Briefing for June 14-17, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for June 14-17, 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.

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Briefing for June 17, 2021

For toddlers, pandemic shapes development during formative years: Kaiser Health News reports: “Day care and other child care providers said they are relieved to see COVID-19 cases drop as vaccines roll out across the United States. But even as the nation reopens, mental health and child development experts wonder about what, if any, long-term mental health and development consequences young children may face. In the short term, medical and child development experts said the pandemic has harmed even young children’s mental health and caused them to miss important parts of typical social and emotional development. Besides not being able to get as close to other people as usual, many young children have seen their routines interrupted or experienced family stress when parents have lost jobs or gotten sick. The pandemic and its economic fallout have also forced many families to change caregiving arrangements. ‘Coronavirus is impacting children and families in many ways mentally. The biggest and most obvious way is in the children’s structure and routine,’ said Dr. Mini Tandon, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. ‘Young kids thrive in structure and routine, so when you disrupt that, things go awry pretty quickly in their day-to-day lives.’ Tandon, who has spoken frequently with parents and caregivers since the pandemic began, said she and her peers have seen more severe anxiety and high levels of stress in young children than in the past.” 

WIC advocates push for extended fruit and vegetable benefit: Like all safety net programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has faced enormous pressures to meet the demands of the pandemic. Forced by the necessity to adopt more digital and tele-access for its clients, WIC saw enrollments rise and clinics develop new practices that advocates hope can become a permanent part of the program. Brian Dittmeier, senior public policy counsel for the National WIC Association, the education arm and advocacy voice for the program, spoke with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity recently about changes to WIC, including an expanded fruit and vegetable portion of the food package.  

IRS launches Child Tax Credit tool for low-income families, but some find it hard to use: Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary writes: “This week, the IRS launched an updated version of the online non-filer tool it used last year to help people claim stimulus payments. The tool is now enabled to help non-filers register for the advance child tax credit payments. It was developed in partnership with Intuit and is specifically designed to target families who don’t normally file tax returns. Eligible families who already filed or plan to file 2019 or 2020 federal returns, ​or who used the non-filer tool last year, should not use this tool. Instead, the IRS says, the tool was built to provide an easy way for eligible people who earn too little, and thus do not have to file an income-tax return, to give the agency the basic information required to issue the monthly advance child tax credit payments. Except, the tool is anything but easy, said Jennifer Burdick, supervising attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and Melanie Malherbe, a managing attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services. Although they praised the IRS for developing the online non-filer tool, they argued that the portal probably won’t be accessible to many people who most need the monthly child tax credit payments. This is, after all, supposed to be the Biden administration’s big social-safety-net initiative — and is projected to cut child poverty in half.” 

An online teacher calls the pandemic experience ‘a disgrace’: Lelac Almagor, a fourth-grade teacher at a Washington, D.C. public charter school reflects on her pandemic experience in an essay for the New York Times: “In my fourth-grade class, I had students calling in from the car while their mom delivered groceries, or from the toddler room of their mom’s busy day care center. Home alone with younger siblings or cousins, kids struggled to focus while bouncing a fussy toddler or getting whacked repeatedly on the head with a foam sword. Others lay in bed and played video games or watched TV. Many times each day, I carefully repeated the instructions for floundering students, only to have them reply, helplessly, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,’ their audio squealing and video freezing as they spoke. Even under optimal conditions, virtual school meant flattening the collaborative magic of the classroom into little more than an instructional video. Stripped of classroom discussion, human connection, art materials, classroom libraries, and time and space to play, virtual school was not school; it was busywork obscuring the ‘rubber-rooming‘ of the entire school system. Some educators sneered that the parents who complained just wanted free babysitting. But I’m not ashamed to say that child care is at the heart of the work I do. I teach children reading and writing, yes, but I also watch over them, remind them to be kind and stay safe, plan games and activities to help them grow. Children deserve attentive care. That’s the core of our commitment to them. I am still bewildered and horrified that our society walked away from this responsibility, that we called school inessential and left each family to fend for itself.”

