Briefing for May 3-7, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for May 3-7, 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 May 7, 2021

U.S. schools turn to mental health needs of students reeling from the pandemic: Reuters reports: “Educators across the country agreed students’ mental wellbeing became a bigger priority after the pandemic forced schools to shut down or operate with a mix of remote and in-person learning. Some students struggled to focus, and isolation, worry, and depression took a toll on many. A Reuters survey earlier this year of U.S. school districts serving more than 2.2 million students found that a majority reported multiple indicators of increased mental health stresses among students. Those concerns have led to a flood of new funding and initiatives aimed at helping schools navigate the pandemic’s aftermath. The federal COVID-19 relief package included $122 billion for K-12 schools to implement ‘strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs’ of the hardest-hit students. President Joe Biden’s budget proposal released in April includes another $1 billion to add nurses and mental health services in public schools. In Utah, a bill signed in March makes mental health a valid excuse for a school absence. Similar legislation has been introduced in other states including Connecticut and Maryland. Next month, the National Center for School Mental Health will launch ClassroomWISE. The free online course will train U.S. teachers and school staff on how to create a safe and supporting classroom environment, and how to support students with mental health concerns.” 

HHS, HUD team up to bring COVID vaccines to public housing and shelters: From the Washington Post: “The Biden administration’s health and housing departments have formed a partnership to bring coronavirus vaccines and tests to public housing and homeless shelters, part of an effort to promote access to the protective shots and foster confidence in them. Speaking Wednesday at a community health center and housing-assistance organization in Southwest D.C., Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said their agreement is a strategy to help defeat the pandemic by seeking out low-income people where they live. ‘We are going to go where you are, and we are going to invest in you… I don’t believe Zip codes were ever meant to tell you what the status of your health would be,’ Becerra said. He acknowledged the nation’s neighborhoods that are home to low-income Americans tend to be less healthy and — this year — have lower coronavirus vaccination rates.” 

Dollar stores could be a key to equitable COVID vaccine distribution: Writing for STAT, Judith Chevalier, a professor of economics and finance at the Yale School of Management, and Jason L. Schwartz, an assistant professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, suggest that “enlisting dollar stores as vaccination sites is one way to make vaccines more widely and equitably available.” Chevalier and Schwartz write: “In a new preprint, we found that just under half of households earning less than $35,000 per year in the continental U.S. live less than 1 mile from a federal retail pharmacy partner. These households are only slightly less likely to live within a mile of a pharmacy partner than high-income households. But proximity to a vaccination site may be particularly important for low-income households. Given that Dollar General’s business model is to locate stores in lower-income ‘retail deserts,’ it’s no surprise that adding its 17,000 retail locations as vaccine sites would improve the fraction of low-income households within a mile of a federal vaccine partner from 49% to 60%.” 

The slow road to getting vaccinated after back-to-back hurricanes: A joint reporting project between Southerly and The Current, a nonprofit newsroom serving Lafayette and southern Louisiana, looks at how the residual damage from last year’s hurricane season has complicated the vaccination process: “In recent weeks, vaccination rates have slowed in Louisiana and nationwide, as healthcare providers run up against persistent vaccine hesitancy and barriers to access. The Gulf South states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana have the three lowest vaccination rates of any in the nation. In Louisiana, 32.4% of people have received at least one dose, compared to 45% nationally, according to data compiled by the New York Times. Last year’s back-to-back hurricanes are setting southwest Louisiana back even further: the region’s vaccination rates are the lowest in the state. ‘A lot of people are displaced,’ Vetra Simon, a nurse with Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center said as she administered vaccine doses in Vinton. ‘Their main focus is getting back into a home or a place of their own. A lot of people are not going to focus on getting a COVID vaccination, because their main focus is finding a place to stay.’”  

