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

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

We are struck that one of the few certainties about the coronavirus outbreak is that low-income communities and workers in low-income, service sector occupations will be disproportionately impacted — likely in devastating fashion.

One step in combatting this will be to share information about what is happening and what can be done. That’s why we are offering a daily news service summarizing relevant stories, which you can read below.

If you would like to receive a daily briefing, feel free to email to subscribe.

Briefing for March 19, 2021

Richest U.S. counties overwhelmed by surge in child hunger: From Kaiser Health News: “The financial fallout of COVID-19 has pushed child hunger to record levels. The need has been dire since the pandemic began and highlights the gaps in the nation’s safety net. While every U.S. county has seen hunger rates rise, the steepest jumps have been in some of the wealthiest counties, where overall affluence obscures the tenuous finances of low-wage workers. Such sudden and unprecedented surges in hunger have overwhelmed many rich communities, which weren’t nearly as ready to cope as places that have long dealt with poverty and were already equipped with robust, organized charitable food networks. Data from the anti-hunger advocacy group Feeding America and the U.S. Census Bureau shows that counties seeing the largest estimated increases in child food insecurity in 2020 compared with 2018 generally have much higher median household incomes than counties with the smallest increases. In Bergen, where the median household income is $101,144, child hunger is estimated to have risen by 136%, compared with 47% nationally.” 
Wage gap intensifies during pandemic for Asian women: Even as Asian women face increased harassment and threats of violence — six women of Asian descent were killed in an Atlanta shooting rampage earlier in the week — significant economic barriers persist as well. March 9 marked Equal Pay Day for Asian American and Pacific Islander women, the day that AAPI women have to work into 2021 to earn the same amount of money that white, non-Hispanic men earned in 2020, according to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). On average, AAPI women are paid 85 centers for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, according to the NWLC, a policy-focused organization that fights for gender justice. This gap in pay, which typically amounts to a loss of $833 every month, $10,000 every year, and $400,000 over a 40-year career, means that AAPI women have to work more than 14 months to make as much as white, non-Hispanic men were paid in the previous calendar year alone. The pandemic has intensified these historical inequities, devastating whole industries and destabilizing family economic security across the nation, though women — and particularly women of color — have been hit especially hard. 
Farmworkers face vaccine eligibility woes: From Politico: “State officials and advocates are racing to overcome obstacles that hamper vaccinating the nation’s 3 million farmworkers before the upcoming harvest season. The biggest hurdle: Many agriculture-rich states have been slow to make laborers eligible for shots, triggering outrage among activists and lawmakers that farmworkers and other crucial food industry employees have been overlooked throughout the pandemic. Waiting to qualify is just one challenge with protecting this essential yet hard-to-reach workforce. It’s difficult for health providers to vaccinate this demographic that has had staggeringly high infection rates because it’s a low-income, spread-out population with intense fears about potential repercussions. More than a half-million agriculture workers have been infected with COVID-19, according to a Purdue University analysis, with the highest numbers in Texas, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and Minnesota.” 
COVID-19 vaccine boosters could present equity, price challenges: Convincing Americans to take COVID-19 vaccines, distributing the shots, equitably prioritizing people for vaccinations and negotiating fair prices has been a herculean task. The federal government and states may need to do it all again for booster shots to stop the spread of contagious mutations — but the Biden administration has not yet released a plan, and experts warn that the United States could repeat past mistakes unless the country starts planning now. If there’s a need for these shots, the Biden administration will have to deal with familiar problems, including preparedness, distribution, equity and pricing. “It’s not as much about what as it is about when you do these kinds of policy decisions. Doing it early and having a playbook really early might help states iron out the kinks,” Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told Roll Call.  “We haven’t managed to have a coherent strategy as a country beyond lip service to convince people to take the first couple of doses, let alone the third dose.” 
A policy manifesto for paying, protecting and empowering essential workers: Molly Kinder and Laura Stateler of the Brookings Institution offer seven policy recommendations to offer permanent help and protection for essential workers: 

  • Raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour 
  • Make the expanded EITC and Child Tax Credit permanent 
  • State and local governments should leverage federal funds for temporary hazard pay 
  • Accelerate efforts to enforce worker safety standards and protect whistleblowers 
  • State and local governments should prioritize essential workers in vaccine access 
  • Expand paid leave 
  • Strengthen labor laws to enable more worker representation and collective bargaining 

Restaurant workers are exhausted, anxious and feel both exploited and expendable: From Eater: “A year ago, public health experts were encouraging us to stay home to flatten the curve. Twelve months, 12 million confirmed infections, and more than 500,000 deaths later, and the pandemic still seems to have no end in sight. Even with mass vaccinations on the horizon, ultra-contagious new variants are now spreading in the U.S. Meanwhile, local and state governments are easing COVID restrictions. Food service workers … have largely resigned themselves to the current situation: They’re exhausted, anxious, and feel both exploited and expendable. They also have no choice but to go back to work. Maggie Slepian, a barista and freelance writer in Montana, was only out of work for a few weeks during the spring of 2020. The state started reopening in May 2020, meaning she and her coworkers no longer qualified for unemployment for COVID-related closures. ‘If you want to make money, you have to go in and face these people — a lot of whom want to fight with you, and a lot of whom are refusing to wear masks — and you’re at risk,’ she says. She’s been back to work for almost a year now, and she’s been arguing with customers nearly every day in that time. Food service workers across the country are making the same calculus, weighing the risks to their health against the realities of financial instability. On top of that, many say customers are making their jobs harder by refusing to wear masks or follow basic safety protocols.” 

The rural South lost 13 hospitals in 2020: From Facing South: “For the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center, the last straw was the COVID-19 pandemic, which strained the critical access hospital’s already-precarious finances past the breaking point. In Florida, two hospitals closed inpatient non-emergency services after being bought out by the HCA hospital chain. In Tennessee and West Virginia, financial problems combined with the strain of the pandemic led two more rural hospitals to shut their doors. Of the 20 rural hospitals that closed in 2020, 13 were in the South, according to data from the Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which defines a closed hospital as one that no longer offers inpatient services. Tennessee was the Southern state most affected, losing four rural hospitals last year alone. ‘One person mentioned that right now, the nearest hospital is 25 miles away. And the community is deflated and angry, because it feels like nobody cares if they die,’ said Kinika Young, the senior director of health policy and advocacy at the Tennessee Justice Center, which last fall conducted a phone survey of rural communities that had lost or were at risk of losing a hospital.” 

Briefing for March 18, 2021

Role reversal  COVID increases ranks of child caregivers: Kaiser Health News looks at the pandemic’s impact on the “more than 3 million children and teens who help an ill or disabled family member, according to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, a national survey published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. The survey also found that Hispanic and African American children are twice as likely to be youth caregivers as non-Hispanic white children. Carol Levine, a senior fellow at the United Hospital Fund, a nonprofit that focuses on improving health care in New York, said the COVID pandemic, combined with the worsening opioid epidemic, has increased the number of youth caregivers because more children are homebound and must care for ill or addicted parents. The pandemic has also made caregiving harder for them, since many can no longer escape to school during the day. ‘In school they have their peers, they have activities,’ Levine said. ‘Because of the contagion, they aren’t allowed to do the things they might normally do, so of course there is additional stress.'”  

Opening up the vaccine process too quickly could threaten equitable distribution: Axios reports: “Several states are making their entire adult populations eligible for coronavirus vaccines well ahead of President Biden’s May 1 goal. Opening up eligibility could get more shots in arms, but it also risks creating more competition for vaccines before many vulnerable Americans have received theirs. Alaska and Mississippi have made the vaccine available to everyone older than 16. Ohio, Utah, Michigan, Montana and Connecticut have all said they’ll follow suit within the next few weeks, per CNN. ‘One of the risks of opening up to all adults is it does become a bit of a free for all, and it becomes much more difficult to target vaccines and ensure those who are most vulnerable are vaccinated first,’ Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jen Tolbert said.” 

