Briefing for May 4-8, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for May 4-8, 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 8, 2020

Senate Democrats propose $2,000 monthly payments: Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) are expected to release their Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act on Friday. It would dramatically expand upon the $1,200 sent to Americans as part of March’s CARES Act by sending a monthly $2,000 check to people who make less than $120,000. It would expand to $4,000 for married couples who file taxes jointly and also provide $2,000 for each child up to three.

Pelosi insists Congress ‘needs to put food on the table’ and increase SNAP benefits: On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called for an increase in food stamp benefits to be included in any new coronavirus relief legislation. “The food banks are overwhelmed, and we have to have a significant increase in SNAP,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. “In addition to putting money in people’s pockets, direct payments, unemployment insurance, some other tax credits, etc., we really also need to put food on the table,” Pelosi said.

SNAP recipients still face dangerous treks to get food: Even as many states ease shelter-in-place regulations, older and immune-compromised food stamp recipients still can’t purchase groceries online in the majority of states.

Unemployment jumps to 14.7%: A record 20.5 million jobs were lost in April.

‘It’s too early to go back’: Workers fear for health, finances as states begin to reopen: More than 33 million Americans are unemployed, and many are finding themselves in a similar predicament: They may not be ready to retake their old jobs, but they may not have much of a choice. Their stories vary, but their fears about financial and physical safety are widely shared — illustrating how public health has been pit against economic recovery in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

Mass incarceration poses a uniquely American risk in the pandemic: There is a fundamental flaw in the models that Trump administration officials have used to project the curve of the coronavirus outbreak as it rips across the United States. Those models were based on other countries’ experiences with the virus — from China to Italy — and do not account for a uniquely American risk factor: mass incarceration.

Work-sharing is an option more states should consider: Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute makes the case for work-sharing, “a grossly underutilized form of unemployment insurance that reimburses workers for reductions in their work hours.”

How the coronavirus outbreak punishes many older workers: The unemployment rate for workers age 55+ climbed from 2.6% to 3.3% in March, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute, as job losses began. Experts expect the unemployment rate of the 55+ workforce will swell dramatically in coming months. “There is a world of hurt, and it’s going to get worse as it spreads,” says Carl E. Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. “Older workers are being dragged into the abyss.”

What if working at a grocery store is the only job you can get? Unlike most struggling businesses during the pandemic, grocery stores are desperate for employees. Since they are considered essential, grocery stores are among the few establishments open, making them the main place for people to purchase household goods. As a result, grocery stores may be where formerly incarcerated people turn first for work, despite the dangers.

The school year really ended in March: Abrupt closings have stalled the learning of millions of students. U.S. education needs a rescue, an economist tells the New York Times, and it won’t be cheap.

A blueprint for back to school: The American Enterprise Institute offers a comprehensive package of recommendations for a framework that can help state policymakers, education and com­munity leaders, and federal officials plan appropri­ately for reopening. An overview of the report’s findings: “The path to reopen­ing must be based on the public health frameworks guiding the gradual relaxation of the intensive social distancing measures adopted this spring. Any con­sideration about reopening must consider the wide variability of circumstances states, communities, and schools confront. Depending on the public health sit­uation, there may be waves of stopping and starting, partial or staggered openings, or other developments (determined by local health facilities, population vulnerability, and more). These decisions will require robust community engagement to yield both coher­ent planning and community support.”

Community colleges face tough decisions on fall opening: Given that many are not residential, the nation’s community colleges face even more complicated factors in deciding how to safely host students for classes in the fall.

Will coronavirus change the narrative about low-income parents? Alison Stine writes in the New York Times: “The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly altering how we treat illness, how we socialize, how we work and educate, as well as how safe or unsafe we feel. Will the pandemic also change long-held attitudes and stereotypes about people who are poor, especially single mothers: that some mothers somehow deserve poverty, or that it’s easy to receive benefits?

Briefing for May 7, 2020

Poll shows people of color bearing heavy economic toll from coronavirus outbreak: People of color have not only been hit harder by the deadly coronavirus than have Americans overall, but they’re also bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s financial impact, according to a recent survey from the The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The financial picture is especially grim for Hispanic Americans, while some African Americans face the dual burden of being disproportionately affected by the virus itself while also struggling to pay bills due to the economic fallout. The poll found that 61% of Hispanic Americans say they’ve experienced some kind of household income loss as a result of the outbreak, compared with 46% of Americans overall. 37% of Latinos and 27% of black Americans say they’ve been unable to pay at least one type of bill as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Only 17% of white Americans say the same.

