Freedman Consulting, LLC | Briefing for July 12-16, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities
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Briefing for July 12-16, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for July 12-16, 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 schumitz@tfreedmanconsulting.com to subscribe.

Briefing for July 16, 2021



How to get more Americans back to work: A Politico policy “hackathon” asked 10 top labor and workforce leaders from academia, nonprofits, and government what they would do to create more jobs and find more workers to fill them. Their top suggestions: 

  • Increase vaccination 
  • Outline career pathways: A lot of the jobs that are unfilled are lower-wage jobs, and many workers who lost those jobs are looking to trade up, particularly after seeing so many employers raise wages during the pandemic. New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said that to bring minimum-wage workers back, employers need to “make sure those workers have a career pathway going forward.” 
  • Provide transitional financial assistance: “Unemployment benefits were generous during the pandemic, and — particularly for low-wage workers — may have been higher than their pre-pandemic wages. As a result, some states are experimenting with providing financial incentives to help wean some of the unemployed off those benefits and return to work. In Rhode Island, for example, a new law allows people to collect up to 150% of their unemployment benefit rate before they lose their benefits.” 
  • Increase the supply of childcare 
  • Expand work-from-home options 
  • Provide workers with technical skills and job training 
  • Expand apprenticeships 
  • Provide transportation assistance 


Pediatric vaccine uptake decreased dramatically during the pandemic: A new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the uptake of pediatric vaccines “decreased dramatically during the pandemic, resulting in decreased vaccination coverage that persisted or worsened among several age cohorts during the reopening period. Additional strategies, including immunization tracking, reminders, and recall for needed vaccinations, particularly during virtual visits, will be required to increase vaccine uptake and vaccination coverage and reduce the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.” During the first six months of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, vaccine administrations remained lower in older children, complete vaccination coverage declined in all children, and measles vaccination coverage worsened in young children, markedly increasing the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. 

Millions of the poorest kids may miss out on new Child Tax Credit payments: Annie Lowrey writes for the Atlantic that as funds from the expanded Child Tax Credit begin reaching families this week, “an estimated 88% of recipients will not need to do anything to get the cash — the IRS will send the money automatically. But an estimated four million to eight million eligible children are at risk of missing out, because their parents or guardians do not need to file taxes or are not filing taxes — and because they might not even know the complicated, obscure-sounding, and scarcely advertised policy exists.” 

As Child Tax Credit funds start reaching families, moms see a way out of poverty: The 19th looks at a family in West Philadelphia as an example of the impact the expanded Child Tax Credit payments are going to have. “Syrita and Aaron Powers’ three daughters have special needs, and the youngest two are non-verbal. Their son was born premature in 2009 and died. During the pandemic, Aaron was laid off from his job at a car dealership, and both parents became unemployed. The girls struggled with school. The plumbing broke in their old three-bedroom rowhouse and the roof began leaking into one of the girls’ rooms. The three girls squeezed into the other remaining room. ‘As the challenges got more prevalent, we sank deeper into poverty,’ said Syrita, 42. And because their income status fluctuated, they could rarely count on one of the only federal relief programs for parents, the child tax credit, to give them a boost each year. The nation’s poorest families have never qualified for the full amount of the credit — $2,000 per child before this year — because it was designed to support working families who paid income tax. That changed when Congress passed an expansion of the credit earlier this year. That made the tax credit available to the lowest-income families and expanded the amount available to $3,000 for kids ages 6 to 17 and $3,600 for kids under 6. In addition, instead of an annual lump sum, the money would be distributed monthly in increments of $250 or $300 a month per child depending on the children’s ages. Those payments begin going out on Thursday to 88% of American families with children. The Powers family will now receive $750 each month — $250 each for Madison, 12; Georgia, 10; and Logan, 8. Syrita views the credit expansion as something that could provide a fundamental, lasting impact in her life and the lives of her children. ‘It feels like a hand up — you don’t have to feel like anybody’s project,’ Syrita said.” 