Nearly 75% of LGBTQ people say the pandemic has harmed their mental health: More LGBTQ people reported experiencing job loss and worsening mental health due to the pandemic compared with people who do not identify as LGBTQ, an analysis published last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found. The pandemic’s negative impact on mental health has been widely discussed by public health experts, but there has been a lack of data specific to how it has affected the LGBTQ community, said Lindsey Dawson, coauthor of the analysis and the associate director of HIV policy at KFF. The foundation has been polling Americans on how the pandemic has changed their lives for months, and after researchers began asking respondents whether they identify as LGBTQ, they were able to separate the data for further study. In the analysis, 56% of LGBTQ people reported that someone in their household has experienced job loss, furloughs, or a reduction in income or hours due to COVID-19, compared with 44% of non-LGBTQ people. Nearly three in four LGBTQ people also reported that pandemic-related stress has had an impact on their mental health, compared with 49% of non-LGBTQ people. 

Taking on America’s ‘dirty secret’: Environmental activist Catherine Coleman Flowers has spent much of her life devoted to uncovering and eradicating what she calls “America’s dirty secret” — the lack of adequate waste and water infrastructure in rural communities, leading to disease and worsening already daunting socio-economic barriers. A 2020 MacArthur Fellow and founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Flowers grew up in Lowndes County in Alabama’s “Black Belt.” She recently spoke with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity about her work and her new book, “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret.”  

Postal workers aren’t a priority for COVID vaccines:
Nearly four months after medical workers and nursing home residents began getting immunized against COVID-19, mail sorters, carriers and their colleagues are still not yet eligible for shots across much of the U.S. Given their work on the frontlines of a deadly pandemic, the nearly half a million Americans employed by the U.S. Postal Service had reason to believe they’d be among those prioritized for getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. With more than 100 active postal workers having died from COVID-19 and tens of thousands having been infected by the diseases, the American Postal Workers Union has for months pushed for its members to be recognized as essential workers in the national vaccine rollout. A tally by the New York Times found that most states haven’t prioritized vaccinations for postal workers. By the newspaper’s reckoning, just 22 states are currently making the shots available for mail workers.  

Prisons are long-term care facilities so why don’t inmates get priority for COVID vaccines? Chandra Bozelko, a columnist who was incarcerated for more than six years at the York Correctional Institution in Connecticut, writes for STAT: “Giving inmates the same priority for vaccination as nursing home and long-term care residents would benefit community health as much as it would the inmates. The Prison Policy Initiative estimates that, as of December 2020, as many as 500,000 community infections resulted from mismanagement of the COVID-19 risk in correctional settings. Yet inmates in 19 states will likely be vaccinated only after every free person in the community who’s willing to accept it. Incarcerated individuals are one of only two populations — the other is individuals remanded to mental health facilities — whose access to care is constitutionally protected. It seems to me that state policies ignore this because they are hopelessly mired in prejudice against people who are perceived to have broken the law, a group that’s disproportionately people of color.” 

Support for Medicaid expansion grows in South Dakota, one of the last red state holdouts: The campaign to expand Medicaid in South Dakota, and similar efforts underway in Florida and Mississippi, will be an early battle over health care policy under President Joe Biden. Biden has vowed to build on the Affordable Care Act, with provisions in the American Rescue Plan that include targeted aid to states with expanded Medicaid programs. In South Dakota, adults without children and who are not disabled do not qualify for Medicaid, regardless of how much money they make. If the state expands Medicaid, individuals earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or $17,609 per year, would be eligible. A family of four earning up to $36,156 would qualify under the guidelines, according to a state report on Medicaid published last year. The PBS NewsHour reports that advocates are confident they can collect enough signatures by the deadline in November to get an expansion measure on the ballot in 2022. But the pandemic has introduced challenges in the early going, making it harder to carry out a traditional, in-person petition drive.  