Collecting FEMA funeral funding takes tenacity and help: From Kaiser Health News: “As a funeral director at Ingold Funeral and Cremation in Fontana, California, Jessica Rodriguez helps families say goodbye to their loved ones. ‘We serve predominantly Latino families, most of them second- and third-generation’ residents, said Rodriguez. ‘We do have quite a few that are first-generation, that don’t speak any English.’ Most are unaware of a federal program that offers up to $9,000, she said. And even when they know about the aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the process is daunting and the bureaucracy confusing. The lack of English skills hinders some families of people who died of COVID-19 from receiving reimbursement from FEMA for funeral expenses, so her office offers them help in Spanish. Rodriguez herself is one of the applicants. ‘My father passed away from COVID-19. That’s why I really wanted to push the program,’ she said. ‘I know firsthand what it’s like to have to come up with that type of money without having planned to do so.’ Rodriguez said her funeral home, in a city where nearly 70% of its 215,000 residents are Latino, kept a running list since the start of the pandemic of all of the deceased they took care of who died of COVID-19. ‘Originally, the reason we compiled a list was to see the impact,’ she said. ‘But when FEMA first announced the funeral assistance program, we made it a point to call every family that was on that list and let them know about it.’ As of Monday, FEMA has approved more than $278 million for more than 41,000 eligible applicants, with the average amount per application standing at $6,756. FEMA said it does not consider ethnicity when determining eligibility, so the agency does not track that data.” 

Briefing for June 16, 2021

Housing advocates express concern about June 30 eviction ban expiration: In a letter to Biden administration officials, Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, expressed “deep concern about the federal eviction moratorium’s pending expiration, as well as ongoing roadblocks and new challenges in the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program. Despite historic efforts by Congress, the administration, and state and local governments, far too many renters are struggling to access ERA programs and are at risk of losing their homes when the moratorium expires.” The letter calls on the administration to take the following steps to “mitigate the risk of an historic wave of evictions this summer and fall.” 

  • Strengthen and extend a federal eviction moratorium 
  • Raise awareness of emergency rental assistance 
  • Establish eviction delay, diversion, and mitigation strategies 
  • Support Emergency Rental Assistance program administrators to quickly deploy aid 
  • Ensure data transparency 

Waivers are vital to WIC participation and benefit redemption: A new study from the Food Research and Action Center finds that waivers granted during the pandemic to allow WIC clients to have more digital and tele-access were the source of growth and improvements in the program. The waivers “have made the program and its services more accessible. Families have been able to enroll and receive services over the phone or via telehealth. As a result, WIC has had modest gains in participation from the outset of COVID-19. Comparing February 2020 (the baseline pre-COVID-19 month) to February 2021 (the latest available month of data), WIC participation increased from 6.1 million to 6.2 million participants, an increase of 2.1%. The change in WIC participation varies widely between regions and states. WIC participation increased in 26 states and the District of Columbia, but decreased in 24 states (February 2020 compared to February 2021). Waivers have allowed WIC to issue benefits remotely and to offer flexibilities in the WIC shopping experience, which have enabled families to use their WIC benefits more fully amidst food supply chain issues and social distancing requirements. Waivers have helped facilitate benefit redemption but have not been able to offset all the challenges posed by COVID-19. For example, WIC food costs, the amount of WIC food redeemed at the store, have decreased 3.4% from February 2020 to February 2021.” 

Huge disparities in vaccination rates are creating islands of vulnerability: From an editorial from the Washington Post: “Just as the United States fell into a patchwork of pandemic responses last year, the lifesaving vaccine drive has encountered troublesome zones of indifference and resistance. President Biden’s goal of at least partial vaccination for 70% of Americans by July Fourth now looks to be slipping away. Even more worrisome are persistent islands of vaccine hesitancy in some states and communities that could face renewed illness in the autumn. On Monday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced Vermont had become the first state to vaccinate 80% of those eligible with at least one dose. Vermont has given out 131,473 doses per 100,000 population. By contrast, in Mississippi only 35% of the overall population has received at least one dose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts the Mississippi vaccination rate at less than half that of Vermont, or 61,278 administered per 100,000. Where vaccine coverage is strong, the pandemic is receding. In the latest seven-day rolling averages, the Associated Press notes that 10 states with the fewest new infections have all fully vaccinated above the national average of 43%. But eight states — Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — have seen infections rise from two weeks earlier, and seven of them (all but Hawaii) have vaccination rates lower than the national average. Mississippi’s rate of new infections has declined, perhaps due to natural immunity, but experts point out that antibodies from previous infections may not protect as long as vaccines.” 

