Briefing for July 6-10, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for July 6-10, 2020 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 this daily news service summarizing relevant stories, and a concise weekly summary alternative as well.  You can see it below.

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Briefing for July 10, 2020

‘The wave has begun’ – evictions surge as cities let moratoriums lapse: Legal aid groups and housing advocates are bracing for a surge in evictions, as local governments begin lifting moratoriums that deferred rent payments for millions of tenants who lost jobs to the pandemic. In Michigan, where the state is set to lift the eviction moratorium next Wednesday, Ruthie Paulson has seen a 76% spike in calls to her 211 call center, which provides social services to those most in need. Nationally, the call volume has jumped 200%.

Evictions surge could also fuel coronavirus spread: An upcoming wave of evictions could force people into worse conditions or homelessness and exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.

Chicago’s COVID-19 recovery plan to go beyond crisis to address historical inequities: Economic inequalities aren’t new in Chicago, but 2020’s challenges may have provided a unique opportunity to fix them.

California sues Education Secretary over rule steering coronavirus aid to private schools: California is leading a multi-state lawsuit challenging U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s ruling that orders states to share federal coronavirus relief with private schools. Attorney General Xavier Becerra called it “the Trump administration’s latest effort to steal from working families to give it to the very privileged” in a press conference on Tuesday that coincided with the filing of a 45-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Northern California in Sacramento. Attorneys general from Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. joined the lawsuit. It is the latest skirmish over what Congress intended when it passed $13 billion in aid for school districts in March as part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

SNAP boost should be part of any new COVID-19 relief package: Brynne Keith-Jennings of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities writes: “As policymakers consider what could be the last COVID-19 relief package this year, they should respond to the alarming rise in the number of children who aren’t getting enough to eat by increasing SNAP (food stamp) benefits, which would minimize COVID-19’s lasting impact on a generation of children.”

Pandemic presents Puerto Rico with yet another emergency: The island has had to weather a hurricane, a political crisis and earthquakes, but those crises did not lead to the widespread unemployment caused by the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 shows we need more urban density – not less: New America Foundation fellow Malcolm Glenn argues that despite the daunting issues the pandemic has presented to large cities, well-designed urban density remains a positive. “Whether it’s attempting to navigate claustrophobia-inducing grocery store aisles or maintaining a CDC-suggested distance on cramped sidewalks, living in cities today can feel impossible,” Glenn writes. “But it’s important to remember why we got here, and how well-designed density — which more efficiently uses space to decrease housing costs, improve environmental outcomes, and help people to stay more physically connected — will serve us well on the other side.”

What we lose when retail stores disappear: Second-act careers for women vanish with the demise of department stores and malls.

Coronavirus inside prisons doesn’t just affect inmates – it affects communities of color: Ignoring incarcerated Americans during a public health crisis could greatly increase the number of inmates of color and correctional officers of color who die from COVID-19, according to an American Civil Liberties Union study. Both inmates of color and prison employees of color have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mississippi plant workers call for greater protections as cases continue to rise: Mississippi is entering a “sea of outbreaks,” fueled by community transmission but creating dangerous working conditions in factories across the state.

Briefing for July 9, 2020

‘People can’t ignore it anymore’ — Across the country, minorities hit hardest by pandemic: No matter where the virus strikes, communities of color bear the brunt.

U.S. eyes early vaccine access for minorities and others at risk: When a coronavirus vaccine hits the market, it will be a key tool in putting an end to the pandemic. A federal committee is debating who in the population should get it first.

House bill calls for increased HUD funding: From the National Low-Income Housing Coalition: “The House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding levels for HUD affordable housing and community development programs voted Wednesday to approve a fiscal year (FY) 2021 spending bill that provides a significant increase in funding to housing programs that serve low-income people and communities.” The bill provides overall funding for HUD at $13 billion above the president’s FY21 request and at least $1.5 billion above FY20 enacted levels; programmatic funding levels are $18 billion above the president’s FY21 request and $4.6 billion above FY20 enacted levels.

