the coronavirus pandemic encouraging people to wear masks and keep a safe distance from each other in Tuskegee, a mostly Black city where the government once used unsuspecting African American men as guinea pigs in a study of a sexually transmitted disease. Now, the one-time mayor of the town immortalized as the home of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study” is wary of getting inoculated against COVID-19. Among other things, she’s suspicious of the government promoting a vaccine that was developed in record time when it can’t seem to conduct adequate virus testing or consistently provide quality rural health care.” 
Government relief strategies should include targeted assistance for LGBTQ communities: The Center for American Progress is out with new recommendations for how the executive branch can lessen the pandemic’s impact on LGBTQ communities

  • Revise existing COVID-19 laboratory data guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to require data collection and reporting on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in COVID-19 testing and vaccination in a manner that protects privacy and confidentiality and remains voluntary for individuals. 
  • Restore nondiscrimination protections based on SOGI among service providers, grantees, and contractors that receive federal funding through HHS. 
  • Ensure that the HHS Office for Civil Rights enforces the ACA’s statutory nondiscrimination protections. 
  • Incentivize Medicaid expansion in states that have failed to implement it, as expansion has meaningfully improved the ability of low-income LGBTQ people to access health insurance. 
  • Issue guidance to protect vulnerable populations from discrimination in vaccine distribution to ensure that all people — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, immigration status, or criminal record — are able to access the vaccine when it is available to them. 
  • Immediately conduct an audit of the current immigration detention population to release those at heightened risk of experiencing serious health consequences if they contract the coronavirus, as well as vulnerable populations — including LGBTQ people and people living with HIV — and others for whom detention is not strictly necessary. 
  • The White House should work with Congress to expand paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave protections to include chosen-family caregiving relationships. 

Older adults without friends or family lag in race to get vaccines: From Kaiser Health News: “A divide between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is emerging as older adults across the country struggle to get COVID-19 vaccines. Seniors with family members or friends to help them are getting vaccine appointments, even if it takes days to secure them. Those without reliable social supports are missing out. Elders who can drive — or who can get other people to drive them — are traveling to locations where vaccines are available, crossing city or county borders to do so. Those without private transportation, are stuck with whatever is available nearby. Older adults who are comfortable with computers and have internet service are getting notices of vaccine availability and can register online for appointments. Those who can’t afford broadband services or don’t use computers or smartphone apps are likely missing out on information about vaccines and appointments.” 

Pandemic sees uptick in demand for homecare workers: While hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, home care workers are working to keep up with a surge in demand. Many families are increasingly depending on home care workers to take care of their vulnerable family members amid the ongoing pandemic. According to the National Association of Home Care and Hospice, there’s a 125% increase in demand for home care workers. William Dombi, the president of NAHC, said the demand intensified in March and has been a full force ever since. “It is a viable and probably more protective environment for care for individuals that are trying to avoid the virus,” Dombi said.  

For some COVID patients, pre-existing conditions make recovery a long-term struggle: Black Americans have been more likely than whites to test positive for COVID-19, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, almost four times as likely to be hospitalized, and nearly three times as likely to die of the disease. Those disparities make way for a scary possibility, one that researchers are just beginning to study: that the communities already most battered by virus deaths and illness will also struggle the most with life-altering, long-term health effects from COVID-19. The pandemic could make the nation’s most vulnerable people even more vulnerable. And that could have ramifications for years. 

Mapping the unequal COVID-19 surge in Los Angeles: As Los Angeles County has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, the astonishing surge has reinforced the virus’s unequal toll, pummeling poorer communities of color. Experts say that deeply rooted inequality is both a symptom and a critical cause of COVID-19’s overwhelming spread through the nation’s most populous county. The New York Times looks at the impact with an interactive-map

The pandemic could devastate the homeless population  How can America pick up the pieces? From USA Today columnist Suzette Hackney: “In a year where pandemic-induced homelessness has soared, it may be more difficult for policymakers to assess and tackle the full scope of need in cities across the United States. That problem will create lasting consequences for America’s poor. Every January, data is collected nationwide about individuals and families who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness. But the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed or halted such information gathering this year. Tragically, those who have been driven from their homes because of economic hardship are likely to remain invisible in many communities. Over the next four years, fallout from the pandemic is expected to cause chronic homelessness to climb 49% nationwide, according to a new study by the Economic Roundtable, a California-based nonprofit urban research organization. The analysis predicts that the homelessness crisis will peak in 2023, with an additional 603,000 American adults living without a permanent roof over their heads.” 

