Briefing for February 8-12, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for February 8-12, 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 12, 2021

Study shows bans on evictions, utility cutoffs are curbing COVID infections: Bans on evictions and utility shutoffs during the pandemic may not only be keeping people safe and warm in their homes: they might also limit the spread of COVID-19, new research suggests. Over the first nine months of the pandemic, the study found, U.S. counties with those policies reduced COVID-19 infection rates by about 4%. The impact on deaths appeared greater: Moratoria on evictions, specifically, were linked to an 11% decrease in COVID-related deaths, while bans on utility disconnections were tied to a 7% decline. The findings cannot prove that housing protections directly prevented COVID-19 infections, the researchers said. But the team, from Duke University, accounted for many other factors that might explain the connection, including state and federal actions taken at the time, from stay-at-home orders to mask mandates. They also weighed information on counties’ demographics, like median incomes and health insurance coverage, the percentage of older adults, and the percentage of people with obesity or diabetes. 

Congress, states, haven’t ended the eviction crisis – but they could: John Pollock, the coordinator of the national coalition for a civil right to counsel and Emily Benfer, visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University School of Law, make the case in Newsweek for federal and state officials, including state courts, to halt eviction proceedings completely for the foreseeable future. Holding any eviction proceedings at all while the pandemic continues, “will guarantee a cavernous divide in health, housing and economic justice by race and economic status, with people of color suffering the most,” they write. 

Vaccination rates follow the money in states with the biggest wealth gaps, analysis shows: From STAT: “The affluent town of Woodbridge, Conn., has less than half the population of neighboring Ansonia, and yet it’s home to more people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. The inequity is stark: In Woodbridge, where residents have a median household income of $138,320 a year, 19.3% of the population had been vaccinated as of Feb. 4, according to Connecticut health department data. In Ansonia, where the median income is $45,563 a year, just 7.1% have received their first shot. Connecticut has the most glaring disparity in vaccination rates between its richest and poorest communities — a difference of 65% — according to a STAT analysis of local-level vaccine data in 10 states with the biggest wealth gaps. Four other states — California, Florida, New Jersey, and Mississippi — also have vaccinated a significantly higher proportion of people in the wealthiest 10% of counties. The discrepancies vary: In California, 156 shots have been given to residents in the richest areas for every 100 vaccines in the poorest counties, while in Mississippi, 111 vaccines have been given to residents of the richest counties for every 100 doses in the poorest places.” 

Schools in more affluent areas move to open faster than those in low-income communities: Los Angeles Times survey of more than 20 school districts throughout Los Angeles County in the past two weeks has found that districts in wealthier, whiter communities such as La Cañada are more likely to be moving full steam ahead to reopen elementary schools and have plans in place to welcome students back as soon as permitted — within as little as two weeks if coronavirus infection rates continue to decline. Districts serving less affluent Latino and Black communities — some of the hardest hit by the pandemic — are further behind. Their leaders spoke of the suffering and fears of their families in the darkest months of the pandemic.  

Reddit emerges as America’s unofficial unemployment hotline: From The New York Times: “Faced with a seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy between them and a financial lifeline, many have turned to what seems like the only place left to go for help — the internet. As unemployment claims shot up early in the pandemic, so did posts on r/Unemployment, one of the many topic-based forums on the site known as subreddits. The subreddit once typically had fewer than 10 posts a day, but it quickly ballooned to nearly 1,000 posts a day in April and May. As the crisis wore on, posts and comments spiked in the weeks following changes to benefit programs. In January, nearly 10 months after the first lockdowns, the forum had one of its busiest weeks ever, driven by delays in payments and uncertainty around legislation signed late last year.”

Fed chair: Unemployment was closer to 10 percent in January: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said Wednesday that the unemployment rate in January was “close to 10 percent,” significantly higher than the 6.3 percent rate reported by the Labor Department last week. The discrepancy is partly due to many unemployed Americans being misclassified as employed, Powell said during a virtual speech at the Economic Club of New York. After accounting for people who have left the labor force since February 2020 and other factors, the unemployment rate is much higher than the official figure, he said. Correcting this misclassification and counting those who have left the labor force since last February as unemployed would boost the unemployment rate to close to 10 percent in January,” Powell said.  