Black communities account for disproportionate percentage of COVID-19 deaths: Black Americans represent 13.4% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau, but counties with higher black populations account for more than half of all COVID-19 cases and almost 60% of deaths, a new study found. A team of epidemiologists and clinicians at four universities worked with amfAR, the AIDS research non-profit, and Seattle’s Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, PATH, to analyze COVID-19 cases and deaths using county-level comparisons.

As hunger increases, food stamps become a partisan flashpoint: Democrats are seeking to raise benefits as research shows a rise in food insecurity without modern precedent amid the pandemic. But Republicans have balked at a long-term expansion of the program.

Opportunity Insights launches real-time economic tracker: 
Harvard-based Opportunity Insights, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Brown University, is launching a real-time economic tracker to assist policymakers in understanding the dimensions of the current economic downturn and provide evidence toward targeted and effective recovery efforts. “Our Economic Tracker will provide policymakers, non-profits, and the public with the tools they need to tackle an economic crisis,” says economist Raj Chetty, Director of Opportunity Insights. “Rather than waiting weeks to see where the economy is falling and playing catch-up, the new data assembled in this tool offer the capacity to spot economic problems as they emerge and to consider a more targeted policy response.” 

Pandemic may leave some disconnected youth behind: In-person contact is integral to many of the workforce training and alternative education programs available to at-risk youth. And because many participants don’t have laptops or reliable broadband access, remote learning isn’t a viable option. “For youth that are connected to some sort of program, whether it’s work to get a GED or to develop a certain set of skills, all of that is happening online now,” said Mara Tieken, associate professor of education at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. “And if you can’t access broadband, that means that you’re cut off.”

How government jobs programs could boost the pandemic recovery: Urban Institute researchers offer an array of potential programs that could boost employment and help workers and businesses across the nation recover from this crisis.

Oakland to move some homeless residents to trailers: City officials in Oakland will provide trailers to senior citizens experiencing homelessness to help mitigate the spread of the virus. A total of 67 trailers will be used and also will offer medical support that includes symptom screening and testing.

How to check to see if your home is covered by the federal eviction moratorium: The CARES Act provides a temporary moratorium on evictions for most residents of federally subsidized apartments, including those supported by HUD, USDA or Treasury (Low Income Housing Tax Credit developments) as well as a moratorium on filings for evictions for renters in homes covered by federally-backed (FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac) mortgages for 120 days after enactment. This searchable database and map from the National Low Income Housing Coalition allows some renters to identify if their home is covered by the moratoriums. 

Moving classes online is hard – especially in prisons: Higher education in prison programs get creative to keep classes going

I do not want to die in here’: Letter from a Houston jail: A series of letters from detainees in one of America’s largest jails reveals the mounting dread and uncertainty as the coronavirus spreads inside the 7,500-inmate facility.

Coronavirus outbreak threatens an already fragile child welfare system: From caseworker and biological family meetings, to legal procedures, to schooling, financial stability, and mental health concerns, the country-wide lockdown has proven incredibly difficult for many foster parents and children in the system.

Volunteers use Facetime, Zoom to keep watch on Colorado foster children: With schools closed and in-home visits still off-limits, child welfare officials are increasingly using virtual visits to try to ensure the safety of at-risk children.

Coronavirus outbreak has accelerated one West Virginia community’s efforts to end homelessness for good: Closure of longtime shelters in Harrison County have focused county leaders on taking steps they might have otherwise avoided.

Parenting during a pandemic: A photo essay in The Nation looks at “one family’s attempt to stay fed, employed, and at least partly literate during a global crisis.”

Emergency officials work nonstop during outbreak to prep Gulf Coast communities for hurricane season:The pandemic is stretching already thin emergency resources along the Gulf Coast as preparations for hurricane season begin.