The Child Tax Credit what you need to know: The Biden administration’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit has the potential to have a transformative impact on child poverty, but only if it’s taken advantage of by families. Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan has published a step-by-step guide on who is eligible, how to file, and other FAQs

Local governments expect to keep some but not all COVID-prompted technological advances: From Route 50: “After a year of tailoring their jobs to function during a pandemic, local government officials continue to believe that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the way they deliver services to constituents. But the day-to-day work of municipal governing probably won’t change forever, according to the results of a recent survey of city and county officials and employees. The New Normal Survey, a joint effort among a group of organizations that work with local governments, asked government officials to share their predictions ‘about how public services will evolve as a result of COVID-19.’ The survey, conducted online March 24 through April 7, questioned officials about their government’s priorities (what were you focused on before the pandemic, and what are you focused on now?), impacts from COVID-19 (how did municipalities spend their 2020 relief funding?), adoption of new software and technology, and general inquiries about the future, including which changes might be permanent. The questionnaire, completed by 599 respondents, was a follow-up to a similar survey last summer that sought to identify initial changes in service delivery amid the early stages of the pandemic. This year’s version gathered critical information about the ongoing changes in government services directly from the people responsible for delivering them, said Ellory Monks, co-founder of The Atlas, which coordinated the survey along with Engaging Local Government LeadersCivicPulseCivicPlus and Route Fifty.“ 

Briefing for May 6, 2021

Biden administration to appeal judge’s decision to overturn CDC eviction ban: Forbes reports that the Department of Justice has moved to appeal the Wednesday decision of a federal judge to overturn the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide halt on evictions, “a ruling that left many at risk as an estimated 12 million renters struggle to catch up on payments amid the pandemic. D.C. District Judge Dabney Friedrich tossed the CDC’s moratorium in a Wednesday ruling, arguing the agency had exceeded its authority with the temporary ban in violation of the Public Health Service Act. ‘It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic,’ wrote Friedrich, acknowledging the significance of the decision.” 

Vaccinating kids presents new challenges for officials: From Roll Call: “Public health advocates who expect COVID-19 vaccines to become available for younger teens soon are concerned that a government-led distribution effort that may rely in large part on pediatricians could create glaring inequalities among children. With only three months before the next school year starts in some areas, advocates are calling on the Biden administration to develop a more detailed outreach strategy, encourage schools to offer shots, and provide more funding to get kids vaccinated. Distributing vaccines to kids will likely present many of the same challenges that plagued the United States’ efforts to vaccinate adults, experts say, including issues with equity, access, and skepticism. Kids’ dependence on adults adds another layer of complexity that could make vaccinating them even more difficult. But the Biden administration has not yet released a plan to get kids vaccinated, which public health experts call a problem. ‘Vaccinating kids is going to look very different from vaccinating adults. They need a plan tailored to them that’s specific to them and to their needs,’ said Averi Pakulis, vice president for early childhood and public health policy at the First Focus on Children advocacy group.” 

Employers brace for pandemic mental health fallout as workers return: Bloomberg News reports that employers will need to develop strategies to help workers overcome the psychological toll of the pandemic: “From casual Fridays to after-work drinks, those weekly rituals once taken for granted are returning as Americans head back to the office. And while masks, plexiglass, and empty conference rooms will alter the cubescape, employers are nevertheless invested in getting things back to normal — or at least as normal as possible. But that won’t be easy. COVID-19’s damage may be felt in the workplace long after the disease has receded. That’s thanks to the mental and emotional toll the pandemic has taken on employees who, like everyone else, have spent the past year living in fear, isolation, and sorrow. ‘We’re seeing pretty alarming numbers,’ said Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association (APA), who oversees its Stress in America survey. ‘People’s bodies and minds just aren’t in quite the fit place they were in a year ago.’ APA data shows extensive markers of unhealthy coping — including disrupted sleep, increased drinking, and low physical activity. Moreover, some 61% of adults are reporting undesired weight gain or loss — though mostly the former, with a typical increase of 15 pounds. ‘All the research coming out now is really aligned,’ Wright said. ‘Rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidality have all increased.’” 