A year into the pandemic, many U.S. workers are anxious, depressed: Nearly a year since COVID-19 crippled the U.S. economy, Americans are not alright. Almost half of full-time workers say they are experiencing mental health issues, including a majority of millennials and Gen Z employees, a recent survey shows. Rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues have climbed since the coronavirus pandemic erupted last March, with 46% of full-time workers reporting such issues compared with 39% before the crisis, according to a poll of more than 1,400 workers surveyed by insurance company The Standard. The pandemic’s seismic impact on workplaces around the U.S. has spawned a range of anxieties. Some employees are worried about their job security during the pandemic, which has caused millions of layoffs. People who are working remotely may feel disconnected from their employers and colleagues, while also feeling burned out since many are skipping vacations, dealing with increased caregiving demands and working longer hours if they’re logged on from home,experts say. “When you dig deeper into where the stress and burnout is coming from, the No. 1 reason is the decreased use of time off that is happening,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director at benefits consulting company Willis Towers Watson. “They aren’t booking vacations — there’s nowhere to go. There are just these very large balances of accrued time off that people didn’t take.” 

Some employers offer time off to workers to get vaccinated: With a nationwide effort underway to immunize people against a virus that’s killed nearly 470,000 Americans, Target on Wednesday became the latest major employer to offer its massive workforce incentives to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The retailer joins Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Darden Restaurants, McDonald’s and Dollar General in promising employees up to four hours of extra pay for getting the shots. Yogurt maker Chobani is paying workers for up to six hours to get inoculated, while Amtrak is spending $3 million to give employees the equivalent of two hours of extra pay once they show they’ve been vaccinated. Target, with 350,000 workers, also said it would cover Lyft rides of up to $15 each way for employees to get to and from their vaccination appointments. The company is working with CVS Health and others to offer vaccines to employees in its stores and distribution centers in the future.

Briefing for February 11, 2021

Pandemic-fueled alcohol abuse creates wave of hospitalizations for liver disease: As the pandemic sends thousands of recovering alcoholics into relapse, hospitals across the country have reported dramatic increases in alcohol-related admissions for critical diseases like alcoholic hepatitis and liver failure. Alcoholism-related liver disease was a growing problem even before the pandemic, with 15 million people diagnosed with the condition around the country, and with hospitalizations doubling over the past decade. But the pandemic has dramatically added to the toll. Although national figures are not available, admissions for alcoholic liver disease at Keck Hospital of the University of Southern California were up 30% in 2020 compared with 2019, said Dr. Brian Lee, a transplant hepatologist who treats the condition in alcoholics. Specialists at hospitals affiliated with the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Harvard University and Mount Sinai Health System in New York City said rates of admissions for alcoholic liver disease have leapt by up to 50% since March. 

Democrats push temporary Obamacare expansion in COVID bill: Pieces of the COVID-19 relief package House Democrats released Monday night include the first major expansion of Affordable Care Act subsidies in more than a decade — a key plank of President Joe Biden’s health care agenda that they hope to pass in the coming weeks. Democrats are hoping that the beefed up subsidies, combined with Biden’s recent executive order to reopen the ACA’s markets and advertise heavily to entice people to enroll, will make a major dent in the ranks of uninsured Americans that have grown during the pandemic and ensuing economic recession. The bill, which the Ways and Means Committee will mark up later this week, would fully subsidize ACA coverage for people earning up to 150% of the federal poverty level and those on unemployment insurance. It also ends the so-called subsidy cliff for people making over 400% of the federal poverty level, making them eligible for subsidies for the first time and capping their premium costs at 8.5% of income. 

How a federal effort to help low-income Americans pay their phone bills failed during the pandemic: From The Washington Post: “The coronavirus has reinforced the Internet as the fabric of modern American life, a luxury-turned-necessity for a generation now forced to work, learn and communicate primarily through the Web. But it also has laid bare the country’s inequalities — and the role Washington has played in exacerbating these long-known divides. Nowhere is the gap more startling than with Lifeline, a roughly $2.4 billion digital safety net conceived nearly three decades ago to ensure that all Americans could access reliable communications. Families who rely on Lifeline say they have struggled to talk to their doctors, employers and loved ones throughout the pandemic, illustrating how significant technical shortcomings, and years of government neglect, have undermined a critical aid program at a time when it is needed most.” 