Unemployment claims dipped to 1.3 million last week: Another 1.3 million people filed first-time claims for unemployment aid on a seasonally-adjusted basis last week, according to the Department of Labor. That’s down 99,000 claims from the prior week’s revised level.

If the $600 weekly unemployment increase is allowed to expire, how many jobs will be lost? The Economic Policy Institute makes state-by-state projections.

The damaging impact of the new ICE policy on international students: Military specialist Margarita Konaev writes in The Washington Post about the new policy that would ban international college students from staying in the U.S. if they are taking only online classes: “If this policy had been enacted when I was an international student, it would have ruined my professional and personal life. But in addition to the personal tragedies that will follow this policy, the rule will hurt the financial viability of U.S. higher education, hinder American innovation and stunt the country’s competitiveness on the global stage.”

Legislation to expand online access to SNAP benefits draws growing support: The Shriver Center announced its support for The Expanding SNAP Options Act (S. 4202), introduced by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), which would expand online SNAP purchasing to every state and provide funding for online assistance along with the development of a safe portal to support small retailers who currently do not have the technology to allow online SNAP purchasing. Because these retailers often operate and deliver food in Black and Brown neighborhoods, it will expand food access for people who have the highest death rates and unemployment rates during the pandemic.

Paycheck guarantee is popular with voters: Darrick Hamilton makes the case for a paycheck guarantee: “This recession, caused by a pandemic that’s killing Black people at more than twice the rate that it’s killing White people, won’t end without bold government action — and if we do nothing, Black workers will be hurt the most. A paycheck guarantee could change that. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) recently introduced the Paycheck Recovery Act, a new proposal for a simple new federal program that would directly cover up to 100% of workers’ paychecks throughout the coronavirus crisis. The proposal would cover up to $90,000 per worker, and cover every single person working at a business facing a significant revenue loss. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Doug Jones (D-AL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced similar legislation in the Senate. Both bills would also apply retrospectively to people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic — who could be added back to their former employers’ payrolls, even while the government covers workers’ paychecks while they must stay safe and socially distanced at home.”

Retail workers embroiled in the culture war — asking customers to wear masks: Mixed messaging and politicization have turned a public health safeguard into the latest challenge for low-wage workers.

Some federal prisoners lose stimulus checks: Some legal experts say the IRS is illegally denying CARES Act payments to incarcerated people.

News leaders and tech platforms must better police online harassment to support diverse newsrooms: Digital harassment is intensifying as tensions between political and social groups accelerate and hostility toward the press increases. Studies show women and journalists of color are more likely to be at the receiving end of abuse. In fact, female journalists say it’s their largest safety concern, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Administration continues to push deregulation as the pandemic rages: From a joint reporting project from the Center for Public Integrity and Vox: Since Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency in March, the White House has signed off on or is reviewing 247 temporary or permanent regulatory actions — only 33 of which were classified as pandemic-related — according to a Public Integrity analysis of data from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Young people with disabilities struggle to maintain relationships during pandemic: For young people with disabilities, social isolation can be a burden, since they often depend on interaction for growth and healing. 

Briefing for July 8, 2020

Harvard, MIT file suit to stop order barring international college students from taking online classes: Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit in District Court in Boston on Wednesday morning against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to University President Lawrence S. Bacow. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to bar the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement from enforcing federal guidelines barring international students attending colleges and universities offering only online courses from staying in the United States.

America is in the middle of a child-care crisis: Mariana Alfaro writes for the Washington Post: “It’s not too soon to say the pandemic has sparked a child-care crisis in America, as schools and child-care centers nationwide closed and the burden of managing kids has fallen disproportionately on women, leading some to quit their jobs. Part of the problem for families juggling everything during the pandemic is the lack of options: some people have none. Others rely on nannies or members of their extended family, like grandparents, who are more vulnerable to infection and thus not allowed inside their children’s homes. And many child-care centers across the nation have shut down.”