Briefing for March 17, 2021

In the COVID relief package, a prescription to expand Medicaid: The Washington Post looks at incentives built into President Biden’s American Rescue Plan for the dozen states that have not yet expanded Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act: “Florida and the 11 other states, most of them across the South, are the intended audience for a few paragraphs deep in the 630-page American Relief Plan. The legislation offers a novel and generous financial incentive to states if they agree to open Medicaid to more poor people and some in the working class. The White House has embraced the incentive, designed in Congress. It will pose an early test of Biden’s powers of persuasion as he tries to make good on his pledge to close the nation’s considerable gaps in insurance and health care — gaps the pandemic has thrown into vivid light. Billions of dollars suddenly being offered to the 12 holdout states will also test how much of the opposition to widening Medicaid is truly rooted in financial arguments that many Republican state officials have consistently leveled against the idea — and how much is anchored in the raw politics and ideology that divide the nation over health care.” 

Telehealth usage during pandemic happened mostly in urban, wealthy areas: Affluent urban areas saw the biggest uptick in telehealth usage over the past year, according to a new study from RAND. Experts have hailed telemedicine, in part, for its potential to help rural patients who would have to travel long distances for an in-person appointment. But the study suggests that telehealth hasn’t closed the rural-urban access gap even as its overall use has soared. Metropolitan areas had about 50 telemedicine visits per 10,000 people, compared to about 31 visits per 10,000 people in rural areas, according to the study. Patients in counties with low poverty levels had about 48 telehealth visits per 10,000 people versus 15 per 10,000 people in high-poverty areas. 

Nearly half of parents say teens face new or worsening mental health during the pandemic: Nearly half of parents reported their teenagers faced new or worsening mental health conditions since the pandemic began, a new poll has found. A survey of 977 parents with children ages 13 to 18 analyzed teen mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and aggressive behavior during the pandemic. The national poll, conducted by Ipsos for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan Medical School, looked at how parents were helping teens cope and whether they believed their strategies were successful. The restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 have kept teens at home “at the age they were primed to seek independence from their families,” poll co-director Dr. Gary Freed, who is the Percy and Mary Murphy professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, told CNN. The pandemic has severely disrupted their lives, Freed said, pointing to the cancellation of school activities and the inability to hang out with friends due to social distancing. 

America is in a ‘She-cession’ —and here’s why: New America Foundation CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter and Lumina Foundation CEO Jamie Merisotis write for Scary Mommy: “As the pandemic rages and efforts to contain it seem to inch forward, we are seeing its disproportionate impact on women — above all, working mothers, who are bearing the brunt of altered school schedules and remote learning. Indeed, the nation is having its first ‘she-cession.’ How the country responds should go to the heart of how we begin to rethink the work of the future. According to a recent report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), women have lost a net of 5.4 million jobs in the pandemic-induced recession — nearly 1 million more than among men. The job losses in December were particularly bleak. That month, though men actually gained about 16,000 jobs, 156,000 women lost theirs, resulting in an overall job loss of 140,000. Also, according to the National Women’s Law Center, roughly 154,000 Black women left the workforce in December, the largest one-month drop in their labor force size since the pandemic hit.” 

Veterans across U.S. can’t access benefits because key agency hasn’t returned to work: A key federal agency, tasked with helping veterans secure critical benefits, is acknowledging its coronavirus-induced backlog may be far worse than anyone realized, leaving hundreds of thousands of veteran families without access to benefits they earned while serving America. That includes benefit payments, access to veterans’ facilities and homeless shelters, as well as burials in veterans’ cemeteries. The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) has seen its backlog grow to 500,000 requests after sending most of its staff home in March 2020, with fewer than 10% of employees working on-site in recent months. Because the other 90% of agency staff cannot access most records remotely — and because the NPRC has been slow to bring employees back to the office — veterans have been waiting up to a year for the proof of their service often required to collect benefits. An internal NPRC document obtained by NBCLX indicates it could take the agency 18 months to clear the backlog. “I was mad as hell,” said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), describing how he felt when he learned of the delays last fall. “They served our country; they are true American heroes and they shouldn’t have to wait.” 