White House sends vaccines directly to community health centers: Community health centers will be receiving coronavirus vaccines directly from the federal government next week, White House officials announced Tuesday. The goal of the new program is to focus on equitable vaccine distribution, in order to reach traditionally underserved areas. “Equity is core to our strategy to put this pandemic behind us, and equity means that we are reaching everyone, particularly those in underserved and rural communities, and those who have been hit hardest by this pandemic,” Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a press briefing. 

Navajo Nation sees early vaccine success: The Navajo Nation has administered about 98% of its available COVID-19 vaccines and more doses are arriving this week from the federal government. As of Tuesday, the Navajo Nation had administered 77,074 of the 78,520 vaccine doses it had received. Roselyn Tso, area director for the Navajo Area IHS, credited local health care workers for managing the tribe’s vaccine clinics alongside testing programs and regular medical care. “We are working very hard to make sure all vaccines available to the Navajo Area IHS are put into the arms of the people that we serve,” Tso said during a video update Tuesday. 

Farmworker camps to urban tent cities — Tailoring vaccine info to where it’s most needed: Kaiser Health News looks at creative efforts by health officials in western North Carolina to not only transport the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable populations, but also address those individuals’ concerns and encourage them to take the shots. Polls show Black and Hispanic Americans, as well as residents of rural areas, have expressed greater reluctance about the vaccine. And disparities in vaccination rates are already emerging. Now, a host of grassroots organizations in western North Carolina are taking to the streets, to WhatsApp chats and to Zoom lunches to close that gap.  

Building a better post-COVID future for women in New Orleans: The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on women’s employment across the nation, and perhaps nowhere more than the city of New Orleans, a metropolitan area heavily dependent on hospitality and tourism dollars that have all but vanished during the past year. A new study by Chandra Childers, a Study Director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, looks at the potential opportunities for women who have lost jobs during the pandemic to find new opportunities in skilled trade and technical jobs. Childers spoke with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.  

Briefing for February 10, 2021

Some workers have been hit harder than others in the pandemic: Liberty Street Economics, the blog of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, explores some of the reasons that lower-wage workers have born the brunt of pandemic-inflicted job losses: “Why have lower-wage workers been hit so much harder during the pandemic? Much of it can be traced to differences in the types of jobs held among the groups. Due to a combination of government restrictions and behavioral changes people made to avoid exposure to the virus, the largest losses during the pandemic accrued to the leisure and hospitality industry — most notably, restaurants, bars, and hotels — as well as retail, both of which tend to employ large numbers of lower-paid workers. Further, lower-wage workers have much less ability to work remotely — think food servers and cashiers — compared to higher-wage workers, such as managers, accountants, and attorneys. In fact, according to new data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics after the pandemic began, an average of nearly 60% of workers in our high-wage group reported that they telecommuted during the pandemic, compared to less than 10% for low-wage workers. This pattern is consistent with findings by our colleagues in a related post showing that workers in low-income areas are more likely to commute to work than workers in high-income areas, suggesting that such workers are more dependent on occupations that require in-person work.”  

As Biden pushes for racial equity in vaccinations, data is lagging: Federal health officials are struggling to gather accurate data on the race and ethnicity of people being vaccinated against the coronavirus, hampering President Biden’s push for racial equity in a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color. Biden has repeatedly said racial equity will be at the core of his administration’s coronavirus response. On Tuesday, White House officials announced a program to ship doses of vaccine directly to a network of federally funded clinics in underserved areas, beginning next week. “Equity is our North Star here,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, a Yale professor who has been appointed by Mr. Biden to lead a COVID-19 equity task force, said during a White House virus team briefing. “This effort that focuses on allocation for community health centers really is about connecting with those hard-to-reach populations across the country.” 

‘Forgotten’ grocery workers hope for better pay and vaccinations: The race to distribute vaccines and the emergence of more contagious variants of COVID-19 have put a renewed spotlight on the plight of grocery workers in the United States. The industry has boomed in the past year as Americans have stayed home and avoided restaurants. But in most cases, that has not translated into extra pay for its workers. After Long Beach, Calif., mandated hazard pay for grocery workers, the grocery giant Kroger responded last week by saying it would close two locations. And now, even as experts warn people to minimize time spent in grocery stores because of new coronavirus variants, The New York Times found only 13 states that had started specifically vaccinating those workers. “Grocers are known to have these very thin margins, which they do, but they have been very profitable during the pandemic,” said Molly Kinder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has researched retailers’ pay during the pandemic. “Employers by and large, with only a few exceptions like Trader Joe’s and Costco, ended hazard pay months and months ago.” 