Some Black parents believe virtual learning offers a respite from racism: The Associated Press reports: “As schools reopen across the country, Black students have been less likely than white students to enroll in in-person learning — a trend attributed to factors including concerns about the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities of color, a lack of trust that their schools are equipped to keep children safe, and the large numbers of students of color in urban districts that have been slower to reopen classrooms. But many Black parents are finding another benefit to remote learning: being better able to shield their children from racism in classrooms. ‘Now that they’re home, we feel safer,’ said Ayaana Johnson, a Georgia mother who was keeping her two young daughters home despite options being made available for in-person learning. White students have been far more likely to be back in the classroom, with 52% of white fourth-graders receiving full-time, in-person instruction in February, the latest month with results available from surveys by the Biden administration. By contrast, less than a third of Black and Hispanic fourth-graders were back at school full time, along with just 15% of Asian American students.” 

Mutual Aid Hub — Helping community members help each other:
When the pandemic hit last year, particularly before Congress was able to pass relief legislation, informal groups sprung up around the country to try to provide help for neighbors in need. The digital organizing team at Town Hall Project was looking for ways to get involved in pandemic relief, so they started a site, Mutual Aid Hub, to help these groups communicate with and learn from each other. A year later, the Hub has identified more than 1,000 such groups in the U.S. and plans to keep on serving as a bridge to these diverse mutual aid organizations. Hub organizer Nathan Williams spoke to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity recently about the effort

Period products should be free in public restrooms: The problem of equitable access to menstrual products has become even more acute during the pandemic. In an essay for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Misha Valencia writes that “period products should be free in public restrooms, shelters, prisons (many do not supply them), and school bathrooms — just like toilet paper and soap. Period products are taxed in 30 states, while other essential items (medications/food) are typically tax-free. Many of these states make a significant annual profit off of these taxes — Texas raked in $37 million. These taxes must be repealed, but many states fail to act, with Wyoming the latest state to reject a repeal. To address this inequity, menstruators should receive a federal ‘menstrual supplies’ tax credit for taxes they incurred paying for these necessary products. ‘Forcing people to pay taxes on medically necessary monthly products is oppressive. Access to crucial supplies should not be contingent on states making a profit,’ reports Emily Skeen, a pediatric nurse in New York City.” 

Briefing for May 5, 2021

Increased unemployment benefits are not creating a worker shortage: Huffington Post reports that concerns that increased unemployment benefits during the pandemic would tempt workers to not return to their jobs appear to have been unfounded. “It’s true that the benefits amount to more than prior wages for some workers. It’s just that the extra money doesn’t seem to have held workers back… While some employers may be struggling to hire for one reason or another right now, economists say generous unemployment benefits are not the cause. If demand for workers were exceeding supply, then the price of labor would be shooting up. But as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said last week, overall wage growth hasn’t increased. ‘We don’t see wages moving up yet, and presumably we would see that in a really tight labor market,’ Powell said at a press conference. ‘And we may well start to see that.’ For now, unemployment remains elevated, at 6%, compared to 3.5% before the pandemic, and there were 4 million more unemployed people in March 2021 than in February 2020. That data reflects people who are trying to find jobs, not those who have removed themselves from the workforce for a number of reasons, like a lack of child care. Yet some business owners still say there are no willing workers out there.” 

How the pandemic created a perfect storm for opioid addiction: From CBS News: “Recently-released data is painting a grim picture of the opioid epidemic that has gripped the United States — as the country is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than half a million Americans. ‘Some people are calling them twin pandemics that have collided,’ Harvard researcher Michael Barnett, Ph.D., said on CBSN Monday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 90,237 people in the U.S. died of opioid overdoses between October 2019 and September 2020. The figure is the highest ever recorded since the opioid crisis began in the late 1990s. ‘This is an incredibly important public health crisis that has come along with COVID,’ Barnett said. ‘Before 2020, we went into the COVID pandemic with an out-of-control public health crisis of addiction.'” 

