Briefing for January 11-15, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for January 11-15, 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 January 15, 2021

Biden outlines $1.9 trillion rescue package: President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a new COVID-19 rescue package which would have major impacts on communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Among the key provisions: 

  • Direct payments of $1,400 to eligible recipients 
  • Increasing unemployment assistance from $300 to $400 weekly 
  • An additional $25 billion in rental assistance for low-income households 
  • Extending the federal eviction moratorium to September 30 
  • Extending a 15% increase in SNAP benefits through September 
  • An additional $3 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) 
  • Boosting the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for those between ages 6 and 17 for a year; the credit would also be made fully refundable 
  • Restoring the paid sick and family leave benefits that expired last month through September 

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity/AEI/Brookings roundtable surveys policy landscape: Many of the provisions called for in Biden’s new rescue package were part of a Thursday discussion hosted by Spotlight on Poverty, the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution to explore areas of bipartisan agreement on poverty and opportunity in the year to come. Moderated by New York Times reporter Jason DeParle, the panel focused on issues such as expanding the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit and finding policies that both reduce poverty and promote opportunity. Participants included: 

  • Robert Doar, AEI president and Morgridge scholar
  • Richard Reeves, the John C. and Nancy D. Whitehead chair and senior fellow of economic studies at Brookings 
  • Camille Busette, senior fellow for economic studies at Brookings and director of its Race, Prosperity and Inclusion Initiative 
  • Scott Winship, resident scholar and director of poverty studies at AEI 
  • Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity 
  • Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council during the Obama and Clinton administrations 

CDC study finds COVID-19 outbreaks aren’t fueled by in-person classes: A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in-person classes at K-12 schools do not appear to lead to increases in COVID-19 when compared with areas that have online-only learning. The CDC study noted that in the week beginning Dec. 6, coronavirus cases among the general population in counties where K-12 schools opened for in-person learning were similar to rates in counties that were online only. “CDC recommends that K-12 schools be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures have been employed and the first to reopen when they can do so safely,” the authors of the report wrote. 

What does a more contagious virus mean for schools? From the New York Times: “In the United States, the more contagious version of the coronavirus has been spotted only in a handful of states but is expected to spread swiftly, becoming the predominant source of infections by March. If community prevalence rises to unmanageable levels — a likely proposition, given the surge in most states — even elementary schools may be forced to close. But that should be a last resort, after closures of indoor restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and malls, several experts said. ‘I still say exactly what many people have said for the past few months — that schools should be the last thing to close,’ said Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease expert at Boston University. Keeping schools open carries some risk, but ‘I think it can be reduced substantially with all the mitigations in place,’ she said.” 

U.K. tutoring program could help American students recover from pandemic education losses: Last fall, the United Kingdom rolled out a national program that provides subsidized, personalized tutoring to elementary, middle, and high school students who fell behind when schools shut down as a result of the COVID outbreak. The U.K.’s National Tutoring Program, which will last two years, is specifically designed to bring disadvantaged students back up to speed. The entire £350 million ($453 million) program is funded by the national government. In the U.S., where the pandemic appears to have disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities and where existing opportunity gaps have been exacerbated by school shutdowns, there is no such program. But the need for one is just as acute

Calls to reopen schools grow as teachers get vaccinated: State leaders around the U.S. are increasingly pushing for schools to reopen this winter — pressuring them, even — as teachers begin to gain access to the vaccine against the raging pandemic. Ohio’s governor offered to give vaccinations to teachers at the start of February, provided their school districts agree to resume at least some in-person instruction by March 1. In Arizona, where teachers began receiving shots this week, the governor warned schools that he expects students back in the classroom despite objections from top education officials and the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the nation over the past week. “We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.” 

Vaccination disarray leaves seniors confused: Frustration and confusion are rampant as states and counties begin to offer vaccines to all seniors after giving them first to front-line health care workers and nursing home residents — the groups initially given priority by state and federal authorities. In this chaotic environment, with COVID cases and deaths skyrocketing and distribution systems in a state of disarray, it’s difficult to get up-to-date, reliable information. Many older adults don’t know where to turn for help

Dollar General will pay workers to get the coronavirus vaccine: Dollar General workers who get the coronavirus vaccine will be rewarded with four hours of pay, the company announced Wednesday, making it one of the first major retailers to incentivize inoculations for its workforce. While such major brands as Walmart and CVS have key roles in the distribution of vaccines, most are encouraging employees to get vaccinated but not mandating it. But as doses become available to front-line workers outside of heath and long-term care, Dollar General wants to remove barriers — including transit and child-care costs — that might prevent its 157,000 employees from receiving the vaccine, the discount retailer said in a news release. On average, Dollar General employees make a base rate of $9.80 an hour, according to PayScale.