Answering basic questions about how to get your Child Tax Credit: A terrific informational service from Vox that tells you who qualifies for the expanded Child Tax Credit, how you go about getting it, and how to get the payment as a lump sum or a series of monthly payments. The explanation of who qualifies: “Almost every household with a child under 18. But it’s not quite that simple. Income limitations exist for single, joint, and head-of-household filers. Married filers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) under $150,000 will get the full credit. After that, the benefit phases out gradually, with the maximum income for partial benefits depending on how many children the household has. For head-of-household filers, only those with an AGI less than $112,500 can receive the maximum benefit, after which the benefit begins to phase out gradually. For the small number of single parents or guardians without head-of-household status, only those with an AGI less than $75,000 can receive the maximum benefit. If your income level means you don’t typically file taxes, you’ll receive the full benefit. (Note that you must file a 2020 tax return or otherwise prove to the IRS your eligibility for the 2021 credit through an online form.) Eligible households are paid a separate child tax credit for every qualifying child. A single filer with three children under the age of six could receive $10,800 through next spring, assuming their reported income falls under the qualifying limit.” 

Briefing for July 15, 2021



Pandemic fueled deadliest year for drug overdoses, CDC data shows: Politico reports: “Drug overdose deaths surged to a record high last year, according to new federal data that lays bare the deadly impact of the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption to drug abuse treatment and prevention efforts. There were 93,331 reported deaths from overdoses in 2020, up from 70,980 the year before, marking the largest annual increase in at least 50 years, said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday. The preliminary numbers, which will be finalized later this year, underscore the challenge the Biden administration faces in confronting a resurgent drug crisis that’s been both fueled and overshadowed by the worst pandemic in a century. ‘That is just an astounding number,’ said Obama-era drug czar Michael Botticelli of the new mortality figures. ‘It takes my breath away, honestly.’ Nearly three-quarters of fatal overdoses were attributed to opioids, an increase from just over 70% in 2019 that was largely driven by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. Deaths from cocaine and methamphetamine also continued their years-long rise. The CDC numbers were released one day after President Joe Biden nominated former West Virginia health commissioner Rahul Gupta to lead the federal response to the long-running drug crisis. Gupta, who is unlikely to be confirmed as the nation’s drug czar before the fall, is nationally recognized for the data-driven approach he brought to tackling drugs in West Virginia, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. But health officials and experts worry that the political will to address the drug crisis has faded after the pandemic has consumed the public’s attention and exhausted public health departments. ‘It’s not prioritized,’ said Nora Volkow, the long-serving director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. ‘Addiction is a neglected disease.’ 

Coalition says health workers should be required to get vaccine: From the Washington Post: “A coalition of health-care organizations called on medical facilities Tuesday to mandate that their workers get vaccinated against the coronavirus, saying the strategy has worked to fight influenza and other infectious diseases and is necessary to contain the pandemic. ‘COVID-19 vaccination should be a condition of employment for all healthcare personnel,’ the coalition’s statement reads, warning that ‘a sufficient vaccination rate is unlikely to be achieved’ without a vaccine mandate. The statement and accompanying guidelines — signed by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and five other medical groups — come amid a raging debate about health care, as some organizations impose new vaccine requirements and as infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci suggested last weekend that ‘there should be more mandates’ at the local level to curb virus spread. But federal officials have balked at instituting national requirements on health-care workers, and many health-care organizations have said they do not plan to require their staff members to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Some nurses and other health-care personnel have quit or sued organizations that imposed coronavirus vaccine mandates, claiming that the measures are unethical or illegal, although a federal judge rejected one such lawsuit last month.” 