Briefing for March 16, 2021

OSHA’s virtual inspections during pandemic likely led to dangerous workplaces: From the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting: “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s decision during the COVID-19 pandemic to conduct many inspections virtually — instead of onsite — risked worker safety, the U.S. Department of Labor’s inspector general concluded in an audit report released Tuesday. The report does not specifically mention OSHA’s enforcement at meatpacking plants, which quickly became COVID-19 hotspots last year, but the problems the report details have plagued the agency’s response to the industry. ‘While remote inspections might help mitigate potential transmission of COVID-19,’ the report said, ‘a reduction in onsite inspections could result in more worksite accidents, injuries, deaths, or employee illnesses.’ In addition to virtually inspecting workplaces, OSHA conducted far fewer inspections in general. Total complaints increased 15% between Feb. 1 and Oct. 26 last year over the same period in 2019, but overall inspections — those related to COVID-19 and otherwise — decreased by 50%, according to the inspector general’s report.” 
Death in the prime of life – COVID proves especially lethal to younger Latinos: From The Washington Post: “Throughout the pandemic, the coronavirus has disproportionately carved a path through the nation’s Latino neighborhoods, as it has in African American, Native American and Pacific Islander communities. The death rate in those communities from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, is at least double that for whites and Asian Americans, federal data shows. Even more stunning: the deadly efficiency with which the virus has targeted Latinos in their 30s and 40s. In California, which has the nation’s largest Hispanic population, state figures show that as of Wednesday, Latino people ages 35 to 49 died of the virus at more than 5½ times the rate of white people the same age. The gap was even wider a few months earlier: In December … Latino people in the prime of life were nearly seven times more likely to die than their white peers, according to the COVID Tracking Project, an independent group that collects case, death and hospitalization data. Put another way: 35- to 49-year-old Latinos represent 41.5% of people in that age range in California but account for about 74% of deaths.” 
Wealthy people are taking vaccine slots allotted for others: Axios reports that America’s wealthiest are finding ways to access the vaccine ahead of those who qualify for it. An analysis of local vaccine data in 10 states with the biggest wealth gaps found that a number of states had vaccinated a significantly higher proportion of people in the wealthiest counties, according to STAT. Some examples: 

  • Connecticut has the most “glaring disparity” in vaccination rates between its richest and poorest communities, with a difference of 65%. 
  • California, Florida, New Jersey and Mississippi have also vaccinated people in the wealthiest 10% of counties at much higher rates. 
  • Cities continue to struggle with adequately reaching lower-income communities of color. 

U.S. prison guards refusing vaccines despite COVID outbreaks: As states have begun COVID-19 inoculations at prisons across the country, corrections employees are refusing vaccines at alarming rates, causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside. Infection rates in prisons are more than three times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying people’s symptoms, and haphazardly enforcing social distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread. The Marshall Project and The Associated Press spoke with correctional officers and union leaders nationwide, as well as with public health experts and doctors working inside prisons, to understand why officers are declining to be vaccinated, despite being at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many employees spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared they would lose their jobs if they spoke out. 

Advocates seek to prioritize at-home vaccines for homebound seniors: As mass inoculation against COVID-19 is underway across the country, advocates for the elderly are pushing to prioritize at-home vaccinations in order to protect the health of older, homebound adults. “Those who are homebound are just as high-risk for hospitalization and death as any other older adult,” Dr. Steven Landers, the CEO of Visiting Nurse Association Health Group, a New Jersey-based independent provider of home health, hospice and community-based care, told ABC News. “They are visited by families, by health care professionals. They deserve to be protected.” In a letter sent last week to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, a group of advocates including officials with the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), which represents more than 14,000 long-term care facilities, urged the Biden administration to prioritize vulnerable individuals, including the homebound. “No provisions have been made to get them vaccinated,” the letter said. “We must not lose focus on the most vulnerable elders.” 

