Briefing for May 11-15, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for May 11-15, 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 May 15, 2020

New poll finds rising fear about having enough to eat: Two in 10 working adults say that in the past 30 days, they ran out of food before they could earn enough money to buy more. One-quarter worried that would happen. Those results come from the second wave of the COVID Impact Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the Data Foundation. The survey aims to provide an ongoing assessment of the nation’s mental, physical and financial health during the pandemic.
Job losses have now hit 40% of low-income homes: Thirteen percent of all U.S. adults, or 20 percent of people who were employed in February, were laid off or furloughed.
It shouldn’t take a pandemic to make us care about working people and the poor: Maid author Stephanie Land writes for Huffington Post that the coronavirus outbreak has finally sparked a “recognition that minimum-wage, hourly work exists, and without it people cannot survive. These are the workers who invisibly clean up after us at all hours of the day. They vacuum and polish the airport floors, they collect trash in parks; they sweep up the crumbs our children spread all over the place during brunch. We’ve become so accustomed to having these people work to make our lives easier that we rarely talk about them or notice them.”
The essential workers America treats as disposable: Maeve Higgins writes in the New York Review of Books: “Besides wreaking havoc on people’s lives and our economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has done that, ruthlessly exposing what’s been hiding in the cracks and corners. America was never designed to take care of the people who built it, or even given them their due, and that harsh truth has never been more apparent.”
College students’ siloed safety net: To help students meet their basic needs during the pandemic, the CARES Act is allocating emergency money to higher education institutions for their administrations to distribute to students how they deem best. But that’s not a position that colleges are used to holding, an Urban Institute analysis finds.  “Unemployment responds quickly, SNAP responds relatively quickly, but the higher education system really isn’t designed to be a safety net in the same way,” said Kristin Blagg, a Senior Research Associate in the Center on Education Data and Policy at the Urban Institute. “We’re now seeing what happens when we try to do that.”
As North Carolina begins to reopen, child care centers are struggling to meet the need: Child care centers remain in the challenging position of supporting North Carolina’s working parents with insufficient resources, center leaders and advocates say.
Next COVID-19 aid package should have more targeted safety net investments: Robert A. Moffitt, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Economics at Johns Hopkins University, and James P. Ziliak, Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics at the University of Kentucky, call the congressional investments in safety net programs thus far “anemic” and call for:

  • An expansion of the USDA pilot program that allows SNAP users to utilize benefits online
  • A suspension of federally imposed work requirements on SNAP beneficiaries
  • A substantial increase in housing choice vouchers
  • An expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit

COVID-19 forces a reckoning with the homeless population in San Francisco: From Mother Jones: “In recent weeks, San Francisco has made national news as a glimmering case study in flattening the curve. Since Bay Area counties became the first in the nation to order residents to stay inside, the city has mercifully avoided the devastation that the coronavirus has wrought in other urban areas. The city’s ICUs have plenty of space. Of nearly 900,000 residents, just 2,000 have tested positive for the virus. The glaring exception to all the good news is the homeless population, which has grown significantly over the course of the spring.”

How to survive the coronavirus housing crisis: CityLab offers an index of resources and answers some of the most pressing questions from landlords and tenants. 

A Georgia school nutrition director takes meals to the streets: Vanessa Hayes, 51, is a school nutrition director in Tift County, Georgia, a rural school district of 8,000 students, all of whom are eligible for free breakfast and lunch. Even though the county’s schools have closed their doors to students, operations are still running. Like other school administrators who have had to improvise new food distribution procedures almost overnight, Hayes has transformed her free meal program into a sprawling network of grab-and-go lunch lines and coordinated meal drop-offs. 

New Jersey struggles to contain prison outbreak: From the start of the pandemic through today, 42 inmates and at least 3 people who worked in state prisons have died with the coronavirus, leaving New Jersey with the highest rate of inmate deaths in the country.

Coronavirus tests are supposed to be free – but some Texans are being hit with large bills: Tests for the virus, which typically involve a painful swab up the nose, are often advertised as free. Congress directed most insurance companies to cover test costs for insured patients in March and has promised to reimburse providers for testing those who are uninsured. But experts say there are gaps in the protection, including for those who sought a test early in the pandemic, or those who went to a doctor and left without being screened for the virus. Not only could they be on the hook for the cost of the visit, like a co-pay or emergency room facility fee, but also for any diagnostic procedures used to check for ailments besides COVID-19.