Listening for good news — The Solutions Story Tracker: The financial collapse of American print journalism during the digital age, particularly at the local level, has meant lost jobs for tens of thousands of journalists and a wrenching transition for the entire industry. But this era of turmoil has also brought much-needed innovation to the field, and the Solutions Journalism Network has been one of those breaths of fresh air. Focused on journalism that points to solutions rather than simply dwelling on societal problems, SJN has spurred a movement that has inspired newsrooms across the country. Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity has been a proud partner with SJN in recent years and also is delighted to be one of the sites chosen to test a new audio feature, Solutions Story Tracker, which features weekly audio clips of new stories centered around economic mobility. Each segment offers a 45-second clip of story highlights or a brief interview with the journalist behind the story. SJN Partnerships Manager Katherine Noble-Goodman spoke with Spotlight recently about the new feature

Menstrual equity bill would require California public colleges to provide period products: CalMatters reports that a number of California student organizations are supporting “a bill in the California Legislature that would require California State University, the California Community Colleges, and public schools that serve grades 6-12 to provide menstrual products free of charge in designated places on campus. The bill also strongly encourages the UC and private universities to do the same, since the legislature cannot legally mandate those institutions.  ‘It’s really a question about gender equity and basic human dignity,’ said Jason Chen, a freshman at Stanford University and chair of the Empowerment Collective, a California student group lobbying around policies that affect young people. ‘As a non-menstruating individual, I don’t have to worry about where my toilet paper is going to be or if I’m going to have access to toilet paper when I’m in the bathroom. ‘ While five states, including California, currently have laws requiring public schools to provide free menstrual products, Assembly Bill 367 would be the first in the nation to include colleges and universities. Spokespeople for the California Community Colleges and California State University said that the systems have no official stance on the bill. As of press time, the University of California had not returned a request for comment.” 

The new Child Tax Credit could lift 5 million kids out of poverty. Could it help them learn too? The Washington Post looks at whether the historic expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which families began seeing this week, could bring a collateral boost to the educational difficulties many children raised in poverty face. “Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who has been pushing Congress to expand the child tax credit since 2015, served as the superintendent of Denver Public Schools immediately before he took office in 2009. During his four-year tenure leading the district, he worked hard to boost achievement among low-income students, believing there was no excuse for children in poverty not to succeed. But even as he saw some successes among high-poverty schools, his views started to change. ‘One of the things that I came away from the experience in the school district believing was that the schools wouldn’t be able to solve all these issues on their own,’ Bennet said in an interview in April. ‘We had to find ways of creating greater economic mobility for families and for kids.’ He cited a 2011 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that found that increasing tax credits could boost test scores. ‘These findings suggest that there are substantial returns to public policies that help poor families with children,’ wrote economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman, then of Harvard University, and Jonah Rockoff, of Columbia University.” 

Briefing for July 14, 2021



California takes a nibble at offering food stamps to undocumented immigrants: From Kaiser Health News: “Democrats in the state legislature this year proposed opening California’s state-funded food stamp program — which serves about 35,000 authorized immigrants who don’t qualify for federal food stamps — to all income-eligible Californians, regardless of immigration status. The cost of the proposed expansion, starting in 2023, was put at about $550 million a year. But after negotiations with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, the proposal was pared down to a two-year, $30 million project to update the state food aid program so it can accept applications from some of the more than 2 million undocumented people in California, should the program be extended to them in the future. A bill under consideration in the legislature would expand the food stamp benefit to the undocumented once the system is updated and the legislature has appropriated funds for the expansion. For now, the state has not committed to expanding the program. But the legislature’s efforts this year put California at the forefront of extending food aid to unauthorized residents. Advocates say the state has a responsibility to help feed them, especially since hundreds of thousands of undocumented farmworkers toil in California’s fields, feeding the state and the rest of the country. ‘They’re working and risking their lives, not just through the pandemic, but right now through a heat wave,’ said state Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), co-author of the bill, whose district is in the Central Valley. ‘They’re risking their lives to provide food for us. Why wouldn’t we invest in them as well?’” 
 