Briefing for January 14, 2021

Hospitals’ rocky rollout of vaccines raises questions about fairness: The initial vaccine rollout — aimed at health care workers and nursing home residents — has been uneven at best because of a lack of a federal strategy on how it should work, with states, hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies often making decisions on their own about who gets vaccinated and when. In some hospitals, administrators and other personnel who have no contact with patients or face no risk at work from the virus are getting shots, while patients — and even front-line staff — who are at heightened risk for COVID complications are being passed by. Some administrators who have been working remotely throughout the pandemic have been vaccinated, especially at hospitals that decided to allocate doses by age group rather than exposure risk. Although states and federal health groups laid out broad guidelines on how to prioritize who gets the vaccine, in practice what’s mattered most was who controlled the vaccine and where the vaccine distribution was handled. 

Biden expected to include new child credit in stimulus proposal: From the Washington Post: “President-elect Joe Biden is expected to include a significant new benefit for children in poor and middle-class households in the coronavirus relief package he will release this week, according to three people speaking on the condition of anonymity to share details of internal deliberations. Biden officials are likely to include the expansion of an existing tax credit for children as part of a relief package that will also include $2,000 stimulus payments, unemployment benefits and other assistance for the ailing economy — as well as money to fight the coronavirus pandemic and increase vaccine distribution. Biden is expected to formally unveil his proposal Thursday. Biden transition officials have not disclosed the overall price tag of the package, but it is expected to be more than $1 trillion.” 

The path to making ends meet in Philadelphia: Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity features Broke in Philly, the journalism cooperative that has brought together the city’s leading newsrooms to focus their joint resources on journalism about income inequality. The latest from the site: Zig Zag, a multimedia series of stories that looks at some of the solutions that are gaining traction in Philadelphia’s battle against poverty. Also, join Spotlight, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute for a virtual roundtable today that will examine the poverty/opportunity policy landscape for the new administration and Congress.  

Hotel and restaurant workers reel as layoffs soar again: The coronavirus pandemichas ravaged the hospitality, travel and retail industries since its outset in March, when shutdowns and restrictions meant to contain the virus cost more than 520,000 U.S. service workers their jobs. This workforce is under renewed pressure amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases: 498,000 leisure and hospitality jobs disappeared last month, the Labor Department reported Friday. Restaurant and bar workers made up the bulk of those losses, roughly 3 in 4, an onslaught that disproportionately affected women and workers of color. Overall employment in the sector has fallen 23% during the pandemic, outpacing every other industry, federal data shows. With new rounds of state-mandated restaurant and bar restrictions, and winter weather limiting outdoor dining, food services accounted for 372,000 job losses in December. That backslide obliterated significant hiring gains in industries like professional services, retail and construction, and the United States recorded a net loss of 140,000 jobs in December — its first negative showing since April. 

Free meals proposed for all students: Congress should permanently expand the school food program so that all public school students can eat breakfast and lunch for free, the School Nutrition Association suggested earlier this week. The association said many school food directors expect to run a deficit this school year because of school closures and the higher cost of preparing and serving meals during the pandemic. “Providing all students equal access to a healthy school breakfast and lunch will contribute to the academic achievement, health, and wellness of America’s youth at a critical time for our country,” said SNA President Reggie Ross in calling for universal free meals. “School meal programs are proven to support learning and foster healthy eating habits.” In a position paper, the association also said schools depend heavily on USDA-provided foods to prepare meals. “With participation drastically down due to the COVID-19 school closures, Congress should direct the USDA to utilize fiscal year 2019 participation data when calculating” food donations, it said. 