Jobs rebound masks disturbing long-term trend in rural America: The Daily Yonder analyzes U.S job data, that while showing a bounce-back from COVID job losses, also shows a worrisome long-term trend. “Rural America in April 2021 had essentially the same number of jobs as in 2010, 11 years earlier. Rural America didn’t lose as much employment as the big cities did during the year of the pandemic. And as the Daily Yonder has shown in previous reports, rural areas gained back their lost jobs at a faster pace, at least through last fall. And in April of this year the unemployment rate in rural America was about 4.9%. In the central counties of the major metro areas, the unemployment rate in April was 6.9%. But the long-term trends are that a greater proportion of the nation’s jobs are concentrating in the nation’s largest metro areas. In April 2010, rural counties had 14.1% of the nation’s jobs. By April of this year, rural counties had 13% of the nation’s jobs. The major metros (those with more than a million people) increased their share of the nation’s jobs from 56.7% to 58% in the same time period. More than half of all rural counties (56.7%) had fewer jobs in April 2021 than they had eleven years earlier. Among metropolitan counties, 31.1% had fewer jobs in April of this year compared to April 2010.” 

COVID exposed the flaws in America’s elder care system: From Time: “The nursing-home industry says that it has lost tens of billions of dollars during the pandemic and that many facilities are in danger of closing. COVID-19 vaccines have improved things, but images of last year’s destruction may not fade quickly for people who need care or for their families. The pandemic has thrown into relief concerns that advocates, experts, workers, industry reps, and patients have long raised about long-term-care facilities, and it has created a unique moment, they say, to reconsider how the country can better care for people outside those settings in the future. ‘What we collectively realized [during the pandemic] is that we’re all isolated and dealing with the same struggles because of a lack of care infrastructure in this country to support our ability to take care of the people that we love, particularly as we’re working,’ says Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, which advocates to strengthen the long-term care system. ‘It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to update our public policy, our systems, and our infrastructure for the next era.’” 

Briefing for June 15, 2021

How the pandemic unraveled Hispanic families: The New York Times focuses on Santa Clara County, Calif., as a microcosm of the devastation COVID-19 brought to Hispanic families. “Hispanic American communities have been pummeled by a higher rate of infections than any other racial or ethnic group and have experienced hospitalizations and deaths at rates exceeded only by those among Native Americans and Alaska Natives. But new research shows the coronavirus has also attacked Hispanic Americans in an especially insidious way: They were younger when they died. They are much more likely than white Americans to have died of COVID-19 before age 65, often in the prime of life and at the height of their productive years. Indeed, a recent study of California deaths found that Hispanic Americans between the ages of 20 and 54 were 8.5 times more likely than white Americans in that age range to die of COVID-19. ‘It matters how old you are when you die, because your role in society differs,’ said Dr. Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her research has found that Hispanic Americans and Black people who died of COVID-19 lost three to four times as many years of potential life before the age of 65 as did whites who died. The virus more often killed white Americans who were older. Their deaths were no less tragic, but they did not lead to the unraveling of income streams and support networks that was experienced in Hispanic American communities. These families experienced a very different pandemic.” 
Have COVID layoffs killed some jobs for good? From Politico’s Weekly Shift newsletter: “A data point getting lost in Washington policymakers’ debates over complaints of a labor shortage and slower-than-expected job growth: A large slice of workers laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic are reporting that their jobs aren’t coming back. The number of people who lost their jobs permanently was 3.2 million in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.9 million higher than pre-pandemic levels. A recent Fed study estimated there were around 200,000 more permanent business closures during the pandemic, on top of the average of 600,000 establishments that usually shut their doors each year. These permanent losses are likely to prolong the country’s economic recovery, our Megan Cassella has reported. While a furloughed worker is likely to get their job back with businesses returning to normal operations following widespread vaccination and relaxed health restrictions, ‘a permanently laid-off worker has to wait for an employer to create a new job, then apply and get matched with the right one,’ Megan explained. ‘Those jobs, that labor demand, went away when those businesses closed,’ Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute and a former chief economist at the Labor Department, told MS in an email. ‘It will take a little time for new businesses to be formed to take the place of businesses that were lost. So at this point, there are still not nearly enough jobs to go around; right now we still primarily have a labor demand problem.’” 
Bill would permanently expand telehealth services: The Associated Press reports: “A new bill in Washington would permanently expand telehealth services under Medicare and allow patients in rural areas without access to broadband to use audio services, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said. ‘It should not have taken a pandemic for Medicare to finally unlock the potential of telehealth services — and now we need to make sure that these vital telehealth services continue to be available to patients long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over,’ Shaheen said in a statement. Shaheen recently introduced the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act with fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Jerry Moran of Kansas.”  The bill would: 