Only one in four nursing homes confident they will stay open a year, survey finds: Only a quarter of nursing homes and assisted living communities are confident they can remain open for another year or more, reports The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. The findings come from the organization’s most recent survey of U.S. skilled nursing centers, assisted living communities, and sub-acute centers and homes. Four key survey findings: 

  • More than half of nursing homes and close to half of assisted living communities said their organization is operating at a loss.  
  • The top three costs facilities have incurred due to the pandemic are additional pay for staff, hiring additional staff, and personal protective equipment.  
  • In total, 92% of nursing homes and 62% of assisted living facilities said the Provider Relief Fund has been helpful amid the pandemic.  
  • Overall, 143 closures or mergers occurred in 2020, with 1,670 projected in 2021.   


From an analysis of the survey by Becker’s Hospital Review: “Even though COVID-19 cases in long term care are at historic lows, providers are struggling to recover from the economic crisis the pandemic has induced,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL. “Too many facilities are operating under shoestring budgets simply because policymakers have failed to dedicate the proper resources, and this can have devastating consequences.” 

States and insurers resurrect barriers to telehealth: From STAT: “Telemedicine is here to stay. But its free-for-all era may be coming to an end. State-issued emergency declarations and insurer policies that were issued at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and that were meant to encourage the use of telemedicine are being phased out across U.S. states, one by one. And as they fade away, rules that make telemedicine more complicated — and costly — are setting back in. Experts say the moves, which come as vaccinations have ramped up and case counts have dwindled, are causing headaches among patients and providers alike. Doctors are scrambling to stay on top of rapidly-changing rules. Patients are contorting themselves to keep their virtual appointments — even driving into different states and taking calls from the side of the road so they can legally receive care. ‘The party is winding down in subtle ways that are really going to impact patients,’ said Ateev Mehrotra, a hospitalist and health care policy researcher at Harvard Medical School who focuses on telemedicine. ‘And I shouldn’t use the future tense, I should say are currently impacting patients in really, really important ways.’” 

Summer camps hit with COVID outbreaks — are schools next? The Associated Press reports that the U.S. has seen a string of COVID-19 outbreaks tied to summer camps in recent weeks in places such as Texas, Illinois, Florida, Missouri, and Kansas, “in what some fear could be a preview of the upcoming school year. In some cases the outbreaks have spread from the camp to the broader community. The clusters have come as the number of newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. has reversed course, surging more than 60% over the past two weeks from an average of about 12,000 a day to around 19,500, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The rise in many places has been blamed on too many unvaccinated people and the highly contagious delta variant. Gwen Ford, a 43-year-old science teacher from Adrian, Missouri, was cautiously optimistic when she eyed the dropping case numbers in the spring and signed up her 12-year-old daughter for the West Central Christian Service Camp.” 

Senators seek Medicaid-like plan to cover holdout states: From the Associated Press: “Three Democratic U.S. senators from states that have refused to expand Medicaid want the federal government to set up a mirror plan to provide health insurance coverage to people in those states. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin are introducing the bill on Monday. Congressional Democrats are pushing for a coverage expansion in upcoming legislation. ‘The single most effective solution to closing our state’s coverage gap is to expand Medicaid,’ Warnock said after a June 29 meeting with health care executives. ‘What we ought to be doing is expanding Medicaid rather than playing games with the health care of Georgia citizens.’ The effort is crucial for Warnock, who seeks reelection in 2022 facing several Republicans eager to defeat him. People making more than 138% of the federal poverty level are eligible for federal health insurance subsidies through an online marketplace. But as many as 4 million people who make less don’t get assistance in a ‘coverage gap,’ according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.” 

Briefing for July 13, 2021



Monthly payments to families with children set to begin: From the New York Times’ Jason DeParle: “If all goes as planned, the Treasury Department will begin making a series of monthly payments in coming days to families with children, setting a milestone in social policy and intensifying a debate over whether to make the subsidies a permanent part of the American safety net. With all but the most affluent families eligible to receive up to $300 a month per child, the United States will join many other rich countries that provide a guaranteed income for children, a goal that has long animated progressives. Experts estimate the payments will cut child poverty by nearly half, an achievement with no precedent. But the program, created as part of the stimulus bill that Democrats passed over unified Republican opposition in March, expires in a year, and the rollout could help or hinder President Biden’s pledge to extend it. Immediate challenges loom. The government is uncertain how to get the payments to millions of hard-to-reach families, a problem that could undermine its poverty-fighting goals. Opponents of the effort will be watching for delivery glitches, examples of waste, or signs that the money erodes the desire of some parents to work.” 