Briefing for May 14, 2020

USDA appeals court ruling protecting SNAP benefits during pandemic: Reuters reports that the Trump administration, aiming to tighten rules for federal food benefits, has appealed a federal judge’s ruling that temporarily enabled hundreds of thousands of people to maintain food stamp benefits during the coronavirus pandemic, according to court documents.
Multimillion-dollar food bank delivery contracts go to firms with little experience: The Agriculture Department awarded $1.2 billion to several little-known companies to send excess farm products to food banks, Politico reports.
Distribution of relief funds creates new tensions between Education Department and Congress: The implementation of the CARES Act is creating new tensions between Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Congress. Democrats accuse DeVos of pushing an ideological agenda to the detriment of students and schools devastated by the crisis. They accuse the department of misinterpreting the law and making harried decisions without considering the consequences.
Pandemic-related unemployment claims hit 36.5 million: Workers filed nearly 3 million new unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, pushing the two-month tally of unemployment claims to 36.5 million.
The economic crisis exacerbates how we undervalue the work of women: Women and people of color were already at a disadvantage — then the pandemic hit.
The pandemic may leave communities of color undercounted in the census – and cost them billions: With redistricting and public funds on the line, advocacy groups are rethinking outreach during the coronavirus crisis.
A “new normal” for the country’s children: How we can put kids’ needs front and center as we rebuild from the COVID-19 crisis: Wendy Lazarus and Laurie Lipper of the Kids Impact Initiative write that as the nation turns “to recovering and rebuilding, our children must be front and center. Governments at the state, county, and city levels are uniquely poised to kickstart a ‘new normal’ for children, and there are proven approaches to help measure and account for the well-being of our nation’s children.” Some suggested key policies:

  • A place in government — at the local, state, and federal levels — whose sole job is to make sure all children can thrive, their voices are heard, and that efforts on their behalf are in sync across government. Child-oriented structures in government will help government do the right thing for kids and provide the accountability the public wants.
  • Child impact assessments of proposed legislation at the local, state and federal level that would analyze how proposed bills would impact children.

Small businesses have long defined America’s economy. The pandemic could change that forever: More than 100,000 small businesses have closed for good as the coronavirus outbreak’s toll escalates.
Let our people go: A letter from inside Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio is the voice of those locked behind bars during the pandemic.
Congress must remember homeless Americans in the next relief act: Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, writes in the Hill that Congress should focus on four urgent needs for homeless Americans in the next coronavirus relief package:

  • An additional $11.5 billion for homeless assistance. 
  • An investment of $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to help keep landlords solvent and avoid large arrearages once eviction moratoriums are lifted.
  • Long-term rental vouchers to elderly and severely disabled homeless people. Funding 200,000 new vouchers for two years, at an approximate cost of $4 billion, would help ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society don’t die on the streets.
  • Substantial increases to the National Housing Trust Fund to spur the construction of more affordable rental units.

COVID-19 worsens the impact environmental injustice already plays in low-income communities: Places like Detroit, Chicago, and St. James Parish in Louisiana, plagued by decades of economic inequality and pollution in impoverished neighborhoods, have experienced some of the country’s highest mortality rates from the virus. Recent studies have shown a link between high levels of pollution and an increased risk of death from COVID-19.

Briefing for May 13, 2020

New analysis estimates 27 million may have lost health care coverage during pandemic: A Kaiser Family Foundation study released Wednesday estimates that nearly 27 million people could potentially lose employer-sponsored health care and become uninsured following job loss.

How cities can recover from the pandemic without leaving anyone behind: Cities can have an inclusive economic recovery after the coronavirus, but to do so, public and private investment will need to work together.

Infections near U.S. meat plants rise at twice the national rate: Cases in counties with plants rose by 40% vs. 19% in the rest of the nation.

When colleges close and students leave: Inside America’s empty college towns: The coronavirus pandemic has devastated college towns, which rely on graduations, game days and a regular stream of students for revenue.

Government-run homeless camps could come to Los Angeles: In Los Angeles, a government-sanctioned camp has been developed for individuals experiencing housing insecurity. The camp, with around-the-clock security, offers residents water, meals, health care, and electrical outlets. While more have popped up as a response to slowing the spread of COVID-19 among those living on the streets, there have been arguments made for keeping them as a step toward more secure housing for individuals. This story comes from a special COVID-19 story collection from the Solutions Journalism Network.

‘Why I slept in the subways’: In a first-person essay in the New York Daily News, homeless New Yorker Denis Dugan writes: “Ultimately, I want what many people take for granted: a safe, private space, somewhere I can protect myself from coronavirus.”

The COVID Racial Data Tracker: The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t affecting all communities the same way. The COVID Racial Data Tracker tracks this inequity by collecting, publishing, and analyzing racial data on the pandemic from across the United States. It is a collaboration of the Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project and the Antiracist Research & Policy Center.