Some schools are sending students to virtual classes as a punishment: NBC News reports that student advocates in six states say they’re “working with numerous students who’ve either been excluded from in-person classes or have been threatened with exclusion if their behavior doesn’t improve. School leaders may be acting in the interest of safety, but advocates say that removing students from in-person classes because of their behavior may violate those students’ rights, especially if they have disabilities. Federal law requires public schools like Zeta to provide all students with the support they need to succeed in the most appropriate classroom for them, which could mean bringing in a counselor or working with parents to improve a child’s behavior. Advocates say the students they’ve seen removed from in-person classes this year are the same ones who’ve been traditionally more likely to be removed from class: children with disabilities, who have a harder time following some rules, and Black or Latino children who are more likely to be punished for their behavior than their white classmates.” 

Community health workers aren’t getting the help they need:Denise Octavia Smith, executive director of the National Association of Community Health Workers, writes for USA Today that her members have had to face the impact of mass shootings and systemic racism in addition to being on the front lines of the pandemic. “In February, my organization released a National CHW Policy Platform, created over the past year with hundreds of community health workers, networks, and allies. It is an important tool to promote national professional identity, leadership, and capacity of CHWs and our associations. These policy recommendations feature best practices that can guide integration into larger COVID-19 response efforts. But unless public and private institutions heed the advice, these vital workers will continue to be sidelined. It is past time to recognize the underappreciated expertise and capacity of our community health care workers, many of whom are coping with immense suffering and an ever-increasing need for their services. With vision, we can transform our experiences during the pandemic into an authentic movement for health equity, with adequately supported community health workers at the center.” 

COVID underlined housing inequities in Louisville: Rocked by months of racial unrest and protests, Louisville has seen its housing inequities increase during the pandemic, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports: “The coronavirus pandemic has underscored housing disparities between Black and white people in Louisville, with Black residents more likely to face financial hardships that put them behind on rent, according to a report from the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. The nonprofit agency, made up of more than 300 members, released its latest State of Metropolitan Housing Report on Tuesday, breaking down the struggles residents faced as they attempted to stay ‘healthy at home’ over the last year. According to the report, Black residents were more likely than white residents to experience layoffs, job losses, and pay cuts through the pandemic, leading them to more often miss rent and utility payments.” 

Biden could boost food stamps by 20% even without Congress; here’s how: From Bloomberg News: “The Biden administration is quietly laying the groundwork for a long-term increase in food aid for tens of millions of Americans, without going through the ordeal of a fight with congressional Republicans. The instrument is an obscure U.S. Department of Agriculture shopping list used to determine food stamp benefits, known as the market basket. A review of the so-called Thrifty Food Plan, ordered by Biden two days after he took office, could trigger an automatic increase in benefits as soon as Oct. 1, a day after expiration of a temporary 15% boost in food stamp payments that Biden included in his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, said the re-evaluation ‘could result in an upward adjustment of 20% or more in the benefits.’ That would amount to roughly a $136-a-month increase in the maximum benefit for a family of four, which was $680 before the temporary pandemic-related increase.” 