Native Americans use technology to preserve traditions, language during the pandemic: Native communities have been devastated by COVID-19, particularly in the loss of elders who may be the last link to precious parts of Native culture. With that in mind, many Native people have found innovative ways throughout the pandemic to continue sharing their culture despite physical distancing restrictions. Social media groups have provided some remedies, in ways that may continue after the pandemic wanes. “If there was ever a time where we could see how interconnected our world is, that time is now,” said Jeneda Benally, a musician and member of the Navajo tribe in Arizona. One Facebook group, known as Social Distance Powwow, has helped its Native members connect through sharing videos of drumming, dancing and other traditions. Since its founding in March, the group has accumulated more than 227,000 members and taken on a life of its own, with people sharing prayer requests, birthday celebrations and death announcements. “We didn’t expect it to take off like it did,” said group co-founder Dan Simonds, an artist based in Bozeman, Montana, and a member of the Pequot tribe. “It showed how much something like this was needed.” 

Youths of color are the future, and investing in their mental health is crucial: Margarita Alegría, a psychologist, chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and The Mongan Institute in Boston, and a professor in the departments of medicine and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, writes for STAT: “Latino and Black children are also twice as likely to experience economic- and health-related impacts due to COVID-19. These experiences can both create and heighten mental health problems. As young people worry about their families’ futures, they also worry about their own. This intergenerational transmission of hardship might be erasing their hope for a future. We owe Black and Latino youths, who are our present and our future, a strong and accessible system of mental health resources, one that is confidential, easy to access, and available in Spanish as well as English.” 

Vaccine translation project reaches underserved communities: From the Center on Cooperative Media: “According to Dr. David Adinaro, deputy commissioner for Public Health Services at the New Jersey Department of Health, as of January 25 about 550,000 New Jerseyans had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. But white residents in New Jersey are being vaccinated at significantly higher rates (41%) than Black (4.2%), Latino (6.1%) and Asian (7.2%) residents, according to the analysis presented by Dr. Adinaro — and, in many counties across New Jersey, two to three times higher. All of this makes getting facts about the vaccine in front of communities of color even more urgent. That’s why in late December the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University partnered with to translate some of its vaccine-related content into multiple languages for use by ethnic media outlets across the state. ‘If you ask many members of the Pakistani community in New Jersey about the [state’s] vaccine plan, you’d most likely get a blank face. They don’t really know, unless someone [they know] from the market or mosque tell them — and the information may not be accurate,’ said Mohsin Zaheer, publisher and editor of Urdu News USA.” 

How Veterans Affairs is helping rural vets get the COVID-19 vaccine: Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton reports for NPR’s All Things Considered: “The VA is trying to figure out how to fairly distribute the very limited amount of coronavirus vaccines it has been given for veterans. That is only about 1.5 million doses so far for the roughly 9 million veterans they serve. The VA is making a special effort to reach veterans in rural areas, but the nationwide vaccine shortage means lots of vets are frustrated and feeling left behind. Inside a massive building at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in northwest Montana, VA workers call the numbers of veterans who were sitting in spaced-out folding chairs. Eighty-two-year-old former Army clerk typist Carole Beaudion, in a flowered mask and purple puffy vest, is elated to be getting a COVID vaccine. The VA is setting up pop-up clinics like this one for rural vets, many who live hundreds of miles from the nearest VA clinic or hospital that can store COVID-19 vaccines. But just like in big cities, not just any vet can show up and get a shot. Judy Hayman, who’s in charge of Montana’s VA Medical Center, says they are using electronic medical records to reach out to the most vulnerable.” 

