Briefing for May 18-22, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for May 18-22, 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 22, 2020

The ‘us and them’ pandemic shows America is still impervious to black pain:Michelle Norris writes in the Washington Post: “We are now in an ‘us and them’ pandemic, with black communities still reeling from the virus and not so much worried about giving up sunny days but watching their health, their family members, their loved ones and breadwinners snatched away by illness. That’s creating a sense of vertigo and justifiable anger. While individual states and cities have created task forces to interrogate the social determinants and underlying health problems that have led to the racial disparities, the federal response has been AWOL.”

Locked Inside: A COVID-19 outbreak at Harris County Jail in Houston was the “nightmare scenario.” Then it actually happened.

Rent is still due in ‘Kushnerville’: From ProPublica: Government stimulus checks and a temporary ban on evictions are tiding over the suddenly jobless residents of housing complexes owned by Jared Kushner’s company. But what will happen when both soon run out?

For LGBTQ students, school closures can mean the loss of an essential safe space: Not being able to see friends and connect with teachers at school is difficult for most students. But for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students, for whom school might be the only safe place, it’s devastating. Research shows that the majority of LGBTQ students depend on key support at school, even — and especially — if they’re not publicly out. Groups like gay-straight alliances (GSAs), which are designed to be safe, supportive environments for LGBTQ students and their allies, are sometimes the only place where queer and trans students can safely be themselves. Without these opportunities to be heard, understood, and unwind from constant self-defense, the mental and physical health of many young LGBTQ people are at risk

Community news organizations, a lifeline for many Hispanic families, are in danger: “Everyone is in survival mode at a time when there is a great demand to stay informed and connected.”

Social distancing in black and white in Detroit: A Brookings Institution analysis examines how the difficulties many black Detroit residents had in being able to stay at home and socially distance helped create the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in the city’s black community.

Curtain falls on neighborhood theater: While policymakers in Washington and state capitals are focusing, understandably, on more familiar sectors of the consumer and manufacturing economies, the creative class that provides the modestly paid lifeblood for local theater scenes across the nation is also in jeopardy.

More face hunger as Massachusetts food pantries are overwhelmed: As the pandemic stretches into its third month, more people in Massachusetts are going hungry. Meanwhile, overwhelmed food pantries are closing and food-distribution networks are in dire need of support. According to research released on Thursday from the nonprofit Feeding America, one in eight people in Eastern Massachusetts is predicted to experience food insecurity in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

For many Americans, lack of access to clean water heightens the COVID-19 threat: In impoverished places like the rural South, standard amenities that form the baseline for warding off coronavirus infection can be hard to come by.

Providing real solutions for domestic violence survivors during COVID-19: Shelter-in-place ordinances play a vital role in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, but they also push people and families into a pressurized state of stress that fuels family violence. This pandemic has created the conditions that result in surges in domestic violence cases, even as so many incidents go unreported. Some cities and counties across the country are reporting as much as a 25 percent increase in domestic violence.

COVID-19 could mean poverty for millions of retirees: The coronavirus-fueled recession will force 3.1 million older workers into poverty when they retire, and all ranges of earners will be affected, according to a new report.

Briefing for May 21, 2020

SNAP online pilot program expands to 13 states: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Wednesday that residents in the following states may now use SNAP benefits online: Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. When operational, online purchasing will be available in 36 states and the District of Columbia which is home to over 90% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants. The inability of SNAP recipients to purchase food online has become a significant issue during the coronavirus outbreak.
The journey of the jobless: Congress boosted unemployment benefits. Now the challenge lies in getting them out to the unemployed through underfunded state-level programs.
Unemployment rises by 2.4 million: A total of 38.6 million workers have now applied for unemployment assistance over the past nine weeks.
Millions of people lost their jobs in hard-hit New England. Many fear their homes could be next: Widespread unemployment — and soon-expiring federal aid — could create a major financial crisis for homeowners and renters without more action from Washington, experts say.
Community colleges struggle to access CARES Act relief for students: North Carolina’s 58 community colleges will collectively receive $60 million to provide emergency financial aid to students thanks to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But the Department of Education’s interpretation of Congress’s intent in deciding who is eligible for help is bringing criticism from some campus leaders.
‘Might as well have them walk the plank’: Proposed budget cuts may force many California seniors into nursing homes.
When moratoria lift, how can state and local governments avoid a COVID-19 eviction surge? The Urban Institute suggests that states and cities are considering legal protections for renters who may face potential eviction because of coronavirus-related income losses once federal and local eviction moratoriums are lifted. Among their proposed remedies:

  • Eviction diversion programs
  • Offering or requiring mediation
  • Improve legal protections to reduce evictions
  • Enable expungement to limit lasting damage
  • Improve judicial expertise on housing issues

A clean slate in the age of coronavirus: Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress and Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, write for Inside Sources: “Without question, the top criminal justice-related priority right now must be protecting people behind bars from the spread of the virus — and providing adequate supports upon release. But longer-term, we must also ensure that the stigma of a record doesn’t block tens of millions of justice-impacted people and families from taking part in the recovery.”