Briefing for May 4, 2021

How the U.S. won the economic recovery: Dylan Matthews of Vox writes that after being tasked with writing about the country that had the best economic response to the pandemic, he was surprised at what his reporting found. “When my editors asked me to write a story for our Pandemic Playbook series on the country that I thought ‘got COVID-19 right’ economically, I immediately looked abroad. I spent a few weeks researching and writing about Japan, which has kept unemployment low and spent big to fight the economic downturn. But as I was working on my Japan article, the U.S. adopted Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion behemoth of a bill. With that step coming after the two Trump relief bills, the U.S. just about matched Japan’s spending to fight the downturn. And as I looked into the details, it became impossible to deny that the U.S. spent the money better. To be sure, it’s not as simple as that. Would I rather have been in Japan for the outbreak or in the U.S.? In public health terms, the answer was obvious: Japan has kept the virus under control vastly better. But in economic terms, the answer was also obvious: The U.S. was more generous. The comparison seemed even more favorable as I looked to Europe, which botched the virus on a public health level in a manner similar to the U.S., and offered less extraordinary support to its citizens. Most European countries have stronger safety nets to start with, but they largely didn’t use the pandemic as an occasion to strengthen them. The U.S. did. No country handled the economic shock of COVID-19 perfectly. Every country, the U.S. included, made mistakes, sometimes grave mistakes. But a detailed comparison suggests that the U.S. had the strongest economic response to the pandemic, in terms of providing income to its citizens during lockdown and ensuring a strong, rapid recovery as the economy began to reopen.” 
A simple approach to ending extreme poverty: Two of the nation’s leading poverty scholars, H. Luke Shaefer, director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, and Kathy Edin, the William Church Osborn Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, write in the Atlantic. “This program holds the promise of dramatically cutting child poverty and effectively eradicating its most extreme forms nationwide. The expanded, fully refundable child tax credit sounds complicated, but the ideas behind it are simple, and its design has been tested in many other countries. It’s based on the principles that children deserve the opportunity to thrive, and that money can help. Biden’s plan is to send money each month, in the amount of $250 a child — $300 for young children — to help parents cover rent or utility bills; buy underwear, diapers, or toothbrushes; pay for child care; save for college; or whatever else they need most. Biden’s plan treats poor and middle-income kids equally: except for those in families with the highest incomes, every child of a given age gets the same amount. This may be its most important feature. It neither stigmatizes the poor nor leaves them vulnerable to resentments about special benefits. It says, instead, that raising kids is difficult and expensive, and that government has reason to support parents in this work. This measure could prove to be a temporary anomaly during an unusual time. Or, if made permanent, it could begin a new era in the fight against child poverty in the United States.” 

The pandemic stunted America’s youth: American jobs are starting to come back, Axios reports, but youth unemployment is still high. Some details: 

  • Young workers disproportionately lost their jobs as industries in which they’re overrepresented, such as hospitality and retail, were hit hard during the pandemic. 
  • And while youth-dominated service jobs are coming back as cities and states open up, hospitality and tourism job openings are still down nearly 10% when compared with February 2020, per data from the jobs site Indeed. 
  • Retail jobs, however, are returning at around the pace that the labor market at large is coming back, Indeed notes. 
  • The unemployment rate is 10.3% among 20- to 24-year-olds, and 13.3% among 18- to 19-year-olds, compared with the 5.3% unemployment among those over 25. 

Why nursing home operators have escaped scrutiny for their role in the COVID crisis: From MarketWatch: “Private-equity firms have been prime targets in long-term-care reform proposals emerging during the COVID-19 crisis. But efforts to overhaul the industry are hitting a snag: that it’s tough to regulate nursing-home owners, operators, and related parties when many of them remain in the shadows. A report released Friday by the Roosevelt Institute, a New York think tank, underscores the problem. Arguing that private-equity firms focus on extracting profits to the detriment of patient care, the report calls on Congress to ban these firms from buying nursing homes and to require those that currently operate facilities to divest from them within five years. While the report points out that the government’s data on nursing-home ownership are incomplete, it doesn’t describe exactly how private-equity firms are to be banned from the industry when no one has a full picture of how many facilities the firms own or the corporate webs that link them with property, management and related companies. As nursing-home ownership structures have grown more complex in recent years, rules designed to cast sunlight on ownership have gone unenforced, and changes in facility ownership have received little scrutiny, researchers say. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for example, hasn’t fully enforced parts of the Affordable Care Act requiring nursing homes to disclose certain ownership details, says Anne Montgomery, who helped draft the ACA’s nursing-home provisions and is currently director of eldercare improvement at the nonprofit research organization Altarum.” 