As the pandemic exposes low wages and unsafe conditions, food distribution workers are striking: A recent week-long strike at massive Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market in New York City was part of a series of actions across the country by unionized food-distribution workers for higher pay and better workplace protections, both in general and specific to the pandemic. Led by the Teamsters, the push echoes the more spontaneous protests and general outcry that has arisen from other food-industry workers and their advocates — from meatpacking plants and farm fields to restaurants and food-delivery services — after the virus made it impossible to continue to ignore the neglect and abuse these “essential” workers had long endured. 

Briefing for February 1, 2021

As vaccine rollout expands, Black Americans still left behind: Black Americans are still receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at dramatically lower rates than white Americans even as the chaotic rollout reaches more people, according to a new Kaiser Health News analysis. Almost seven weeks into the vaccine rollout, states have expanded eligibility beyond front-line health care workers to more of the public — in some states to more older adults, in others to essential workers such as teachers. But new data shows that vaccination rates for Black Americans have not caught up to those of white Americans. Seven more states published the demographics of residents who have been vaccinated after KHN released an analysis of 16 states two weeks ago, bringing the total to 23 states with available data. In all 23 states, data shows, white residents are being vaccinated at higher rates than Black residents, often at double the rate — or even higher. The disparities haven’t significantly changed with an additional two weeks of vaccinations. In Florida, for example, 5.5% of white residents had received at least one vaccine dose by Jan. 26, compared with 2% of Black residents. That’s about the same ratio as two weeks ago, when the rates were 3.1% and 1.1%, respectively. 

A vaccination site in New York meant to serve a hard-hit Latino neighborhood instead services more whites from other areas: A COVID-19 vaccination site in a Latino neighborhood in New York City hit hard by the pandemic saw an overwhelming number of white people from outside the community show up to get the shot this month, city leaders say, laying bare a national disparity that shows people of color are being vaccinated at dramatically lower rates. The site at the Armory Track & Field Center in Washington Heights was launched Jan. 14 by New York-Presbyterian Hospital and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Vaccine appointments were initially offered to people age 65 and older who live in New York state. 

Essential workers get left behind as many states prioritize the elderly: Many states are trying to speed up a delayed and often chaotic rollout of coronavirus vaccines by adding people 65 and older to near the front of the line. But that approach is pushing others back in the queue, especially because retired residents are more likely to have the time and resources to pursue hard-to-get appointments. As a result, workers who often face the highest risk of exposure to the virus will be waiting longer to get protected, according to experts, union officials and workers. The shifting priorities illuminate political and moral dilemmas fundamental to the mass vaccination campaign: whether inoculations should be aimed at rectifying racial disparities, whether the federal government can apply uniform standards and whether local decision-making will emphasize more than ease of administration. 

The lasting impact of the pandemic on homelessness in the U.S.: From Wired: “Experiencing homelessness has always been a dire health risk, and COVID-19 has only worsened that danger. Unhoused people are disproportionately affected by health conditions that can make coronavirus cases more severe, and are often forced to shelter, eat, and access hygiene in congregate settings where social distance is difficult to maintain. Experts knew this from the start, and they have launched heroic efforts to create safe places for unhoused people to shelter and quarantine during the pandemic. Many of those programs, especially those that placed homeless people in empty hotel rooms, have been successful. Now, under the Biden administration, advocates are hopeful that they’ll be able to expand and improve those programs, and treat homelessness as the solvable problem it is.” 