San Francisco’s sanctioned camps for homeless stir debate: While thousands of people remain unsheltered in San Francisco amid the coronavirus pandemic, a controversial proposal to allow the homeless to pitch tents in the city’s parks has sparked debate among lawmakers and residents.

10 years old, tearful and confused after a sudden deportation: Since the coronavirus broke out, the Trump administration has deported hundreds of migrant children alone — in some cases, without notifying their families.

Michigan laws kept him imprisoned after his parole. Now, he has COVID-19: A Michigan inmate granted parole on April 6 now has COVID-19. He was sentenced to prison last year for writing bad checks and drug possession and is one of more than 700 at the 2,300-bed Gus Harrison Correctional Facility to test positive for the virus. Because of a law known as Truth in Sentencing, he must serve every day of his 20-month minimum sentence, which will keep him behind bars through August.

Briefing for May 20, 2020

Small and rural hospitals struggle for survival: The increase in uninsured patients, the costs of gearing up for the pandemic, and the postponement of nonemergency procedures — the lifeblood of the hospital system — have created a perfect financial storm that threatens to swamp these critical community facilities. Small and rural hospitals are at higher risk because they have fewer patients, fewer revenue streams, and serve populations that are older, sicker, and — even before the present crisis — either underinsured or uninsured.

NYC’s poorest neighborhoods have the highest death rates from COVID-19: People living in the poorest New York City neighborhoods are dying from coronavirus at more than double the rate of more affluent neighborhoods, according to new data released by the city’s Health Department. In zip codes where at least 30 percent of people live in poverty, the death rate from COVID-19 is 232 for every 100,000 people — compared to 100 in low-poverty neighborhoods, where less than 10 percent of the population is poor.

Trailblazers in their families, now they’re forging a path through a pandemic graduation: Coronavirus is robbing students of the opportunity to celebrate their high school graduations. It’s a particularly cruel reality for students who are the first in their families to earn a degree.

Women of color must be at the center of the next coronavirus aid package: Dominique Derbigny, Deputy Director of Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap, and Jocelyn Frye, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, write in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity that “policymakers must center women of color in ongoing discussions about interventions and resources needed. When we put women of color at the center, we all rise.”

Houston’s $15 million housing assistance fund is depleted in 90 minutes: The city of Houston exhausted its entire $14.4 million stock of rental assistance funds within 90 minutes last week, underscoring the dire economic situation facing Houstonians who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the shadow of America’s smokestacks, coronavirus is just one more threat: Nationwide, low-income communities of color are exposed to significantly higher levels of pollution, studies have found, and also see higher levels of lung disease and other ailments. Now, scientists are racing to understand if long-term exposure to air pollution plays a role in the coronavirus crisis, particularly since minorities are disproportionately dying.

The mental health impact on people of color and minorities: Some groups may face a disproportionate mental health impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. These include people of color, migrants, and people of various ethnic backgrounds, many of whom have reduced access to mental health services and other healthcare resources.

Housing the formerly incarcerated should be a fundamental right, particularly during a pandemic: Demar F. Lewis IV, a writer and PhD student at Yale University, argues in The Appeal that “as a matter of public health, housing needs to be guaranteed as a human right extended to everyone in the United States — whether they are documented, incarcerated, or not.”

The 25 rural counties with the highest infection rates: Nobles County, Minnesota leads this Daily Yonder list, which finds that meatpacking plants, prisons and nursing homes are the common factors in rural counties with high rates of COVID-19 infection.

Hotel Vouchers 4 All provides San Diego’s homeless with shelter during pandemic: When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Hotel Vouchers 4 All was created as an emergency response to finding housing for San Diego residents experiencing homelessness. Funded by donations, the initiative has partnered with a local motel to negotiate lower rates for individuals to stay and socially distance during the pandemic. It also helps provide meals, clothes, PPE, and access to health services, but with limited funding and a lack of support from the city, its sustainability hangs in question. This story is part of a special COVID-19 collection from the Solutions Journalism Network.