House Democrats release $3 trillion coronavirus relief package: The bill includes nearly $1 trillion for state, local and tribal governments and territories, an extension of unemployment benefits and another round of $1,200 direct payments to American families. 

COVID-19 cases at a Texas immigration detention center soared; now town leaders want answers: Coronavirus infections continue to rise at migrant detention facilities in towns with limited resources. Some local governments want details on what’s being done to safeguard the public.

New York City shelter network announces COVID-19 recovery plan for low-income families: Win, New York City’s largest provider of shelter and support services for homeless mothers and their children, has announced a new housing stability and recovery plan: “The Aftermath Plan: Responding to Homelessness in the Wake of COVID-19.”The plan’s five pillars:

  • Establish a new Stay-at-Home Emergency Rental Assistance Voucher to help low-income renters stay in their homes.
  • Create NYC Rapid Rehousing to help families avoid shelter by providing temporary accommodations (30 to 60 days) in apartment-style student housing and hotels and an enhanced rental assistance voucher to help families quickly find a new home.
  • Convert vacant hotels to family shelters and provide social services.
  • Make common-sense adjustments to the CityFHEPS rental voucher so the program widens the door out of shelter now.
  • Redouble efforts to create and preserve deeply affordable housing.

Mass unemployment is a policy choice; there are ways to avoid it: Reps. Pramila Jayapal, (D-WA), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Sean Casten (D-IL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) write in the Washington Post in support of the Paycheck Guarantee Act. How the legislation would work: After employers file a sworn statement with the IRS on the amount of revenue lost due to COVID-19, the IRS would use 2019 tax filings to calculate a grant that totals the percentage of revenue loss multiplied by payroll and benefits for workers up to a salary cap of $90,000. Businesses would also receive an additional 25 percent to cover operating costs, such as rent, so they don’t close permanently. The bill would also allow employers to rehire workers laid off or furloughed after March 1.

Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis: The Role of Health Philanthropy: The Urban Institute holds its latest installment in its Evidence to Action series on Friday, focusing on how health philanthropy can help communities recover from the pandemic. Urban Institute President Sarah Rosen Wartell will be joined by Faith Mitchell, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute, and Julie Morita, Executive Vice President at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Briefing for May 12, 2020

D.C. death toll disproportionately impacts African Americans: D.C.’s black residents make up less than half of the districts’ coronavirus cases – but have suffered 80% of the fatalities.

When a walk is no longer just a walk: An essay in CityLab from Archie L. Alston II: “After Ahmaud Arbery’s death, even stepping out the front door for a walk provokes a protracted mental checklist of how to stay safe in my own neighborhood.”

IRS sets Wednesday deadline for relief payments by direct deposit: The Treasury Department and the IRS are urging taxpayers who want to get their economic impact payments directly deposited to their bank accounts to enter their information online by Wednesday. The government has sent out about 130 million payments in the first four weeks of the program by both direct deposit and by mail. The IRS said Monday that people should use the “Get My Payment” tool on the IRS website by noon on Wednesday to provide their direct deposit information.

“We’ll lose everything”: Many stuck in unemployment claim limbo: Losing your job during a pandemic is stressful enough. Not knowing if or when you’ll receive the financial help you’re entitled to makes it even worse.

Teachers use high and low-tech means to reach English language learners during pandemic: From phone calls to text messages and handwritten letters, educators are using multiple tools to find what works in trying to reach the estimated 4.9 million English-language learners (ELLs) in the U.S. These students made up 9.6% of all school-age children in the fall of 2016, the last year for which such data is available. This story comes from a special COVID-19 collection from the Solutions Journalism Network. 

Navajo Nation reels under weight of coronavirus outbreak – and a history of broken promises: The Native American tribe has the highest per-capita infection rate after New York and New Jersey but has a fraction of the resources.

Documenting the pandemic’s toll on Navajo Nation: Journalist Krista Allen of the Navajo Times is one of the few reporters chronicling the coronavirus outbreak in the Native American community. “[Navajo people] don’t often get the chance to tell their stories, so I never try to get off the phone with my sources,” she told Elle magazine. “Their voices need to be heard. I give them as much time as they want to talk, however long they need.”

The hunger pains of a pandemic: Empty stomachs can lead to a dangerous desperation.

He worked for better conditions at his chicken plant – then COVID-19 took his life: Angela Stuesse, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, writes in USA Today of a Mississippi migrant worker who died after being exposed to coronavirus in a tightly packed chicken plant.