How the CARES Act forgot America’s most vulnerable hospitals: A federal economic relief package passed by Congress in March promised to provide a lifeline for hospitals, particularly those in rural communities where many facilities struggled to survive even before the coronavirus pandemic. But over the past 10 months, the distribution of more than $100 billion in CARES Act funding for health care providers has been plagued by a dizzying rollout and, at times, contradictory guidelines for how to use the funding. The result has been a patchwork of problems for rural hospitals, which were already at far greater risk of closure than other health care facilities and in dire need of help, The Frontier and ProPublica found. The scope of those problems is clearly visible in Oklahoma, which tied for the third-highest number of hospital closures in the country in the nine years before the pandemic. 

The pandemic is changing the way we view unemployment insurance: Rand Corp. economist Kathryn Ann Edwards writes for the Washington Post: “As Congress considers further coronavirus relief, most of the attention — and debate — has been focused on the stimulus payments sent to many American families. President Biden has proposed adding $1,400 to the $600 payments that were delivered in the relief bill signed by President Donald Trump in December. Some progressives want that additional check to be for $2,000. That’s an important discussion, but it has tended to overshadow the true policy innovation of this recession: The bold federal intervention in the state-financed and state-administered unemployment insurance program. The CARES Act, in March, provided $600 in federal money per week on top of state benefits to people who lost their jobs. The sequel bill, passed in December, extended the benefits through March 14 and included a lower, but still substantial, federal payment of $300 weekly (which Biden wants to bump up to $400). Unemployment insurance is the most important fiscal response the United States has during a recession, because it sends timely, targeted and temporary financial assistance to those directly affected by the downturn. What the CARES Act created — remarkably high benefits for more workers — was a short-term experiment born of necessity, but it could have a lasting influence on public policy. It adds some options to Congress’s ‘recession toolbox.’ What’s more, the behavior of the people who received the benefit could reshape how we think about public assistance.” 

Kids already coping with mental health challenges spiral as pandemic topples vital support systems: From a reporting project from NPR, Kaiser Health News and Illinois Public Media: “Roughly 6% of U.S. children ages 6 through 17 are living with serious emotional or behavioral difficulties, including children with autism, severe anxiety, depression and trauma-related mental health conditions. Many of these children depend on schools for access to vital therapies. When schools and doctors’ offices stopped providing in-person services last spring, kids were untethered from the people and supports they rely on. ‘The lack of in-person services is really detrimental,’ said Dr. Susan Duffy, a pediatrician and professor of emergency medicine at Brown University. Marjorie, a mother in Florida, said her 15-year-old son has suffered during these disruptions. He has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, a condition marked by frequent and persistent hostility. Little things — like being asked to do schoolwork — can send him into a rage, leading to holes punched in walls, broken doors and violent threats. (Marjorie asked that her family’s last name or her son’s first name be withheld to protect her son’s privacy and future prospects.) The issues cut across socioeconomic lines — affecting families with private insurance, like Marjorie, as well as those who receive coverage through Medicaid, a federal-state program that provides health insurance to low-income people and those with disabilities. In the first few months of the pandemic, between March and May, children on Medicaid received 44% fewer outpatient mental health services — including therapy and in-home support — compared to the same time period in 2019, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That’s even after accounting for increased telehealth appointments.” 

COVID reveals long-term discrimination of older LGTBQ people of color: The AARP Foundation and SAGE, an organization that advocates for older LGBTQ people, are working together on an initiative to address needs of older LGBTQ people. While the pandemic has impacted all aspects of life, for older LBGTQ people of color, it has exposed the effects of long-term discrimination. “COVID-19 has made those challenges worse, but the reality is these severe difficulties and disparities existed long before COVID-19,” Michael Adams with SAGE said. According to a report commissioned by AARP and SAGE, older LGBTQ people of color are at greater risk of COVID-19 related complications due to underlying health conditions, and prolonged economic insecurity due to discrimination. About a third of LGBTQ people over the age of 60 are low income. The same report shows that a majority of LGBTQ people age 45 and older are also concerned about neglect, abuse, and harassment in long-term care facilities. 

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