Restaurants find a new revenue source: Since March, restaurateurs across the country have scrambled to find new revenue streams to prop up what many say was already a broken business model: inconsistent income and slim margins that often translated into low wages and no benefits for workers. Some have begun to offer virtual cooking classes; others sell meal kits or monthly subscriptions. But Irena Stein, a co-owner of Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, is betting that feeding the food-insecure is a viable way to offset the high fixed costs of her restaurant — and she has company. Since April, Rethink Food, a New York nonprofit group, has invested more than $10 million in a program to pay 40 restaurants, most of them in New York City, to feed underserved communities. The organization has also enlisted name-brand chefs, like Sean Brock in Nashville, Stephanie Izard in Chicago and Dominique Crenn in San Francisco, to produce meals at their own restaurants and serve as ambassadors for the program, recruiting new chefs in their home cities.

Briefing for February 9, 2021

Dying of COVID in a ‘separate and unequal’ Los Angeles hospital: A harrowing, heartbreaking look by Sheri Fink and Isadora Kosofsky of the New York Times at the conditions at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, “by size the hardest-hit hospital in the hardest-hit county in the state now leading the nation in cases and on the brink of surpassing New York with the highest death toll.” Fink writes: “The New York Times spent more than a week inside the hospital, during a period when nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 inpatients there were dying, despite advances in knowledge of the disease. It was an outcome that approached that of some New York hospitals last spring, when the city was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. That rise coincided with a surge of cases in Southern California, a doubling of the mortality rate in Los Angeles hospitals over all and the spread of a new local strain that may be more transmissible than the more prevalent one. Eight out of ten of those who died at M.L.K. hospital were Hispanic, a group with the highest COVID-19 death rates in Los Angeles County, followed by Black residents. County data also showed that the most impoverished Los Angeles residents, many of them around the hospital in South Los Angeles, are dying of the disease at four times the rate of the wealthiest.” 

Digital divide lurks behind school reopening plans: Axios reports: “Students on the wrong side of the digital divide who have struggled to keep up with remote learning will continue to face major hurdles even as schools reopen. ‘Even after kids are back in school, to address the unprecedented pandemic-induced learning loss, educators, students, and families will need robust resources outside of school,’ said Amina Fazlullah, equity policy counsel for Common Sense Media. ‘That means, going forward, all students need to be able to continue to robustly connect to distance learning.’ Schools scrambling to ensure that students can get online at home have tapped public and private resources to connect an estimated 3 million kids since the pandemic began, according to a tally from EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit focused on school connectivity. But another 12 million kids still don’t have the connections they need for distance learning, according to a January report from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group. And that analysis found that 75% of pandemic-related efforts to close the digital divide will expire in three years.” 

Often overlooked community health workers bring trust to the pandemic fight: Kaiser Health News reports that public health authorities are relying on community health workers to be a bridge to communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 and who are most skeptical about the new vaccines. African Americans and Hispanics have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at rates more than three times higher than for non-Hispanic white Americans, but they are among the most hesitant to get the vaccine. As the pandemic brings long-standing health disparities into sharper view, community health workers are coming to the forefront in the public health response. It is an about-face after their efforts were largely curtailed early in the pandemic, when “nonessential” health services came to a halt. Community health workers “were sidelined, but the needs of the community weren’t sidelined,” said Lisa Hamilton Jones, co-president of the Florida Community Health Worker Coalition. “Now we’re seeing more hiring of community health workers than ever. If you look at the virus and the timeline, why did it take so long?” 

Crisis builds momentum for big measures to reduce child poverty: From The New York Times: “The early weeks of the Biden administration have brought a surge of support, in the White House and across party lines in Congress, for what could be the most ambitious effort in a generation to reduce child poverty. The plans vary in duration, design and the amount they would add to the federal debt, but they share a new and central premise in the policy debate over how to help the poor: that sending monthly payments through tax credits to parents, even if they do not earn income from work, is the best way to help feed, clothe and house children from low-income families. One such plan is a cornerstone of the legislative text that House Democrats introduced on Monday as part of what will become a sweeping bill to implement President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion economic aid package. That text included a monthly benefit of $300 per child for those age 5 and younger — and $250 per child ages 6 to 17 — as a means of making good on Mr. Biden’s pledge to increase the value of the so-called child tax credit and help more families, even those with little or no income, reap its benefits. While that payout would expire after a year, several Democrats and one influential Republican are pushing to permanently increase child benefits, which researchers say could lift the United States into the ranks of wealthy nations like Canada and the United Kingdom, both of which enjoy significantly lower child poverty rates.” 