With federal eviction moratorium set to expire, states offer patchwork protections: Beyond the everyday poverty fight, and looming eviction crisis, is a complex problem of government money aimed at preventing evictions from getting into the hands of people who most need it. The digital divide, a thicket of paperwork required to qualify for aid, and a hodgepodge of state programs have translated into too little money in too few pockets of people facing eviction, experts told NBC News. “New York, California, Oregon, and Washington state have implemented a host of rental assistance programs and extended their moratoriums two months past the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s July 31 cutoff over the past month. In addition, New York, California, Washington, and more than a dozen cities, such as Cleveland, have implemented right-to-counsel programs, which ensure tenants have legal representation when faced with an eviction. California’s recent bill, for instance, also gives landlords rent debt relief and requires owners to seek rental assistance and give eligible tenants the opportunity to seek assistance before eviction. But states like Mississippi and Wyoming, for instance, have spent a small amount — 1 to 3% — of their rent assistance dollars from the federal government, experts said. Both states, and more than two dozen others, have no statewide eviction moratoriums in place.” 

Many parents seem to want to continue online schooling — It may not be good for their kids: David Leonhardt writes for the New York Times: “COVID-19 is undermining the idea of universal schooling. Officially, of course, the mandatory schooling laws remain in place. Children cannot legally drop out this fall. Yet many school districts have signaled that they will allow parents not to send their children to school in the coming academic year and instead learn remotely. Recent polls suggest that as many as one quarter of parents plan to keep their children home. The families who choose to do so will span every demographic group, but they are likely to be disproportionately lower-income, Black, and Latino. Remote learning was more popular among these groups last year, and a recent survey of parents in Massachusetts suggests the same will be true this fall. ‘Parents of color have been consistently less enthusiastic about in-person school,’ Steve Koczela, whose firm conducted the survey, has said. The problem with remote school is that children learn vastly less than they do in person, according to a wide range of data about the past year and a half.” 

Most unvaccinated people have low incomes: Axios reports that more than half of unvaccinated Americans live in households that make less than $50,000 annually, according to the latest Census Bureau data. “Vaccination has been politicized, but juggling work schedules and child care could be bigger factors than politics. ‘A lot of low-income workers are working hard to provide food and housing,’ said Julia Raifman, a health policy professor at Boston University. ‘That may mean it’s hard for them to find a time to get vaccinated.’ Workers also may worry about having to take unpaid time off if they come down with any vaccine side effects. Raifman has heard anecdotal stories of employees receiving less favorable hours if they miss work.” 

Futbol, flags and fun  Getting creative to reach unvaccinated Latinos in Colorado: NPR sets the scene in Denver: “Horns blared, and drums pounded a constant beat as fans of the Mexican national soccer team gathered recently at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver for a high-profile, international tournament. But the sounds were muted inside a mobile medical RV parked near the stadium, and the tone was professional. During halftime of Mexico’s game against the U.S., soccer fan Oscar Filipe Sanchez rolled up his sleeve to receive the one-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Sanchez is a house painter who lives in Colorado Springs. After he got sick with COVID-19 a few months ago, he thought he should go get the vaccine. But because of the illness, he was advised to wait a few more weeks before getting the shot. When asked if he’s glad he got it, Sanchez answered through a translator: ‘Yes! He’s more trusting to go out.’ Bringing the mobile vaccine program to an international soccer match was the latest effort by the state of Colorado and its local partners to meet unvaccinated residents, wherever they are, rather than asking them to find the vaccine themselves.” 