Coronavirus cuts ‘deep scars’ through meatpacking cities: The coronavirus threatens the most vulnerable populations in cities with large meatpacking facilities, including low-income workers and their extended families. “They’re afraid of catching the virus. They’re afraid of spreading it to family members. Some of them are afraid of dying,” said the Rev. Jim Callahan, of the Church of St. Mary of Worthington, MN, a city of 13,000 that has attracted immigrants from across the globe to work at the JBS pork processing plant.

The pandemic has made the Poor People’s Campaign virtual – and more vital: Nation publisher and editorial director Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in the Washington Post that the campaign founded by the Rev. William J. Barber II is needed now more than ever: “As the human toll reaped by the pandemic and the deepening economic depression grows, the call for fundamental change — for a new New Deal — gets louder. Whether we can summon up the vision and the leadership for that remains uncertain. What is clear is that Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign that he and his colleagues have been mobilizing over the past two years will galvanize a movement.”

No income. Major medical bills. What life is like for millions facing financial ruin during the pandemic: A Time photo essay looks at a few of the more than 30 million people who have filed for unemployment — more than three times as many as lost their jobs during the two-year-long Great Recession.

Briefing for May 6, 2020

Black farm families face uphill battle accessing COVID-19 aid: At face value, the $2 trillion CARES Act seemed like good news for small farmers. The measure included $9.5 billion that would go partly to growers who supply local farmers’ markets and produce specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and horticulture. It also provided $14 billion to be used for “an emergency requirement,” which plenty of smaller farmers are facing from lost markets, social distancing requirements and illness. But hurdles remain for black-operated farms, which historically have found themselves excluded from, and often harmed by, USDA programs. This story comes from the partnership between Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity and Microsoft News, with additional resources from the Southern Economic Advancement Project.

New York City Muslims work to build food security during Ramadan: The coronavirus pandemic has caused mass shutdowns of businesses and organizations around the world, and in New York City that includes mosques which typically offer nightly “communal iftar meals” during Ramadan. Knowing that many in the city rely on those free meals, New York City Muslims have been collaborating and creating mutual aid programs. One such effort includes distributing gift cards from Arab, South Asian and Muslim-owned businesses, which helps both the individual and community. This story is part of a special COVID-19 story collection compiled by the Solutions Journalism Network.

Workers of color are disproportionately at risk for complications from COVID-19: A Center for American Progress analysis shows that at least 28 percent of people of color between the ages of 18 and 64 — more than 21 million people in total — have a condition that could put them at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19; it also shows women are more likely than men to have at least one of these conditions.

As Americans are told to wash hands, some don’t trust what’s coming from their taps: As the coronavirus increasingly takes root in marginalized rural communities, many of them lack clean water, making it impossible for residents to shelter at home or wash their hands frequently.

A blueprint for empowering working families: Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah and Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet outline three foundational steps needed to build an economic system capable of weathering future uncertainty and crisis.

  • Incentives to build emergency savings
  • A permanent family leave policy
  • Expanding the earned income tax credit

U.S. companies cut thousands of jobs while still offering generous rewards to shareholders: Five companies paid a combined $700 million to shareholders while cutting jobs, closing plants.

Layoffs begin to turn from temporary to permanent: Plenty of layoffs that just a month ago were labeled “temporary” are now tagged “indefinite” or “permanent.” Alongside announcements of sweeping staff cuts by major employers such as Boeing Co. and U.S. Steel Corp. and the accelerating pace of downsizing in brick-and-mortar retailing, such notices are a sign that even as businesses continue to hope for a speedy recovery, they are starting to plan for a slow one.

Low-income and younger workers bear brunt of layoffs: Employees earning less than $20 per hour were 115% more likely than those making $30 an hour or more to be laid off, according to an analysis of payroll data by Gusto, an online platform that enables small businesses across the U.S. to pay and provide benefits to their workers. Young people have also been particularly hard hit, with those under 25 experiencing a 93% higher rate of job loss than their peers who are 35 and older.

Pandemic will drive some neighborhoods deeper into poverty: Even before the devastating impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods in the U.S. increased at an alarming rate over the past 38 years, according to a new report from the Economic Innovation Group.