The pandemic didn’t create working moms’ struggle — but it made it impossible to ignore: From Monica Hesse in the Washington Post: “The pandemic exposed a lot of fault lines in modern society, including one that runs through the work-from-homeplace: The lopsided division of off-the-clock labor among working spouses has never been more obvious, and it’s made two things clear: 1) we can lobby for equal wages, promoting women, and harassment-free workplaces, but progress toward true equality hinges on chores — the diapers and the dishes and the hundreds of other essential tasks that must be performed, even if we pretend they don’t exist; and 2) unless we want to deal a blow to women’s careers and mental health, we shouldn’t try to return to business-as-usual until we address that ‘usual’ has been pretty sucky for working parents.”

Amid COVID-19, summer meal programs innovate in the face of uncertainty: With the traditional school calendar completed, school nutrition departments across the country have shifted their attention to providing summer meals, a continuation of ongoing efforts since mid-March to provide food to students while school buildings remain closed due to COVID-19. And while new flexibilities have ushered in innovative ways of feeding students amid a pandemic, school nutrition departments are facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainty.

The pandemic has exacerbated an under-the-radar health disparity  period poverty: From Stat: “Period poverty isn’t new: Menstrual hygiene products aren’t covered by national food stamp programs and are subject to sales tax in 30 states, excluded from the list of essential items exempt from taxes like food and medication. But the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn that followed have only exacerbated the problem, leaving marginalized populations who were already struggling to afford menstrual products at even more of a loss.”

Ending the $600 federal benefit will hurt the ‘vast majority’ of unemployed workers, particularly women and people of color: If Congress decides not to extend the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits past its July 31 end date, the “vast majority” of unemployed workers will be “harmed” without it, according to the House Ways and Means Committee. While workers of all genders, races, ages and income levels will see a reduction in benefits, women, people of color and younger workers will be hit especially hard if the benefit is not extended. Those groups have lost jobs at a disproportionate rate in the coronavirus recession, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Of the 19 million people who will receive regular unemployment benefits in July, 53% are women and 47% are people of color, CBO estimates. The analysis did not take into account self-employed and gig economy workers receiving unemployment.

Community organizations take testing into their own hands: Predominantly Black neighborhoods have less access to primary care physicians and healthcare services at a time when COVID-19 is killing Black Americans at a rate 2.3 times higher than white Americans. Now grassroots organizations are trying to compensate for failures of public health.

Mississippi Delta group offers aid to Black businesses overlooked by federal programs: Rural Black Mississippians are often left out of the many initiatives created by the federal government, and the CARES Act seemed no different. So, to ensure they were able to receive funds, Higher Purpose Co, an economic justice nonprofit based in Clarksdale, MS reached out to their funders. The organization received over 2,500 applicants for their Black Business Relief Initiative and Fund. Businesses must be Mississippi-based and be self-employed or have 20 employees or less. Businesses without physical locations are awarded $2,500 and $5,000 for businesses with physical locations. “We really felt like on a federal level, the money may not fall into the hands of African Americans in a way that we felt it should have,” Leonette Henderson, Director of Development and Partnerships said. “We’re going to focus on the people not thought of or not given that equal playing field.” This story comes from a special COVID-19 collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network.

The urgent need for federal investment in public housing amid the pandemic: Susan Popkin and Abby Boshart of the Urban Institute write for U.S. News & World Report: “The CARES Act provided emergency funds for housing authorities as well as regulatory flexibility allowing them to use their federal funds to respond to urgent challenges, but that funding isn’t enough. Major job losses, which are disproportionately affecting low-wage positions, mean many public housing residents will be unable to contribute as much to their rent, and agencies’ pre-existing budget shortfalls are likely to get worse. For housing agencies to continue to protect residents and make critical improvements to their units, it will take a much larger federal investment.”

Full reopening will require paid sick and family leave:Isabel Sawhill and Morgan Welch of the Brookings Institution write: “The United States is the only advanced country without a federally mandated paid leave policy. As such, it was ill-prepared when the pandemic hit. In reaction, on March 18, 2020, temporary legislation was enacted to mandate sick leave to stop the spread of the virus and protect the wages of sick workers. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides up to two weeks (10 days) of paid sick leave at 100% of an individual’s salary, capped at $511 per day, as well as an additional 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave at two-thirds of the individual’s salary to care for a child who is home due to school or day care closures. However, the legislation is temporary and will expire at the end of this year. It should be extended and the opportunity taken to consider whether more permanent changes are needed.”