Atlanta mayor pushes ambitious affordable housing plan: In early December, after a year in which COVID-19 pummeled the region’s lower income workforce and the police killing of Rayshard Brooks renewed local racial tension, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms unveiled a comprehensive new proposal aimed at tackling both the burgeoning housing crisis and long festering inequality: a series of zoning reforms that increase urban density and “directly address the structures of discrimination that still exist in Atlanta’s zoning and land-use policies.” A few days later, the mayor followed up with an executive order that invests $50 million in new bond funding for affordable housing. “Atlanta has the largest wealth gap in the nation, so as rental prices have increased, wages have remained stagnant, and low-income people are really having significant problems finding affordable housing,” says Bambie Hayes-Brown, president and CEO of Georgia Advancing Communities Together Inc., a housing and community development nonprofit. “Having more density will give people more options.” 

Briefing for January 13, 2021

Tribal elders are dying from the pandemic, creating a cultural crisis for Native Americans: From The New York Times, reporting from Standing Rock Reservation, N.D.: “The virus took Grandma Delores first, silencing an 86-year-old voice that rang with Lakota songs and stories. Then it came for Uncle Ralph, a stoic Vietnam veteran. And just after Christmas, two more elders of the Taken Alive family were buried on the frozen North Dakota prairie: Jesse and Cheryl, husband and wife, who died a month apart. ‘It takes your breath away,’ said Ira Taken Alive, the couple’s oldest son. ‘The amount of knowledge they held, and connection to our past.’ One by one, those connections are being severed as the coronavirus tears through ranks of Native American elders, inflicting an incalculable toll on bonds of language and tradition that flow from older generations to the young. ‘It’s like we’re having a cultural book-burning,’ said Jason Salsman, a spokesman for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in eastern Oklahoma, whose grandparents contracted the virus but survived. ‘We’re losing a historical record, encyclopedias. One day soon, there won’t be anybody to pass this knowledge down.’”

Administration’s plan to vaccinate older Americans could make more women eligible: The Trump administration made major updates to its coronavirus vaccine guidelines Tuesday, urging states to offer the shots to adults 65 and older — a group predominantly made up of women — as well as those with medical conditions that could increase their risk of COVID-19 complications. The new guidelines could open up immunizations to women who were otherwise not yet eligible. The change, announced at a media briefing by the Department of Health and Human Services, could also expand early vaccine eligibility for pregnant people, who are at heightened risk of COVID-19.  

Why are people with type 1 diabetes not higher on the CDC vaccination priority list? Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions released in December rank a person with type 2 diabetes as someone who “is at increased risk” of more severe illness from COVID-19. That means people with that condition will follow health care workers and people living in long-term care settings, getting their vaccines in Phase 1c of the rollout. Data behind that ranking are considered “strongest and most consistent evidence.” People with type 1 diabetes are in Phase 2, deemed to be patients who “might be at an increased risk” for severe illness. Data behind that ranking are classified as “limited evidence.” “I don’t feel like I’m an apples-to-apples comparison with another healthy 36-year-old because another healthy 36-year-old, if they get a stomach virus, it doesn’t wind them up in the ER, but for me, it always has,” said Laura Woerner, who has type 1 diabetes and is an AP biology teacher in Montgomery A.L.., teaching remotely. “There’s a very intricate balance. There’s thousands of decisions made in a day by somebody with type 1 diabetes that could either kill them or keep them healthy.” 

The challenge of vaccinating rural America: Rural Americans are especially hesitant to receive a coronavirus vaccine, and only a highly tailored outreach campaign is likely to change that. In Kaiser Family Foundation polling, 35% of rural Americans say they probably or definitely will not get vaccinated, compared to 26% of urban Americans. 62% of rural residents see getting vaccinated as a personal choice, compared with just 36% who see it as part of their responsibility to protect the health of others in the community. 

Housing is a right — During a pandemic, it’s also a fight: In the COVID-19 era, poverty in California’s rural agricultural counties has become deadly. California now has over 2.7 million coronavirus cases. While Los Angeles, with its huge population, has the largest number of cases with over 920,000, the highest infection rates actually are to be found in less-populous counties with large farmworker populations. Imperial County, right across the border from Mexicali, Mexico, and Kings County, just south of Fresno, both have well over 10,000 cases per every 100,000 residents. California is the richest state in the United States, so it’s easy to forget that its rural poverty and substandard farmworker housing have contributed to the surge in COVID-19 cases there

New York Gov. Cuomo  Empty office space should become housing: Like many cities around the world, New York City has seen life drained from its commercial core, as offices have been left to sit nearly empty for months. These unoccupied offices raise a lot of questions about the future of work, the future of cities, and whether buildings built to hold offices will even make sense in a world so thoroughly upended by a pandemic. But they may also be offering some solutions. According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) State of the State address on Monday, these empty office spaces could take on new lives and solve multiple problems in cities like New York. “The housing problem in our cities has gotten worse. But the crisis of growing vacancies in our commercial property provides an opportunity,” Cuomo said. “We should convert vacant commercial space to supportive and affordable housing, and we should do it now.” 