  • Allow payment-parity for audio-only health services for clinically appropriate appointments. During COVID-19, recognizing not everyone has access to the technology in their home, Congress made allowances for audio-only telephone services to be used to allow doctors to reach patients wherever they are. 
  • Permanently waive the geographic restriction allowing patients to be treated from their homes. Pre-COVID-19, the home was allowed as an eligible originating site in Medicare and some Medicaid programs, but only for very specific services, and only for the patient, not the provider. 
  • Permanently allow rural health clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers to serve as distance sites for providing telehealth services. 

Rich schools, poor schools, and a Biden plan: From the New York Times’ Upshot column: “Can President Biden fix America’s inequitable public school funding? The administration’s latest budget proposal suggests he’s going to try. The plan includes a $20 billion program for high-poverty school districts. States would get additional funding if they ‘address longstanding funding disparities’ between rich and poor districts. If it works, the program would benefit districts like Hampton City Schools, near Norfolk in southeastern Virginia. Most public school students in Hampton City are Black or from low-income households. The district receives about $10,500 per student annually in state and local funding, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Contrast Hampton City with the school district in Arlington County, Va., a wealthy liberal enclave across the Potomac River from Washington. Because Virginia allows districts to fund themselves with local property tax revenue — Arlington is full of expensive houses and office buildings for lobbyists and defense contractors — the annual funding per student there is more than $22,000.” 

Human Rights Campaign and White House join forces for vaccination push: From the Human Rights Campaign: “The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, in partnership with the Biden-Harris administration, Made to Save, and the National Cathedral, will launch a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign for National Vaccine Month of Action. This initiative will mobilize LGBTQ affirming faith communities around the U.S. to maximize vaccination outreach during Pride Month activities, and will be a part of the White House’s vaccination plan of action and goal of 70% of adults receiving at least one vaccine shot by July 4. As part of this campaign, HRC and the White House Office of Public Engagement are hosting a virtual launch where community members, faith leaders, and media can learn more about the various initiatives and how to get involved.” 

Making room for children vulnerable to COVID: Writing for the American Prospect, Abdullah Shihipar contends that the rush to fully open schools in the fall may still endanger some of the most vulnerable students, particularly those who are immunocompromised and/or disabled. “We should not have to choose between the happiness of most children and the deaths of some children. We should not force children to have to choose between learning and risking exposure to a deadly virus. By keeping schools hybrid this fall, at least for those most susceptible to the virus, and by making childhood vaccination mandatory, we can soon create a safe environment where children like John Henry are free to learn and play safely. In the meantime, school boards can choose to use alternative methods of evaluation, reduce workloads, and prioritize safe, outdoor opportunities for socializing.” 

Briefing for June 14, 2021

The Black-White gap in multi-generational poverty: A new study from Scott Winship, Poverty Studies director at the American Enterprise Institute, and Richard Reeves, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, finds that multi-generational gaps in poverty and opportunity remain “a cause for national shame.” Some key findings: 

  • Three-generation poverty occurs among one in 100 Whites but describes the experience of one in five Black adults. 
  • Black adults in their 30s are over 16 times more likely than Whites are to have had both a parent and grandparent in poverty (defined as the bottom fifth of the income distribution). 
  • Blacks are 41% more likely to be in third-generation poverty than Whites are to be poor. 
  • Half of Blacks in the bottom fifth of the income distribution have parents and grandparents who were also poor, compared to just 8% of poor Whites. 