Briefing for July 7, 2020

Stark racial inequities emerge as families struggle to get enough food: Nearly four in 10 Black and Hispanic households with children are struggling to feed their families during the coronavirus pandemic — a dramatic spike that is exacerbating racial inequities and potentially threatening the health of millions of young Americans. The percentage of families who are considered food insecure has surged across all groups and is already much higher than during the depths of the Great Recession, according to new research by economists at Northwestern University based on Census Bureau data. But Black and Hispanic households with children are now nearly twice as likely to be struggling with food as similar white families. The wide racial gaps have persisted week to week throughout the pandemic, according to the analysis, first shared with POLITICO. The gap between Hispanic and white households now also appears to be worsening.

Lag in coronavirus research puts pregnant women and babies at risk: After months of asserting pregnant women were not at high risk for the coronavirus, the CDC recently released a study with sobering findings for expectant mothers. Experts say the data gaps are almost as worrisome as the results.

Foreign students could be forced to go home if colleges move online: Foreign college students could be forced to leave the U.S. or transfer schools if their universities move classes entirely online this fall, according to guidance released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Monday.

‘Are you ready to go back?’ A poultry worker fears a return to work: In the two months since Delaware reported its first case of the coronavirus, the Sussex Medical Center had treated roughly 1,250 cases of COVID-19. At the peak of the crisis, the small family practice had been flooded with almost 100 COVID-19 patients per day — half of them employed in the region’s $3.5 billion chicken industry.

Congress pressed to help Black-owned businesses: A bipartisan proposal by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) would make $50 billion in grants available for the smallest businesses and nonprofits.

Black renters will be hit hard if evictions soar this summer: Eviction moratoriums and unemployment benefits are expiring, which will have a bigger effect on minority neighborhoods, experts say.

The myth of closing the racial wealth gap through increased savings: From Axios: “An oft-suggested reason for the massive wealth gap between Black and white families in the U.S. is that Black Americans simply don’t save or invest enough. Data shows that is untrue.”

In Pennsylvania, overdose deaths were falling. Then the pandemic hit: Advocates say the pandemic has exacerbated the overdose crisis in the state by forcing people into isolation and impeding access to treatment.

How the pandemic is disrupting addiction treatment: Drug rehabs around the country have experienced flare-ups of the coronavirus or COVID-19-related financial difficulties that have forced them to close or limit operations. Centers that serve the poor have been hit particularly hard. And that has left people who have another potentially deadly disease — addiction — with fewer opportunities for treatment, while threatening to reverse their recovery gains.

The bereavement of elder care: As coronavirus tore through nursing homes, workers weathered fights for adequate protection and anguish from mounting deaths.

Guardianship cases can separate families during pandemic: From The Intercept: “In a COVID-19 resource compiled by the National Guardianship Association, the American Bar Association, and the National Center for State Courts, advocates acknowledge the pandemic ‘will make it more difficult’ for seniors to exercise the remaining rights they do have.”

Briefing for July 6, 2020

The fullest look yet at the racial inequities of coronavirus: Early numbers had shown that Black and Latino people were being harmed by the virus at higher rates. But the new federal data — made available after The New York Times sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — reveals a clearer and more complete picture: Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a widespread manner that spans the country, throughout hundreds of counties in urban, suburban and rural areas, and across all age groups.

California struggles to slow spread of virus in Latino communities: A special report from The Sacramento Bee: “Gov. Gavin Newsom calls them the unsung heroes of the California economy in dangerous times. They are the workers, many of them Latino, who can’t afford to shelter in place. They harvest crops, work shoulder to shoulder in factories, prep food in restaurant kitchens and put roofs on houses. Yet until recently, few local public health officers and experts in California focused on another fact about that group: Latinos of working age are getting sick and dying from the coronavirus in disproportionately high numbers. Now, the alarm bell has sounded. After virus testing sites branched out to more diverse communities in recent weeks, the grim severity of the situation is clear.”