Gillibrand calls for emergency increase for nutritional programs: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to permanently increase and review the nutrition package for the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. “Too many families are unable to provide for their families,” Gillibrand said. “The growing need for assistance has led a growing number of families to turn to nutrition programs like the SNAP benefits program — the special supplemental nutrition program — as well as the special nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children, or the WIC program. WIC is an essential resource for mothers and young children.” There is almost $1 billion for WIC in the recently passed American Rescue Plan, but Gillibrand and other Democrats want a permanent funding increase as well as a more generous nutritional package. Gillibrand has written a bicameral letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stating the need for this emergency increase which has been signed by 35 members of Congress. 

More states are battling an increase in drug overdoses during the pandemic: States and cities are facing a rising number of drug overdoses that health officials say have increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly 81,000 people died from a drug overdose between June 2019 and May 2020, the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period, according to provisional data in the CDC’s December report. Details from Axios

  • Overdoses in Staten Island have sharply increased this year compared to the same period in 2020 and 2019, per the Staten Island Advance.  
  • West Virginia officials have held virtual town halls to fight rising overdoses in the state during the pandemic.  
  • In Washington state, principal research scientist Caleb Banta-Green at the University of Washington told a local NPR station in February: “We’ve seen a really striking increase in all drug overdose deaths. It’s really clearly getting driven by these deaths that are involved in Fentanyl.” 
  • Preliminary North Carolina data from 2020 shows a 23% increase in overdose-related emergency room visits compared to the previous year, North Carolina Health News reports

Briefing for March 15, 2021

House to advance bill preventing automatic Medicare cuts: House Democrats are planning to advance a bill that would stop automatic spending cuts to programs such as Medicare this week, a necessary step after President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law on Thursday.  “The House will consider legislation to ensure that we preclude cuts to Medicare, as well as farm supports and other programs implicated by sequestration,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Statutory pay-as-you-go laws require that legislation that increases the deficit be offset. Without offsets, automatic spending cuts from mandatory programs, known as sequestration, go into effect. While programs such as Social Security are exempt, Medicare can lose up to 4% and a slew of means-tested anti-poverty programs could be wiped out without action. Without a law to reset the pay-as-you-go amounts, the massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief measure would require the White House Office of Management and Budget to issue a report at the end of the calendar year that would trigger the sequestration. 

New COVID workplace rules set to collide with reopenings: The Biden administration is expected to issue new temporary rules this week to curb COVID-19 spread in the workplace, setting a collision course with the growing number of states loosening restrictions on businesses to aid their reopening. The mandates — which would add enforcement powers to guidelines that are now just optional — threaten to further roil the politics around President Joe Biden’s cautious reopening strategy and ramp up tensions between the administration and the business community, particularly with industries hard-hit by closures like restaurants and entertainment and hospitality venues. Businesses warn the policy could create confusion and bring hefty new costs for employers, while worker advocates say the rules are needed to protect the largely unvaccinated labor force. “Retailers are concerned about the [possibility] of … a rigid, one-size-fits-all emergency regulation, particularly during a global pandemic that has already imposed substantial economic hardship,” the National Retail Federation said in a letter to House labor committee leaders on Thursday. 