Government oversight of COVID-19 air cleaners leave gaping holes: Kaiser Health News reports that despite the proliferation of high-tech air cleaners being used as COVID-19 protection, “oversight is nearly nonexistent. Electronic air cleaners, heavily marketed to gyms, doctors’ offices and hospitals, companies, and schools awash in federal COVID-19 relief funds, tend to use high-voltage charges to alter molecules in the air. The companies selling the devices say they can destroy pathogens and clean the air. But academic air quality experts say the technology can be ineffective or potentially create harmful byproducts. Companies that make the devices are subject to virtually no standardized testing or evaluation of their marketing claims. A KHN investigation this spring found that over 2,000 schools across the country have bought such technology. ‘That’s one of the reasons these companies thrive, is that there’s nobody, nobody checking every aspect of what they do,’ said Delphine Farmer, a Colorado State University associate professor who specializes in atmospheric and indoor chemistry.”  

Bonus pay for essential workers varied widely across states: From the Associated Press: “For putting their health on the line during the coronavirus pandemic, prison guards in Missouri got an extra $250 per paycheck. Teachers in Georgia received $1,000 bonuses. And in Vermont, nurses, janitors, retail workers, and many others got as much as $2,000. Over the past year, about one-third of U.S. states have used federal COVID-19 relief aid to reward workers considered essential who dutifully reported to jobs during the pandemic. But who qualified for those bonuses — and how much they received — varied widely, according to an Associated Press review. While some were paid thousands of dollars, others with similar jobs elsewhere received nothing. As society reopens, momentum to provide pandemic hazard pay appears to be fading — even though the federal government has broadened the ability of state and local governments to provide retroactive pay under a $350 billion aid package enacted by President Joe Biden in March.” 

Briefing for July 12, 2021



Extending Medicaid presents a legislative dilemma for Democrats: From Politico: “Democratic lawmakers are grappling with how to extend health insurance to millions of poor Americans in states that have refused Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, believing their upcoming party-line ‘human infrastructure’ package represents the best chance to plug the health law’s biggest gap. After months of behind-the-scenes discussions, Democrats are coalescing around three options for closing the coverage gap in the Medicaid expansion holdout states, according to nine sources on and off the Hill. These approaches, which would leverage the existing Obamacare insurance marketplaces or require the Biden administration to create a new coverage program, each carry risks. And lawmakers still don’t see a clear path forward as they face a narrowing window to assemble a massive package of Democratic priorities. ‘The question has always been how to do it. It’s a pretty challenging question,’ said House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.), whose tax-writing panel is helping craft a fix. Tackling the Medicaid gap would fulfill President Joe Biden’s pledge to extend coverage to the 2.2 million low-income adults in the 12 states where Republican officials have resisted the program for nearly a decade. It would also give Democratic lawmakers from those holdout states — like Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who’s leading efforts in the Senate to close the Medicaid gap — an achievement to campaign on, with control of both chambers up for grabs in next year’s midterms and health care remaining an important issue for voters. The costly effort faces competition from other Democratic health care priorities that are jostling for position in infrastructure legislation, including an expansion of Medicare’s benefits and permanently increasing financial aid to people who purchase coverage on the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces.” 

The coming battle to expand Supplemental Security income: Dylan Matthews writes for Vox that expansion of the Child Tax Credit isn’t the only far-reaching anti-poverty reform under consideration by Democrats in Congress; Supplemental Security Income benefits could also see a major boost. “In late May 2020, Joe Biden announced his campaign’s disability policy platform, which included major expansions of SSI benefits. The plan set the maximum benefit at 100% of the poverty line, a 35% increase in benefits over the status quo. The proposal would also eliminate both the marriage penalty — letting couples keep their full benefits — and the complex ‘in-kind assistance’ provisions that result in reduced SSI checks for some people who, say, live for free in a family member’s home. There’s more. SSI is currently limited to people with assets of less than $2,000, or $3,000 for couples. That means many seniors who have even a small amount of retirement savings, as well as disabled people with nest eggs, aren’t eligible. Biden would more than double the asset limit for individuals and nearly triple it for couples. I’d personally prefer getting rid of the asset test altogether, as it can encourage people to spend every bit of savings they have to qualify for the benefit; that said, raising it is an improvement. Biden has recently faced a strong push from his allies in Congress to include these changes in the huge $6 trillion spending package Democrats plan to pass later this summer or in the fall. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a freshman congressman from New York, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown are leading the charge, with figures including Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders and Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden on board. The group in April sent a letter to Biden, signed by a total of 18 senators and 33 members of the House, urging him to make expanded SSI a priority.” 