Fighting displacement with data: Bloomberg Cities looks at efforts in Austin, Denver, and Atlanta to use data-rich policies to counter the housing displacement trends that were super-charged by the pandemic. “Housing stability was a critical issue for city halls even before COVID-19, and nowadays the concern is magnified several times over. While eviction moratoriums and rental assistance during the pandemic have helped prevent more than a million evictions, city officials know they need to work harder to avoid a displacement tsunami that, if it strikes, would hit their most vulnerable residents the hardest. That’s why an increasing number of city leaders are turning to one of the most powerful innovation tools at their disposal — data — to take their displacement-related efforts to new heights. As a result, they’re gaining a better understanding of who’s at risk and are using the insight to inform more effective prevention strategies. ‘This idea of mapping the risk [of displacement] has really taken off,’ says Karen Chapple, faculty director of the Urban Displacement Project at the University of California at Berkeley, which has made its own maps of gentrification and displacement in several cities around the world. But, Chapple adds, ‘there are big-picture questions cities need to think about: Are [the tools they’re using] accurately identifying where risk is? And are people able to use these tools in a meaningful way to effect policy change that works?’” 

How to talk about vaccination in rural America: The Daily Yonder looks at a new resource library from the National Rural Health Association to help rural health care providers talk to residents about COVID vaccines. “The toolkit not only includes op-eds for community health care providers to give to local newspapers, but how to talk to rural residents about the vaccine. Included in the toolkit is a list of words and phrases that are more helpful in getting rural residents vaccinated. Instead of ‘defeat, crush, (or) knock out the virus,’ it encourages health care professionals and others to say ‘eliminate, eradicate, (or) get rid of the virus.’ Instead of ‘physical distancing,’ the toolkit recommends saying ‘social distancing.’ Rather than say ‘orders, imperatives, (or) decrees,’ the toolkit recommends saying ‘protocols.’ 

Drop in childhood vaccinations risks other outbreaks when school opens: Routine childhood vaccinations dropped dramatically during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, and although they began rebounding last summer as families rescheduled doctors’ visits, many children and adolescents are behind on their shots, according to a federal health report released last week. The Washington Post reports: “The lag might pose ‘a serious public health threat’ of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses, such as measles and whooping cough, that have the potential to derail school-reopenings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With health-care systems overburdened, the CDC is recommending that providers give coronavirus vaccines on the same day as other vaccines, especially when children and teens are behind or in danger of falling behind on recommended shots. The CDC changed its guidance last month to allow for coronavirus shots to be given at the same time as others.” 

What the rich don’t want to admit about the poor: In his New York Times column, Ezra Klein draws this conclusion from the Republican reaction to lagging job numbers and hints of creeping inflation. “The American economy runs on poverty, or at least the constant threat of it. Americans like their goods cheap and their services plentiful and the two of them, together, require a sprawling labor force willing to work tough jobs at crummy wages. On the right, the barest glimmer of worker power is treated as a policy emergency, and the whip of poverty, not the lure of higher wages, is the appropriate response. Reports that low-wage employers were having trouble filling open jobs sent Republican policymakers into a tizzy and led at least 25 Republican governors — and one Democratic governor — to announce plans to cut off expanded unemployment benefits early. Chipotle said that it would increase prices by about 4% to cover the cost of higher wages, prompting the National Republican Congressional Committee to issue a blistering response: ‘Democrats’ socialist stimulus bill caused a labor shortage, and now burrito lovers everywhere are footing the bill.’ The Trumpist outlet The Federalist complained, ‘Restaurants have had to bribe current and prospective workers with fatter paychecks to lure them off their backsides and back to work.’” 

Who gets the streets now? Slate looks at the future of city streets transformed to meet the crisis of the pandemic. “As the pandemic ebbs, cities across the country must adjudicate what has suddenly become a dizzyingly open question: Who owns the streets? After a year in which all the old rules went out the window, some urbanites are eager for a return to normal — which is to say, a system that assumes the streets are for driving and for parking. But many, many others have had a revelation that my colleague Dan Kois so nicely summarized as the shutdowns descended last March: ‘[T]he coronavirus is revealing, or at least reminding us, just how much of contemporary American life is bullshit.’ Just as the TSA suddenly permitted 12-ounce bottles of carry-on hand sanitizer, it took about 90 days for local governments to adopt enough new ideas for what a city should look like to tie up a community board for a decade. Was it an aberrant reaction to a hundred-year plague — or a sudden glimpse of the future?”

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