Briefing for January 12, 2021

Millions left without sick leave after Congress let the benefit expire: Tens of millions of workers lost the right to paid sick and family leave at the end of December after Congress failed to extend them in the new relief package. Congress provided the pandemic-related benefit in March to give a cushion to ill workers and parents whose children’s schools were suddenly closed. But lawmakers left out the guaranteed paid leave in a broad economic stimulus deal passed days before the benefit was set to end — even as the number of Covid cases and deaths surged. The new legislation continues to provide tax credits through March 31 to employers who voluntarily choose to offer the paid leave, but they are no longer required to do so, according to the Department of Labor. “We know this could have a significant impact on low-income workers. Those businesses in public facing industries like food service may not continue to provide the leave,” said Tanya Goldman, a senior policy analyst and attorney at The Center for Law and Social Policy. 

For healthcare workers, the pandemic is fueling renewed interest in unions: From NPR: “Research shows that health facilities with unions have betterpatient outcomes and are more likely to have inspections that can find and correct workplace hazards. One study found New York nursing homes with unionized workers had lower COVID-19 mortality rates, as well as better access to PPE and stronger infection control measures, than nonunion facilities. Recognizing that, some workers — like the nurses at Mission Hospital in Asheville, N.C. — are forming new unions or thinking about organizing for the first time. Others, who already belong to a union, are taking more active leadership roles, voting to strike, launching public information campaigns and filing lawsuits against employers. ‘The urgency and desperation we’ve heard from workers is at a pitch I haven’t experienced before in 20 years of this work,’ said Cass Gualvez, organizing director for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West in California. ‘We’ve talked to workers who said, ‘I was dead set against a union five years ago, but COVID has changed that.’” 

The nursing home didn’t send her to the hospital and she died: ProPublica and the Raleigh News & Observer examine the death of Palestine Howze, 71, who died last April 14 in a North Carolina rehab center. Howze’s daughters want to sue the center for not sending their mother to the hospital, but the pandemic could make her lawsuit all but impossible to pursue. As COVID-19 deaths were rising and scenes from the epicenter in New York offered a grim warning of what lay ahead, North Carolina gave nursing homes, hospitals and other health providers remarkably broad immunity from lawsuits. Signed into law in early May, just days after being proposed, North Carolina’s protections went further than many states, precluding even claims that don’t involve COVID-19 treatment or that stem from staffing shortages that could otherwise be evidence of gross negligence

Black leaders promote vaccines to overcome community skepticism: Black elected officials and political leaders are making a concerted push to Black members of their communities to accept the coronavirus vaccines and overcome a deep-rooted skepticism that is the result of historical mistreatment of Black Americans bythe medical industry. A series of prominent Black leaders have publicized the shots they have received in hopes of boosting vaccine acceptance in communities that have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. “Given the storage time for vaccines and the fact that they can be wasted, you really need to make sure you have folks willing to take the vaccine, folks who are excited to take the vaccine,” Quinton Lucas, the Democratic mayor of Kansas City, said in an interview with The Hill. “You have a lot of wait-and-see approach from our Black and brown populations.” 

Big cities call off 2021 homeless count because of pandemic concerns: Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and other cities are canceling or postponing their “point in time” censuses of unsheltered homeless people — which typically take place on a single night in late January — saying the pandemic makes it unsafe for all involved. The Department of Housing and Urban Development — which requires communities to hold point-in-time homeless counts every two years, and uses the results to allocate funding — issued COVID-19 guidelines that allow communities to get an exemption this year. 

Voices from the frontline of America’s food supply: In a photo essay, eleven workers, from the factories and farms to the highways and supermarkets, tell the New York Times how they got themselves — and us — through a catastrophic year

Briefing for January 11, 2021

‘It was a joke’ — Some small businesses got $1 relief loans: From The New York Times: “The Paycheck Protection Program was a lifeline for millions of small businesses brutalized by the pandemic. Over a four-month span, the government program distributed $523 billion in forgivable loans to more than five million companies. The average recipient got just over $100,000. And then there were the roughly 300 business that received loans of $99 or less. Judith Less, who runs a thrift shop in New Jersey, got $27. Nikki Smith, a baker and caterer in Oregon, collected $96. A.J. Burton, the founder of a record label in Arkansas, got $78. And Susana Dommar, a chiropractor in Texas, received a loan for just $1. Stephanie Ackerman, a self-employed college admissions consultant, was shocked when her loan deposit, for $13, showed up in her bank account.” 