The $600 (unemployment insurance) question: The Bipartisan Policy Center will host a virtual discussion on Thursday on the impact of the unemployment insurance expansion in the CARES Act on workers, businesses, and the economy. The panel, moderated by Wall Street Journal reporter Eric Morath, will include: Evan Armstrong, Vice President, Workforce Policy, Retail Industry Leaders Association; David Cooper, Senior Economic Analyst and Deputy Director of EARN, Economic Policy Institute; Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director, National Employment Law Project; Michael Strain, Director of Economic Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute; and Julie Squire, Policy Director and General Counsel, National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

‘In a nutshell, it’s been devastation’: CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden discussed how the pandemic has impacted low-income communities on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal.

Briefing for May 19, 2020

Seven ideas for the next stimulus package: Vox offers some of the most ambitious ideas from Republicans and Democrats that could make a difference:

  • A federal paycheck guarantee
  • Recurring stimulus payments
  • Automatic stabilizers to keep expanded unemployment insurance, food assistance like SNAP, and Medicaid assistance flowing to newly unemployed people who need it as long as America’s economy is weak due to the coronavirus
  • Mortgage and rent assistance
  • Emergency Medicaid or Medicare coverage
  • Extend expanded unemployment insurance, including to college students and recent graduates
  • Hazard pay for essential workers

The pandemic may leave lasting solutions for homelessness: Brooks Rainwater and Lauren Lowery from the National League of Cities write in CityLab: “During this pandemic — in many places — homelessness reforms that were long deemed implausible are happening, if only temporarily. Over the last two months, cities have been showing just what it takes to expand capacity and safely house the homeless.”
Can you be evicted? The federal government has ordered a halt to all evictions until July 25 against tenants who can’t pay their rent in properties that have federally backed loans or that participate in certain programs. This ProPublica database lets you search apartment buildings nationwide to find out if your rental unit may qualify for eviction protection. 
‘The best part of my supermarket job was the people. Now they’re the worst part’: Donte Martin, a manager at a Giant in suburban Maryland, writes in the Washington Post: “The best part of my job has always been the people. You never know who you might talk to during the day: It could be someone who’s homeless, or someone with a million dollars in their bank account. Everyone has to buy food. Working here, you see the actual face of society. That’s the worst part of my job now. These days, you can’t help but see strangers in terms of risk.”
California is now offering coronavirus aid to undocumented immigrants: As of Monday, undocumented immigrants in California were able to begin applying for financial assistance to support them during the coronavirus pandemic — in the first relief fund of its kind. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the $125 million coronavirus disaster relief fund last month to support undocumented immigrants who were ineligible for federal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits due to their immigration status.
The Trump administration is rushing deportation of migrant children during the pandemic: As the nation remains focused on COVID-19, the U.S. government has aggressively begun to rush the deportations of some of the most vulnerable migrant children in its care to countries where they have been raped, beaten or had a parent killed, according to attorneys, court filings and congressional staff.
Ohio prison system resumes accepting inmates from county jails: The Ohio prison system plans to resume accepting inmates from county jails to begin their prison sentences, a practice suspended during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to reduce overcrowding.
‘How can I help you?’ Los Angeles schools are using new methods to try to reach students facing mental health challenges during the coronavirus outbreak. This story is part of a special COVID-19 collection from the Solutions Journalism Network.
Pandemic severely limits substance abuse help in rural America: With lockdowns, self-quarantining, and financial strains on local healthcare providers, many rural residents with substance abuse problems face a sudden disappearance of their support systems.
Five facts about workers on the margins: Key data points from Ellen Hughes-Cromwick at Third Way:

  • Low-wage workers have lost jobs far faster than high-wage workers
  • Nearly half of the 20+ million job losses last month were in the two lowest-paid sectors in the entire economy
  • Unemployment rates of people without a high school degree and of Gulf War veterans have risen much faster than those with postsecondary education; Hispanic/Latino and Black/African American unemployment rates also skyrocketed
  • Huge swaths of those on temporary layoffs — which could turn into permanent job loss — would lift the unemployment rate to nearly 20%
  • By another definition, this broader unemployment measure reached 22.8% last month

Bipartisan group of senators calls for more support for child care workers: Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), along with 19 of their Republican and Democratic colleagues, are calling on the Senate to provide additional support to child care workers and providers across the country. In a letter to Senate leaders, Ernst and 22 other senators write: “…it is critical we provide additional support for the child care sector to ensure providers can maintain operations and continue to meet the needs of essential workers, and remain viable going forward as our country moves towards economic recovery.”