If we want to defeat COVID, Medicaid needs a boost: Three resident surgeons and physicians from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco, write for Politico that states need more money from the federal government to fully fund Medicaid costs: “Of all the tools the government has to combat COVID-19, Medicaid is arguably one of the most important. Medicaid provides health insurance for millions of Americans in low-paid service jobs, the essential workers who are among those most vulnerable to contracting and spreading the virus. Medicaid also pays the bills for millions of nursing home residents, whose lives are most at risk, and provides a critical link to primary care physicians for millions more families who will need to be vaccinated in coming months. But if Medicaid is more important now than ever, it is also at its most vulnerable. Medicaid is inherently countercyclical — its enrollment and spending increase during economic downturns. Unfortunately, economic recessions are also when state revenues decrease, meaning that just when it’s needed most, states may be forced to slash Medicaid spending.” 

CBO reports minimum wage hike would cost jobs but lower poverty levels: Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would significantly reduce poverty and increase earnings for millions of low-wage workers, while adding to the federal deficit and cutting overall employment, according to a new study from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The White House’s proposal would raise the minimum wage from its current level, $7.25, to $15 with increases of approximately $1.50 every year for five years. On one hand, the CBO estimated that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost 1.4 million jobs and increase the deficit by $54 billion over 10 years. But it also estimated the policy would lift 900,000 people out of poverty and raise income for 17 million people — about one in 10 workers.  

How Los Angeles built houses for the homeless in just four weeks: In Los Angeles, where tens of thousands of people experience homelessness on any given night, a new supportive housing project has just contributed 84 homes to help get people off the streets. Thanks to modular construction and a replicable design, hundreds more of these homes are on the way. Factory-built steel modules were used to construct the new housing project, called Hope on Alvarado, which has on-site services, full-time counselors, rooftop gardens, and a courtyard. Three more projects based on this design will break ground later this month. Modular construction is becoming a popular way to quickly build affordable and supportive housing. A similar project in Toronto went from the drawing board to completion in eight months. 

Kroger to pay workers $100 if they get the COVID-19 vaccine: Kroger has joined a growing list of large U.S. grocery store chains offering incentives for workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The company announced that its associates would get a one-time $100 payment if they show proof that they’ve received the full manufacturer-recommended doses of a vaccine. Workers that can’t get the vaccine for health or religious reasons can get the payment if they take an educational health and safety course, the company said in a news release. Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Dollar General and Instacart have also announced that they would pay workers to encourage them to get vaccinated. 

Briefing for February 8, 2021

The pandemic’s toll on housing — falling behind, doubling up: From the New York Times: “As the pandemic enters its second year, millions of renters are struggling with a loss of income and with the insecurity of not knowing how long they will have a home. Their savings depleted, they are running up credit card debt to make the rent, or accruing months of overdue payments. Families are moving in together, offsetting the cost of housing by finding others to share it. The nation has a plague of housing instability that was festering long before COVID-19, and the pandemic’s economic toll has only made it worse. Now the financial scars are deepening and the disruptions to family life growing more severe, leaving a legacy that will remain long after mass vaccinations. Even before last year, about 11 million households — one in four U.S. renters — were spending more than half their pretax income on housing, and overcrowding was on the rise. By one estimate, for every 100 very low-income households, only 36 affordable rentals are available. Now the pandemic is adding to the pressure. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed that tenants who lost jobs in the pandemic had amassed $11 billion in rental arrears, while a broader measure by Moody’s Analytics, which includes all delinquent renters, estimated that as of January they owed $53 billion in back rent, utilities and late fees. Other surveys show that families are increasingly pessimistic about making their next month’s rent, and are cutting back on food and other essentials to pay bills.” 

Senior Democrats to unveil $3,000-per-child benefit: Senior Democrats on Monday will unveil legislation to provide $3,000 per child to tens of millions of American families, aiming to make a major dent in child poverty as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package. The 22-page bill to dramatically expand direct cash benefits to American families was obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its release. Under the proposal, the Internal Revenue Service would provide $3,600 over the course of the year per child under the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per child of ages 6 to 17. The size of the benefit would diminish for Americans earning more than $75,000 per year, as well as for couples jointly earning more than $150,000 per year. The payments would be sent monthly beginning in July, a delay intended to give the IRS time to prepare for the massive new initiative. 