Will filing for unemployment hurt my green card? Legal immigrants are afraid: NPR gathered a half-dozen stories about legal immigrant workers, people earning a living and paying taxes in the U.S. yet fearful that collecting unemployment might jeopardize their immigration cases. Some were waiting on their first green cards; others were extending their residency or were even on the verge of becoming citizens.

Desperate small businesses seek changes to relief program: “Basically how I’ve described it to people is it’s this gigantic pothole, and it’s dark and so you have no idea how deep, or how long it is,” Mark Harman, president of Stanz Foodservice Inc. in South Bend, Indiana, told CNN. “And you need to have something to fill that pothole.”

Surviving COVID-19’s economic impact while black’: On Wednesday, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Vice President Jessica Fulton will join other leading black economists to discuss the COVID-19 crisis and its economic impact on black communities. Other panelists include Groundwork Collaborative Managing Director of Policy and Research Janelle Jones and Howard University Professor in the Department of Economics and Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO William E. Spriggs. Black Worker Initiative Director Marc D. Bayard will moderate the conversation.

Briefing for May 11, 2020

Pork chops versus people: Battling coronavirus in an Iowa meal plant: After President Trump’s executive order, meat plants are reopening. Can they do so without endangering their low-wage workers and their communities?

Low-income groups and communities of color are most at risk for serious illness if infected with COVID-19: An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds:

  • More than one in three (34%) American Indian/Alaska Native non-elderly adults are at higher risk of serious illness if infected with the coronavirus; this share is greater than all other racial and ethnic groups 
  • More than one in four (27%) black non-elderly adults are at higher risk of serious illness if infected with coronavirus, compared to about one in five (21%) white adults
  • Asian non-elderly adults have the smallest share (12%) of adults at higher risk of serious illness among the racial and ethnic groups included in this analysis
  • More than one in three (35%) non-elderly adults with household incomes below $15,000 are at higher risk of serious illness if infected with coronavirus, compared to about one in seven (16%) adults with household incomes greater than $50,000 

How economic pain is distributed in America: Job losses due to the coronavirus shutdown have fallen unequally on Americans according to age, gender, educational attainment and race.

What FDR has already done to help deal with today’s crisis: Historians David Riemer and June Hopkins write for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunitythat Franklin Roosevelt and his New Dealers have already shaped today’s solutions and created the template for future action.

Clean-up on aisle everywhere: From the Los Angeles Times, a day in the life of supermarket workers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Expand and improve the Child Tax Credit: Writing in The Hill, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Suzan Delbene (D-WA) call for making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable and providing an extra $1,000 to all children through the CTC and an additional $600 for young kids under the age of six who are most at risk.

The paid leave law should help millions; but many haven’t heard of it: The program has received relatively little publicity, and there has been confusion among business owners and workers.

Pandemic makes America’s hunger crisis even worse: Food banks and the food stamps system are both overwhelmed.

Want to fight rising food insecurity? Listen to people who’ve been hungry: As families face sudden, chronic food shortages, three researchers share lessons from hundreds of interviews with the food insecure. They site four key factors:

  • What’s in your pantry matters
  • Food budgets matter
  • Where you live matters
  • Who you know matters

The first 100: Of the first 100 people who died from COVID-19 in Chicago, 70 were black. “I’m not surprised because every natural disaster will peel back the day-to-day covers over society and reveal the social fault lines that decide in some ways who gets to live and who gets to die,” said Dr. David Ansell, senior vice president for community health equity at Rush University Medical Center. “And in the United States, those vulnerabilities are often at the intersection of race and health.”

The pandemic has made the nation’s racial contract starkly visible: Adam Serwer writes in the Atlantic that the coronavirus outbreak has rendered the racial contract – what philosopher Charles Mills calls the underlying assumptions of white innocence and black guilt – “visible in multiple ways. Once the disproportionate impact of the epidemic was revealed to the American political and financial elite, many began to regard the rising death toll less as a national emergency than as an inconvenience.”

Social distancing arrests target people of color: Why would anyone be surprised at this?”

What white Americans can learn about racism from the pandemic: In the About US newsletter from the Washington Post, Darren Hutchinson, an associate dean at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, says white Americans can learn a thing or two about racism from the pandemic – such as how the fear and uncertainty they are feeling now is not unlike what African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and others feel all the time.

Students call college that got millions in coronavirus relief “a sham”: A for-profit college received millions of dollars from the federal government to help low-income students whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak, but that same school, Florida Career College (FCC), is also accused of defrauding students. A federal class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of students in April calls FCC “a sham” and alleges that, long before the pandemic, the college was targeting economically vulnerable people of color. 

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