Biden’s push for equity faces crucial test on strategy to reopen schools: The Washington Post reports: “It was one of the first proposals by the new White House to tackle what President Biden has said is a central goal of his administration: promoting racial equity through federal policy. The idea: a competitive grant program for schools that would give the federal government a more central role in combating long-standing educational disparities that have been worsened by the pandemic. But as Biden signed a coronavirus relief bill into law Thursday, his proposed ‘COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant’ was missing from the $130 billion allocated for schools — the result of pushback from advocates who warned it would have the opposite of its intended effect. Biden’s push to reopen schools within 100 days — one of the most politically fraught early promises of his administration — stands as one of the first major tests of his pledge to infuse the goal of equity into policymaking across the government. The $2 billion competitive grant program — unveiled during Biden’s campaign for the presidency — represented only a small portion of the proposed school spending that was generally greeted enthusiastically by experts concerned about disparities in education. But the proposal would have given federal officials greater say in earmarking some of the new funding for innovative programs specifically designed to promote equity. It generated vigorous opposition, touching off long-standing concerns about federal control of local school policy.” 

Two decades after the ‘end of welfare,’ Democrats change direction: Jason DeParle and Jim Tankersley of the New York Times frame the historic moment signified by the anti-poverty measures that are part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan: “A quarter-century ago, a Democratic president celebrated ‘the end of welfare as we know it,’ challenging the poor to exercise ‘independence’ and espousing balanced budgets and smaller government. The Democratic Party capped a march in the opposite direction this week. Its first major legislative act under President Biden was a deficit-financed, $1.9 trillion ‘American Rescue Plan’ filled with programs as broad as expanded aid to nearly every family with children and as targeted as payments to Black farmers. While providing an array of benefits to the middle class, it is also a poverty-fighting initiative of potentially historic proportions, delivering more immediate cash assistance to families at the bottom of the income scale than any federal legislation since at least the New Deal. Behind that shift is a realignment of economic, political and social forces, some decades in the making and others accelerated by the pandemic, that enabled a rapid advance in progressive priorities. Rising inequality and stagnant incomes over much of the past two decades left a growing share of Americans — of all races, in conservative states and liberal ones, in inner cities and small towns — concerned about making ends meet. New research documented the long-term damage from child poverty.” 

Majority of those who received first vaccine dose at community health centers were people of color: A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation: “Community health centers are a national network of safety net primary care providers and are a primary source of care for many low-income populations and people of color. This analysis examines the extent to which early vaccination efforts through community health centers are reaching people of color using data from the federal government’s weekly Health Center COVID-19 Survey. We include data from the survey weeks of January 8 through February 26, 2021, largely before the start of the federal health center COVID-19 vaccination program. Just over half (54%) of people who received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from health centers were people of color, including 26% who were Hispanic and 12% who were Black. These shares are higher than the shares of nationwide vaccinations, which show that 9% of people receiving one more dose of vaccine as of March 7, 2021 were Hispanic and 7% were Black. The shares of vaccinations received by people of color at community health centers increased in more recent weeks compared to vaccinations in January 2021.” 

The pandemic helped D.C. slash homelessness, but a new crisis looms: The Washington Post reports: “Halfway through her second term, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has achieved one of the centerpieces of her agenda: dramatically reducing the number of homeless families in the city and replacing the massive and decrepit D.C. General shelter with a number of smaller, better-run facilities. The city is no longer housing parents and children in crumbling motels. It has cut the number of days that families spend in shelters by three-quarters and decreased the number of families in shelters by nearly 80%. The coronavirus pandemic has actually helped Bowser (D) realize these goals, with a moratorium on evictions, boosts in unemployment checks and federal stimulus dollars for families and a city requirement to extend short-term rental assistance. But the eventual end of those protections could be disastrous. Thousands of families who have lost jobs during the pandemic and been unable to pay their rent could end up on the street, analysts say. Thousands more could face an abrupt end to their ‘rapid rehousing’ rent subsidy, meaning they must either dramatically increase monthly payments or lose their newfound stability. And with D.C. revenue shrunken by the lack of tourism, entertainment and sales tax dollars, the city has warned of potential funding cuts next year to nonprofits that offer services to the homeless.” 

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