Paid family leave and sick leave could expand for the first time in decades because of the pandemic: From The Washington Post: “Just two weeks into Bill Clinton’s nascent presidency, the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act was the first bill he signed into law. Advocates said the FMLA, which guarantees certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for family or medical reasons, would be a springboard to expansive leave protections. Instead, it proved to be a stopping point: More than 28 years later, Congress hasn’t passed significant legislation to broadly expand family and medical leave. As the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate workers — particularly women — a new generation of advocates are hopeful a more expansive iteration of the FMLA might finally have a shot. On Friday, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would grant workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave, whether to recover from illness or childbirth, or provide care for a loved one.” 

As demand for mental health care spikes, budget ax looms: States across the U.S. are still stinging after businesses closed and millions of people lost jobs due to COVID-related shutdowns and restrictions. Meanwhile, the pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people who say their mental health has suffered, rising from one in three people in March to more than half of people polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation in July. The full extent of the mental health crisis and the demand for behavioral health services may not be known until after the pandemic is over, mental health experts said. That could add costs that budget writers haven’t anticipated. “It usually takes a while before people feel comfortable seeking care from a specialty behavioral health organization,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the nonprofit National Council for Behavioral Health in Washington, D.C. “We are not likely to see the results of that either in terms of people seeking care — or suicide rates going up — until we’re on the other side of the pandemic.” 

Sixty Black experts urge Black Americans to get vaccinated: Writing in The New York Times, 60 Black members of the National Academy of Medicine, the premier health science organization in the United States, say that they “feel compelled to make the case that all Black Americans should get vaccinated to protect themselves from a pandemic that has disproportionately killed them at a rate 1.5 times as high as white Americans in cases in which race is known — a rate that is most likely very conservative. Many of us fought our way into health professions specifically to care for the health of our community. We have devoted our careers to ensuring that everyone — regardless of race — receives the care required for optimal health. This is why we support the COVID-19 vaccines.” 

Black Americans may have to travel further to get COVID vaccination, study finds: As states prepare COVID-19 inoculations for a wider swath of the population, researchers who have been mapping potential vaccine distribution sites found that, in dozens of counties across the country, Black residents are more likely than white residents to live farther away from a site. Long drives to vaccination sites may keep people from getting the vaccine and could widen the already-significant health disparities between Black and white Americans, wrote the researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the West Health Policy Center. 

Clergy step up to lead vaccination drive in many Black communities: Black clergy are stepping up across the country to help make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible in communities that have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic. As several states struggle to close racial gaps in vaccinations, faith leaders are taking the reins as trusted figures in Black communities. Some are teaming up with government officials to encourage people to get their shots and to alleviate fears about the vaccines. Initial data on coronavirus vaccines show white Americans are getting vaccinated at a higher rate than minorities, despite the increased infections and deaths in communities of color.  

In Mississippi, Black residents are desperate to get vaccinated but face major hurdles: The pandemic has hit Mississippi’s impoverished, rural and primarily Black communities hard. And disparities are present in the state’s vaccinations. The state’s Black residents are vastly underrepresented among Mississippians who have been vaccinated so far. Mississippi has the highest percentage of Black residents in the nation — 38% — but only 17% of those who have received the shots have been identified as Black. That’s one of the worst racial gaps in the country. Mississippi’s leaders have focused on a hesitancy to get the vaccine in communities of color to explain this gap, and they have devoted resources to partner with prominent Black community leaders, many of whom have gotten the vaccine on camera in an effort to overcome concerns about its safety and effectiveness. But over the past several weeks, local doctors, community leaders and even state officials say it’s become increasingly clear that many Black residents want to get vaccinated — they’re just hitting roadblocks that have prevented them from doing so. 

Telehealth was used less during the pandemic by patients with low incomes: Telemedicine use skyrocketed last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, varying widely across patient demographics, medical needs and clinical specialties. But use was significantly lower in low-income areas, according to a new study of insured patients published in Health Affairs. In the first few months of the pandemic, more than 30% of all visits were provided via virtual care, and the weekly number of telemedicine visits increased twenty-three-fold compared with pre-COVID-19. But telemedicine use was much lower in communities with more poverty, with utilization for the lowest and highest quartiles of poverty rates coming in at about 32% versus 28%, respectively. 

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