More vaccines are going to white people, despite the pandemic’s devastating impact on communities of color: Even though Black people, Hispanic people, and other minorities have beenhit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the first coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. have gone to white people. Business Insider reviewed vaccine data from the 10 states with the most Black residents as a percentage of their populations. Six of those states publish vaccination data by race. In all six, vaccinations for Black people and other minorities lagged behind vaccinations for white people. In three of those states, a disproportionate number of shots went to white people relative to their share of the state’s population, while the other three didn’t provide enough data to make a comparison. 

Texas advocates worry vaccines will be out of reach for Black and Hispanic neighborhoods: COVID-19 has been disproportionately deadly for communities of color in Texas. Advocates for those communities are worried that they will have more trouble accessing vaccinations than the white population because of where vaccination sites are located. “We already saw huge disparities in death rates and people getting [coronavirus] infections, and there wasn’t availability of resources like health care for brown and Black communities suffering tremendously,” said Kazique Prince, interim executive director for the Central Texas Collective for Racial Equity, a nonprofit association based in Austin. “I’m very nervous and anxious that this [vaccination effort] is not going to work out for us.” According to the Texas Department of State Health Services data, more than half of the fatalities in Texas due to COVID-19 have been Hispanic individuals and almost 10% have been Black people. Yet the state’s designated vaccination sites — mostly hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and pharmacies — are concentrated in more affluent areas where those facilities tend to be located. 

Millions of families have no financial cushion to last three months: “Net-worth poverty” — a measure of poverty concerning wealth rather than income — affected one in three U.S. households with kids even prior to the pandemic-induced recession and has disproportionately struck families of color, a new study says. 57% of Black households with children and 50% of Latino households with children were net-worth poor in 2019, versus 24% among white households, according to a study by Duke University researchers published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.  

Are pandemic relief checks making universal basic income inevitable? Bonnie Kristian writes in The Week: “Major crises can effect rapid changes in public opinion that otherwise would have required years or even decades to develop. Among the permanent opinion shifts of the COVID-19 pandemic, I expect to see a new — and perhaps even bipartisan — move toward universal basic income (UBI) or something like it, an evolution influenced by Americans’ experience with pandemic relief checks, both the fact of them and the drawn-out political fights surrounding their passage.” 

A lender sued thousands of lower-income Latinos during the pandemic — Now it wants to be a national bank: Dozens of consumer advocacy organizations and Latino civil rights groups are contesting an effort by Oportun Financial Corp. to become a national bank, citing an investigation published last year by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. The months-long probe showed the loan company had sued thousands of lower-income Latinos in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic while depicting itself as a benefactor of that community. It also revealed that Oportun had become the most litigious personal loan company in the state and routinely charged high interest rates while keeping customers on the hook with repeated refinancing. California-based Oportun, founded in 2005, has always been a regional company and lends in just 12 states, including Texas. But on Nov. 23, it submitted a bank charter application to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the federal agency that regulates national banks and federal savings associations, that would allow it to go national if approved. 

For the economically disadvantaged, the pain of absence predates the pandemic: Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council in the Clinton and Obama White Houses, writes for the Washington Post that one of the pandemic’s greatest costs has been “the pain of not being there for life’s most meaningful moments — the weddings not attended, the newborns not visited, the time not spent with grandchildren. Many, like me, have not been able to visit, hug or hold hands in the final days of a parent’s life.” But Sperling notes that for millions of Americans, this is sadly nothing new. “For the economically disadvantaged, the pain of absence predates the pandemic. We like to think that ‘the best things in life are free,’ but it’s not an infectious disease that normally keeps tens of millions of Americans from being there for meaningful moments. It is economic deprivation and inequality.” 

How to talk to kids about the attack on the Capitol: One of the most challenging aspects of the last week for many parents has been trying to support their children through a confusing and terrifying moment in American history. Here’s a few resources that might be helpful, from National Geographic, Today, and NPR

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