Ignoring mental health infrastructure will be a costly mistake: Allen Frances, chair emeritus of the Duke University Department of Psychiatry, writes for STAT: “President Biden’s ambitious infrastructure plan has a glaring omission: It makes no effort to redress the awful reality that the United States has the worst mental health infrastructure of any country in the developed world. People with mental illness, their families, and society at large are suffering the tragic consequences of four decades of mental health defunding and privatization: 90% of psychiatric beds have been closed; the once-wonderful system of publicly funded community mental health centers has been gutted; crisis response teams are almost nonexistent; and the available pool of affordable housing meets only a fraction of what’s needed. In the Middle Ages, people with severe mental illness were often chained in prisons, begged on the street, or languished in poor houses. In modern America, 350,000 people with mental illness are in jails or prisons (often for nuisance crimes that could easily have been avoided had treatment been available); 250,000 of them are homeless; and the average life span of those with severe mental illness is 20 years less than that of the general population. The rate of dying from COVID-19 was three time higher among people with schizophrenia than in the general community — the second biggest risk factor after age.” 

The soaring market that threatens to derail the economic recovery: Politico reports that Wall Street investors have bought into the Federal Reserve’s assurances that higher inflation won’t last, “but a looming trend will test their composure over the coming months: soaring home and rental costs. With home prices already up about 15% from last year and rents soaring at nearly triple their normal rate in just the first six months of 2021, there’s growing concern that housing costs could soon begin to nudge inflation higher. Since shelter makes up about one-third of a key inflation measure, that could undermine the Fed’s message that recent price spikes, which have showed up in everything from airline tickets to ride shares, will slow. Housing costs could eventually boost inflation by as much as two percentage points by the end of next year, though the effects could be felt sooner, according to a forecast from Fannie Mae, the government-run company that stands behind half the country’s mortgages. A gradual buildup beginning later this year could spook markets and feed calls for the Fed to push borrowing costs higher, a move that could choke off economic growth as Democrats fight to hold onto control of Congress.” 

The power of local celebrities in the fight against vaccine hesitancy: From Scientific American: “Calling all doctors, local politicians, clergy, social media influencers, and others with clout in your communities: Please become public advocates for vaccines. Right now. Calling all local journalists, too: Please amplify your neighbors’ advocacy, and add some of your own. This is a time when you should transcend the norms of your craft. You cannot be neutral and still claim to have done your job — not on this topic, not now. Why do we need local celebrities and influencers to take on this role? After all, more than 324 million doses have been injected into Americans’ arms already. In coming months, all Americans who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will have been. But there’s been a significant drop-off in daily shots in the U.S., amid an alarming rise in infections via the “Delta” variant that is roughly twice as infectious as the original coronavirus. And even when everyone who wants to be vaccinated has gotten their shots, that will leave an alarmingly large number of Americans unprotected — as much as 25% of the population. That’s bad news in a major way, not least because the larger the pool of unprotected people, in the U.S. and abroad, the more chances the coronavirus and variants have to mutate into even worse strains. Vaccine hesitancy got an unfortunate boost earlier this spring after the government temporarily halted vaccinations using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while experts studied exceedingly rare blood clots. Meanwhile, an ongoing spate of antivaccine lies and context-lacking, scare-story journalism threatens to set us back in a major way. Which means, in turn, that society needs to pull out all the stops to persuade the ‘vaccine-hesitant’ — people who either refuse, or are reluctant, to get inoculated — to do the right thing. Among those who may be in the best position to help are celebrities, and not just the kind you see in People magazine or TMZ.” 

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