New Mexico tribes play catch up on Census count: From New Mexico In-Depth and Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long standing social and economic inequities that many say are at the root of a highly disproportionate number of Native Americans afflicted with the illness. Native Americans make up more than half of the state’s (New Mexico) positive coronavirus cases — the majority are in San Juan and McKinley counties — but just 10.9% of its population, according to census data. As 2020 nears its halfway point, the pandemic threatens to worsen inequities in another way: the stunting of an ambitious and energetic rollout of the 2020 census count on tribal lands that will determine the amount of money going to the state’s tribes over the next decade.”

In Chicago, urban density may not be to blame for COVID-19 spread: The communities hardest hit by the coronavirus in Chicago are low-density black and Hispanic neighborhoods, including ones where economic decline and population loss have caused more people to live in the same household.

Pandemic leaves parolees in limbo after leaving prison: From The Intercept: Under pre-pandemic conditions, formerly incarcerated people already faced steep barriers to accessing employment, housing, and necessary material resources. People who enter the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly poor, only to be rendered poorer still though years of incarceration and the added stigma that follows a person beyond the prison gates. As with so many social brutalities, the pandemic has exacerbated this problem. Former prisoners reenter a world of soaring unemployment and shuttered social service offices.”

How coronavirus in jails and prisons threatens nearby communities: COVID-19 has raged throughout U.S. jails and prisons, where people live together in close quarters and there is little opportunity for social distancing, a lack of basic sanitary supplies and high rates of chronic disease. While inmates mostly stay behind concrete walls and barbed wire, those barriers can’t contain an infectious disease like COVID-19. Not only can the virus be brought into jails and prisons, but it also can leave those facilities and spread widely into surrounding communities and beyond.

Are unemployed Americans about to fall off a cliff? Congress is set to end the aid that was supposed to see workers through the coronavirus crisis, even as it keeps getting worse.

Strengthen SNAP to help low-income workers weather the pandemic: Maya Sandalow of the Center for Science in the Public Interest writes in The Hill: “Congressional stimulus packages passed so far allow states to increase SNAP benefits for two months for some, yet the poorest 40% of participants, including five million children, have yet to see any benefit increase. Public health professionals, anti-hunger experts and economists all agree that SNAP must be a priority in the next relief package — 2,500 organizations across the country are urging Congress to strengthen SNAP by increasing the benefit and suspending attempts by the Trump administration, which preceded the pandemic, to restrict access to the program.”

When you are paid 13 hours for a 24-hour shift: America’s neglect of older people extends to the people who care for them at home.

Medical assistants, cooks and cleaners also face risks on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, but with low pay and little recognition: From The Washington Post: “Doctors and nurses have been saluted from front porches and rooftops for their efforts to contain the coronavirus, but more than 80% of essential workers who keep medical facilities running labor out of the spotlight like Currie, according to the Brookings Institution. Housekeepers, cooks, phlebotomists, orderlies and others face many of the same risks as their higher-profile colleagues, but sometimes with less access to protective gear, pay that can fall below a living wage and only a modicum of recognition.”

COVID-19 has highlighted transit inequities in America: While many office workers were able to shelter-at-home during the height of lockdown orders across the U.S., many other employees trekked into hospitals, supermarkets, warehouses, and transport depots to keep vital services running. Many of them relied on bus and train systems. Transit ridership plummeted around 90% at the peak of the pandemic, and journeys for the remaining 10% of riders started becoming more difficult. Services were cut, both to protect drivers and other transit workers, but also because transit systems are running out of money, in a situation that’s becoming acute

A Me Too moment for journalists of color: Soledad O’Brien writes in the New York Times: “It’s been 52 years since the Kerner Commission declared: ‘The press has too long basked in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and a white perspective. That is no longer good enough.’ You don’t get another 52 years. Time’s up on hiring and promoting and giving us voice. We can’t stand it anymore. I’m optimistic that the public will agree.”

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