Briefing for May 18, 2020

Bipartisan House bill aims to help smallest businesses: A bipartisan group of House members, led by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), introduced legislation on Friday to provide $50 billion to the smallest small businesses nationwide, which have strained to compete with larger firms for emergency aid through existing federal programs. The bill has attracted support from across the aisle: Republican Reps. Fred Upton (MI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) are co-sponsors, as is Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA). A Senate companion bill, sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), is also on deck.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black healthcare workers: Adia Harvey Wingfield, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor of Arts & Sciences and Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Washington University in St. Louis, writes in the Harvard Business Review: “As a sociologist who studies the experiences of black healthcare workers, I fear that one unanticipated consequence of the coronavirus might be a setback of the modest advances the medical industry has made towards improving racial diversity among practitioners. Currently, despite being approximately 13% of the U.S. population, blacks constitute only 5% of all doctors and 10% of nurses.” 

Native American communities continue to struggle with COVID-19: The Navajo Nation, which stretches across three states and has been especially affected, was under its strictest weekend lockdown since the pandemic was declared, after a spike in cases. Gas stations and grocery stores closed and essential workers were told to stay home until the order expired on Monday at 5 a.m.

Millions wait for jobless benefits: Millions of Americans who are owed tens of billions of dollars in unemployment benefits are still waiting to receive the help they have been promised two months after the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed a historic wave of layoffs.

Federal judge orders L.A. to relocate thousands of homeless living near freeways: The city of Los Angeles and LA County must find shelter for thousands of homeless people who are living near freeways, a federal judge ordered Friday, saying their health is at risk from pollution, earthquakes and the coronavirus.

Amid the pandemic, public transportation is highlighting inequalities in cities: In the wake of COVID-19, how to safely and fully reopen public transportation has become a major point of discussion at both local and federal levels. Much of the conversation so far has focused on logistical challenges like sanitation, overcrowding and lost revenue. However, public transit directly affects access to different opportunities based on a variety of factors, including riders’ neighborhoods, income levels and now — during the pandemic — whether they can work remotely.

New York’s safety net hospitals were the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. Now they’re facing ruin:  Between the outbreak pushing already thin budgets to the brink and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s impending Medicaid cuts, the heads of so-called safety-net hospitals say even with federal support, they may not last long after the pandemic subsides, and that will mean a dearth of medical care for the city’s most vulnerable population.

America’s cities could house everyone if they chose to: The New York Times’ Binyamin Appelbaum writes: “Our housing crisis is a symptom of America’s wealth — and its indifference.”

For millions, the pandemic will make retiring harder: Labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci tells CNBC that seniors may face even more uncertainty and difficulty than during the 2008 recession. By her calculations, the pandemic will force another 3.1 million older workers into poverty in their retirement, with many forced to choose between their health and their need for a paycheck.

‘Total devastation’ in college towns: As states take steps to reopen businesses and restart the economy, merchants in college towns are only now entering their traditional slow period, even as they look ahead to a fall forecast clouded with uncertainty. With uncertainty around colleges’ plans to reopen, experts warn they might face a prolonged slump that could mean “total devastation.”

‘If you had a need, you got help’: Russell Lowery-Hart, president of the community college in Amarillo, has a student body of about 10,000 filled with health aides, motel maids, and meatpacking workers — in plants now beset by COVID-19 — looking to education as their road out of poverty. When the coronavirus pandemic shut down Amarillo College, Lowery-Hart moved his family photos and a stack of books to a circular welcome desk in the student commons. There, he greets students who don’t have a computer or reliable internet at home. He takes their temperature, asks about possible exposure to the coronavirus, and then, if they pass the screening, allows them to use a computer lab, with social distancing and constant cleaning.

Magic Johnson joins team studying coronavirus impacts in low-income communities: NBA legend Magic Johnson will join a team of business executives studying the effects of health issues, including coronavirus, on at-risk people in low-income communities. Leaders at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Health System are trying to get a grasp on health care disparities between underserved communities and the general population, an imbalance highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Hackers wreak havoc on Ohio unemployment system: Ohio is reconsidering its policy of refusing unemployment benefits to residents who refuse to return to work after hackers targeted the website being used to track those workers.

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