Tennessee Valley Authority plans to outsource hundreds of jobs despite massive U.S. unemployment: TVA, the nation’s largest government-owned power provider, has announced plans to outsource 20 percent of its highly-skilled technology workforce to Capgemini, CGI and Accenture — companies based in France, Canada and Ireland respectively. At least 120 workers have already learned they will be losing their jobs later this summer, and the TVA has informed the engineers’ union that another 100 jobs are likely on the chopping block.

Parking lots have become a digital lifeline: With cafes and libraries closed, Americans without internet access are sitting outside them to get free and fast connections.

Hand sanitizer still considered contraband at many prisons: Even as correctional facilities have emerged as some of the country’s largest sources of coronavirus outbreaks, hand sanitizer is still considered contraband in all federal prisons as well as state prisons in more than a dozen states, a CNN review of department policies found.

Housing insecurity mounts despite protections: Columbia Law School’s Emily Benfer, who helped create the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab to track each states’ housing plans during the pandemic, says many states are still offering little to no protection.

U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants sue Trump administration for COVID-19 aid: Children who are U.S. citizens and have parents who are undocumented immigrants have sued the Trump administration for denying them coronavirus relief funds from the government stimulus package. 

Better Life Lab: How single parents are managing: 
New America Foundation’s Better Life Lab hosts a virtual conversation at 1 p.m. on Friday on how single parents are managing during the pandemic. Host Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab, will be joined by guests Nahsis Davis, a nurse practitioner and single foster mother of three; Alison Griffin, Senior Vice President of Whiteboard Advisors and single mother of two; and Nicole Sussner Rodgers, Founder and Executive Director of Family Story.

Briefing for May 5, 2020

More than 40 million people could lose employer-sponsored health insurance: A new brief from the Urban Institute estimates how health insurance coverage could change as millions of workers lose their jobs during the COVID-19 recession. Assuming the unemployment level rises to 20 percent nationally, the study estimates that between 25 and 43 million people would lose employer-sponsored coverage.

Undercount feared as census outreach efforts stall: Community groups across the U.S. are facing a daunting challenge as they try, in the midst of the pandemic, to inform historically hard-to-count minority communities why the census is important. Population data, they say, are used to distribute federal money — currently about $675 billion a year — to states and communities for schools, hospitals and roads, as well as Medicaid, welfare, school lunches, food stamps, college grant money for low-income students and dozens of other programs for those in need.

Isolation takes mounting toll: Text messages to the federal government’s disaster distress hotline increased by more than 1,000 percent in April — a month most Americans spent under lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak. About 20,000 people texted the hotline last month, compared with 1,790 texts in April 2019, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration confirmed to the Washington Post.

New Senate bill proposes $100 billion in rental aid: Sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act pairs with a bill in the House of Representatives, which Representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Denny Heck (D-WA) are sponsoring. The suggested legislation is also advocated for by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Mass unemployment is a choice; a federal job guarantee could eliminate it: Vox interviews economist Pavlina Tcherneva, chair of the economics department at New York’s Bard College, and a key figure in the emergence (or reemergence) of Modern Monetary Theory, the newly popular idea that the only limit on the spending power of federal governments (at least governments that print their own currency, like the U.S.) is inflation. Tcherneva’s new book is called The Case for a Job Guarantee, and makes the case for a federal program that ensures a job for anyone who wants one.

Childcare could be key to societal reopening: Governors, mayors and President Trump are eager for the economy to reopen. But childcare — or lack thereof — could be the X factor to determine when that will happen. The coronavirus pandemic has already shut schools and day cares, leaving America’s working parents to juggle their professional and childcare responsibilities at home. Now the summer holidays are around the corner, but it’s uncertain whether summer camps will open.

A newspaper’s former top editor is now a ‘homeless’ blogger: Rich Jackson, a 54-year-old journalist who worked as the top editor of The Herald-Times, a Gannett-owned newspaper in Bloomington, Ind., was not only laid off last week — he was also told he would have to vacate the apartment in the same building, where he had been living for 10 months. Unable to go to the newsroom, Mr. Jackson started a blog. He called it The Homeless Editor. “In terms of writing, I always look for key words, and you couldn’t have better than those two,” he told the New York Times. His first four posts have gotten 20,000 page views — high figures for a solitary blog. They describe how, as he put it in one entry, “I went from someone to no one in 30 minutes.”

