Briefing for January 21-22, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for January 21-22, 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 22, 2021

Biden calls for increased nutrition aid: The Washington Post writes: “President Biden is expected on Friday to significantly increase federal food assistance for millions of hungry families among executive actions intended to stabilize the deterioration of the economy weighed down by the raging coronavirus pandemic. Biden is asking the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — commonly known as food stamps — and to increase by 15% benefits awarded through a school meals program for low-income students started during the pandemic, according to Biden administration officials. That could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, officials said.” 

How the American unemployment system failed: From The New York Times: “The nation’s unemployment insurance program, conceived during the Great Depression, was meant to keep jobless workers and their families from suffering drops in income that could tip them into poverty or force them to liquidate their assets to afford food, rent and other necessities. Its goals included allowing the unemployed to wait for a productive job to materialize, rather than take the first one that appeared, and providing stability to the economy in recessions, mitigating the expected drop in consumption when millions of workers lost their jobs. The tussle in Congress last month over whether to extend emergency unemployment payments that were on the cusp of expiring — potentially pushing 12 million people into some form of destitution, according to the Century Foundation, a liberal policy research group — was a reminder that the system as designed has not been up to its task.” 

Dallas County scuttles plan to prioritize vaccinating communities of color after threats from state government: Faced with the threat that the state might slash its vaccine allocation, Dallas officials reversed course on a plan that would have prioritized doses for people living in the county’s most vulnerable ZIP codes, primarily in communities of color. A divided Dallas County Commissioners Court had voted Tuesday to prioritize vaccines at its Fair Park distribution center for individuals in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods, a reflection of increased vulnerability to the coronavirus in 11 Dallas County ZIP codes, according to the Dallas Morning News. 

Essential workers exposed to virus are reporting to work when they can’t get paid to quarantine: From the Philadelphia Inquirer: “At Philadelphia International Airport, where he works as a supervisor helping passengers in wheelchairs on and off planes, Benjamin McMillan says some of his coworkers have come to work even if they’ve been exposed to or infected with COVID-19 because they can’t afford to quarantine. It frustrates McMillan, a 44-year-old father who fears infecting his own father, who is immunocompromised. But he gets it: These workers, who make about $13 an hour, have already lost hours — and tips — during the pandemic. And while they can use their paid time off to quarantine, many haven’t accrued enough time because their hours have been cut. Many essential workers aren’t getting extra paid leave to quarantine, even though their work puts them at higher risk of exposure. Often, they have to use their own paid time off. And for those who had some form of paid COVID leave, some have exhausted it as they’ve had to quarantine multiple times.” 

Biden plan includes vital increase in EITC for adults not raising children: Chuck Marr from the Center for Policy and Budget Priorities applauds the Biden administration’s proposal to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for over 17 million adults not raising children at home who work hard at important, but low-paid, jobs. Marr writes: “The EITC is a highly successful wage subsidy that’s earned bipartisan support over the years, but the current credit largely excludes adults who aren’t raising children in their homes, and it completely excludes young childless adults trying to gain a toehold in the labor market. (Biden’s) plan recognizes that now’s the time to fix this glaring flaw.” 

What lessons can the child welfare system take away from the pandemic? A new AEI paper makes these key points about the impact of the pandemic on the child welfare system

  • COVID-19 and subsequent government responses introduced new barriers to detection and response to child maltreatment and achieving permanency for children in foster care. 
  • New strategies and better use of existing technologies are needed to detect child maltreatment for children unseen by school personnel.  
  • Improved use of virtual technology could improve family court processes and family treatment options during and after the pandemic. 
  • Indications of positive adaptation by community-based agencies during the pandemic allowed them to sustain or increase services to foster, kin, and biological families, but greater support for data collection and transparency for government contracted services is still needed.

The pandemic is making ‘period poverty’ worse: Period poverty, or inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, is a problem across the globe affecting girls, women and nonbinary and transgender people who menstruate. The scourge of COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem. Many public places that supply free tampons and pads in bathrooms ― school campuses, rec centers, libraries ― are closed. One survey found that one in four people between the ages of 13 and 35 reported having a more difficult time managing their periods because of financial strain during the pandemic. As with toilet paper and medicine, those who could afford to hoard maxi-pads and tampons did just that, leaving women with lower incomes without basic essentials. 

When restaurants close, even temporarily, what happens to the communities that rely on them? From The Counter: “By the end of 2020, COVID-19 had led to approximately 110,000 permanent restaurant closures in the USA — 17% of all restaurants in the country — according to the National Restaurant AssociationLocal media around the country is filled with long lists of all the spots that have gone under since the pandemic began. There have been plentyofelegies for the most prominent departures, all the Best-of list stalwarts, the historic destination eateries, the places soon to be recalled as “the late, great.” Pok Pok in Portland, Mission Chinese Food in New York, El Chapultepec in Denver, Blackbird in Chicago, the Brookville Hotel in Abilene, Kansas. Cliff House in San Francisco had been around since 1863; City Tavern in Philadelphia served beers to Ben Franklin and friends in the 1770s; both closed due to the pandemic. The laid-back cafes, coffee shops, diners, barbecue joints, pizzerias, and pupuserias that dot every neighborhood and town — they may seem basic and unmemorable, but they’re doing the unsung work of knitting together the social fabric, one meal or cup of coffee at a time.” 

Briefing for January 21, 2021

Biden enters office focused on full employment: The New York Times reports that President Biden enters the Oval Office making clear, “that his administration will focus on workers and has chosen top officials with a job market focus. He has tapped Janet L. Yellen, a labor economist and the former Fed chair, as his Treasury secretary and Marty Walsh, a former union leader, as his Labor secretary. In the past, lawmakers and Fed officials tended to preach allegiance to full employment — the lowest jobless rate an economy can sustain without stoking high inflation or other instabilities — while pulling back fiscal and monetary support before hitting that target as they worried that a more patient approach would cause price spikes and other problems. That timidity appears less likely to rear its head this time around.” 

Biden moves to extend evictions ban, student loan freeze: President Biden asked the Education Department to consider extending a freeze on both interest and principal payments for federal student loans until Sept. 30, while requesting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extend a moratorium on evictions that expires after this month to at least through March. He also asked three key agencies — the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development — to extend foreclosure moratoriums for federally backed mortgages under their purview through at least the end of March. 

But the eviction crisis still looms: A new brief from the Urban Institute uses data from the second wave of the Institute’s Coronavirus Tracking Survey, conducted September 11 through 28, 2020, to explore the pandemic’s impact on housing stability and renters’ vulnerability to eviction. It finds that nearly 14% of renters, or 9.5 million people, reported problems paying rent in the previous 30 days. People of color are disproportionally affected by COVID-19, unemployment, and housing instability, and these numbers mask significant differences by race and ethnicity. More than one in four renters worried about being able to pay rent in the next month. Almost one in two Hispanic/Latinx renters and more than one in four Black renters were worried about paying next month’s rent.  About 5% of renters, or 3.3 million people, reported receiving an eviction notice or threat of eviction from their landlords since the beginning of March 2020. Within this group, Black and Hispanic/Latinx renters were more likely than white renters to have received an eviction notice or been threatened with eviction since March.  

Mitigating ‘benefits cliff’ is lynchpin for recovery: Curbing the cliff effect that occurs for low-income families when small increases in income result in a reduction or a loss of essential public benefits is crucial for the new administration to address as part of its economic recovery plan, Susan R. Crandall and Olanike Ojelabi of The Center for Social Policy write for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

Food and farm workers left in limbo in vaccine priorities: The nation’s food workers, hit hard by COVID-19 infections throughout the crisis, are finding resistance in the race to get vaccinated. The industry is clamoring to prioritize frontline food workers who kept Americans fed throughout the worst of the pandemic even as thousands of them fell sick and hundreds died. But limited doses and a haphazard patchwork of distribution plans are leading to fears that thousands more workers will get hit — potentially stymieing food production in the coming weeks and months. 

For many areas, the homeless count is either canceled or delayed: From Pam Fessler at National Public Radio: “Every January, in the middle of the night, thousands of volunteers and outreach workers spread out across the country to count the nation’s homeless population. They search highway underpasses, wooded areas, abandoned buildings and sidewalks to locate those who are living outside. But this year, because of the pandemic, the annual street count has been canceled or modified in hundreds of communities, even as the nation’s unsheltered population appears to be growing. One reason for the change is that the annual survey involves more than simply counting people. It also involves asking those who are homeless a long list of questions so service providers know what types of help they need. How old are they? Do they have any illnesses or physical disabilities? Do they have a substance abuse problem? Any income? Benefits such as food stamps? Are they a veteran? It can take 10 minutes or longer to go through the list. Communities are worried this year that such interactions could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus, putting both volunteers and homeless individuals at risk. So, with the permission of the Department of Housing and Urban Development — which requires the survey for federal grants — many places are scaling back.” 

Black Americans are getting vaccinated at lower rates than white Americans: Black Americans are receiving COVID vaccinations at dramatically lower rates than white Americans in the first weeks of the chaotic rollout, according to a new Kaiser Health News analysis. About 3% of Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine so far. But in 16 states that have released data by race, white residents are being vaccinated at significantly higher rates than Black residents, according to the analysis — in many cases two to three times higher. In the most dramatic case, 1.2% of white Pennsylvanians had been vaccinated as of Jan. 14, compared with 0.3% of Black Pennsylvanians. 

Grassroots efforts focus on getting vaccine to at-risk people of color: As states open vaccinations to those 65 and older and those with health issues that put them at greater risk of serious illness, groups nationwide are strategizing grassroots efforts to ensure access for people of color who have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. The process has proven to be a struggle, and early findings show states that rank high on COVID-19 vulnerability indexes are falling behind on vaccinations. A tool developed by nonprofit Surgo Ventures and referenced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzes vaccine distribution rates and scores states on COVID-19 community vulnerability using socioeconomic, health and household income data. On average, more vulnerable states have so far administered less of their allotted vaccines. Texas, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia are the top five most vulnerable, according to the index. 

Pandemic reveals tale of two Californias like never before: From Politico: “The tale of two Californias has never been clearer. As Bay Area tech workers set up home offices to avoid coronavirus exposure, grocers, farm workers and warehouse employees in the Central Valley never stopped reporting to job sites. Renters pleaded for eviction relief while urban professionals fled for suburbs and resort towns, taking advantage of record-low interest rates to buy bigger, better homes. Most of the state’s 6 million public school children are learning remotely, while affluent families opted for private classrooms that are up and running.” 

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