‘I work at a food bank. We’ve stepped up in a huge way during the pandemic. But it’s not enough’: A first-person account from Tom Silva, who works at a Foodlink, a food bank in Rochester, N.Y.

Disease has never been just disease for Native Americans: Native communities’ vulnerability to epidemics is not a historical accident, but a direct result of oppressive policies and ongoing colonialism, University of Oregon professor of history Jeffrey Ostler writes for the Atlantic.

Subsidizing jobs to spur economic recovery: The Urban Institute continues its Evidence to Action conversation series with a discussion on Thursday in which Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will discuss her efforts to create a subsidized employment program. Following that, Demetra Nightingale, Institute fellow at the Urban Institute, and Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co–executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, will join Urban President Sarah Rosen Wartell to explore why subsidized jobs could be integral to our economic recovery. 

Briefing for May 4, 2020

Parents waiting for a $500 coronavirus child benefit check will have to wait until 2021: The IRS has informed parents who received benefits from the CARES Act that did not include the $500 child benefit they were entitled to that they will have to wait until filing their 2021 tax returns to receive the balanced owed.

Will there be a new New Deal? New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg explores the possibilities for a reimagined system of economic supports. “I do think there’s an F.D.R. moment,” said Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and co-author of the Green New Deal resolution, which calls for a huge new public works program to build environmentally sustainable infrastructure. “Like 1933 — which would be 2021 — we can see that it is now time to discuss universal childcare, universal sick leave and a guaranteed income for everyone in our society.”

Landlords brace for rent defaults: Landlords across the country are anticipating fewer people will be able to pay rent in May than April. But they are even more worried about what comes in the months after.

Housing advocates fear mass evictions are on the horizon: Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Buffalo, said that federal and statewide eviction moratoriums are based on COVID-19 timetables that are “too short” and don’t consider predictions from medical experts that the pandemic could persist into the fall and beyond, as public health officials have suggested. The biggest issue is that rents won’t widely be forgiven or frozen, although several states are offering renters assistance. “When that rent is due, these low-income groups are simply not going to have that type of cash to pay the landlord,” Taylor said. “So, I anticipate in areas where there are high residential demands … you’re going to see mass evictions, and a lot of people are going to be permanently displaced.”

Frontline workers in Texas are predominately women, people of color: Sixty-two percent of front-line workers in the 11 Texas cities with the largest populations of front-line workers are women, an analysis shows. Meanwhile, women make up 48% of the total workforce in those cities — and frontline workers in Texas also are more likely to be people of color, particularly Hispanic.

For most food stamp recipients, online shopping isn’t an option: Most states don’t allow it, but there’s growing participation in a pilot program that began six years ago. Participating states: New York, the first to join a year ago; Washington; Alabama; Iowa; Oregon; Nebraska; Florida; and Kentucky and California, both of which started last week. Two retailers, Walmart and Amazon, are participating in all those states.

Online SNAP program could be particularly important in Appalachia: West Virginia will join the pilot program allowing food stamp benefits to be used in online shopping, giving a large portion of the Appalachian region access.

Schools face nightmare scenario: Officials from the country’s biggest school districts recently sent a message to Congress: Inject the K-12 system with a serious infusion of cash ahead of what forecasters say is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, or brace for the catastrophic results of hallowed out school budgets. “Dark clouds are forming on the educational horizon that will spell disaster if Congress does not intervene,” 62 superintendents from school districts like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami wrote. “Significant revenue shortfalls are looming for local school districts that will exacerbate the disruption students have already faced.”

Racial gaps laid bare: The pandemic has exposed how the forces of structural racism and extreme economic inequality have shaped our country today and illuminates the hard work that is needed to rebuild in ways that change that status quo.

Pandemic presents special challenges for LGTBQ community: Some of the new forms of stress for the LGBTQ community during the coronavirus outbreak: reduced access to care; worries about seeking care for COVID-19 symptoms; and reduced access to legal protections.

COVID-19 explodes in Louisiana’s immigration detention centers: Scores of immigration detainees in Louisiana’s rural lockups have contracted the coronavirus over the past month, and at least two guards have died. Although Louisiana isn’t a border state, its network of private and parish lockups in mostly remote, rural stretches hosts the second-highest number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees. In April that statistic collided with the state’s high infection rate.

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