Mental health services wane as insurers appear to skip parity rules during pandemic: Kaiser Health News reports: “Therapists and other behavioral health care providers cut hours, reduced staff, and turned away patients during the pandemic as more Americans experienced depression symptoms and drug overdoses, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. The report on patient access to behavioral health care during the COVID-19 crisis also casts doubt on whether insurers are abiding by federal law requiring parity in insurance coverage, which forbids health plans from passing along more of the bill for mental health care to patients than they would for medical or surgical care. The GAO’s findings are ‘the tip of the iceberg’ in how Americans with mental, emotional, and substance use disorders are treated differently than those with physical conditions, said JoAnn Volk, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms who studies mental health coverage.” 

Employers, insurers push to keep virtual visits regular care: The Associated Press reports that many employers and insurers would like patients to make telemedicine their first choice. “Amazon and several insurers have started or expanded virtual-first care plans to get people to use telemedicine routinely, even for planned visits like annual checkups. They’re trying to make it easier for patients to connect with regular help by using remote care that grew explosively during the COVID-19 pandemic. Advocates say this can keep patients healthy and out of expensive hospitals, which makes insurers and employers that pay most of the bill happy. But some doctors worry that it might create an over-reliance on virtual visits. ‘There is a lot lost when there is no personal touch, at least once in a while,’ said Dr. Andrew Carroll, an Arizona-based family doctor and board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians.” 

Briefing for May 3, 2021

We still don’t know who the coronavirus’s victims were: A gripping essay in the Atlantic by Ibram X. Kendi: “To reflect on the racial pandemic of the past year is to reflect on the ravages of multiple viruses, all mutating from the original American virus: racism. People of color — already forced into the shadows of society — were infected, hospitalized, impoverished, and killed at the highest rates by COVID-19. All the while, they received the fewest medical and economic protections — prolonging, deepening, and spreading their suffering. The groups of people who suffered the most from COVID-19 in the United States did so almost completely out of the view of data. We could barely see them. Dead before death. Tracking the spread of the coronavirus among the incarcerated, the undocumented, and the unhoused did not seem to matter, just as their lives did not seem to matter. The invisible in life becoming the invisible in death remained the American way. By the end of last April, dozens of states had started reporting racial data that revealed COVID-19 was infecting and killing Black, Latino, and Native Americans at higher rates than white people. For roughly a year now, we have been aware of the pandemic’s racial disparities. We have been given a crash course on the distinction between equality and equity — on when we need equality, on where we need equity.” 

Businesses in majority-white communities received PPP loans at higher rate, analysis shows: A look from the Los Angeles Times at the racial equity of the Paycheck Protection Program: “Through the CARES Act, Congress ordered the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department to issue guidance to lenders to ensure that the loan program ‘prioritizes small business concerns and entities in underserved and rural markets.’ Yet a Reveal analysis of more than five million PPP loans found widespread racial disparities in how those loans were distributed. In the vast majority of metro areas with a population of one million or more, the rate of lending to majority-white neighborhoods was higher than the rates for any neighborhoods with Latino, Black, or Asian majorities. Los Angeles had some of the worst disparities in the nation. Although communities of color were hit far harder by COVID-19, businesses in majority-white neighborhoods received loans at twice the rate that majority-Latino census tracts received, 1.5 times the rate of businesses in majority-Black areas, and 1.2 times the rate in Asian areas. Shannon Giles, a spokesperson for the Small Business Administration, said the agency does not comment on third-party analyses of its data. The analysis, based on records released after Reveal and 10 other news organizations sued the Small Business Administration for access to PPP loan data, is the first look at how the federal program’s loans were distributed at the census tract level.” 

The vulnerable homebound are left behind on vaccinations: From Kaiser Health News: “Even as the nation has moved on to vaccinating everyone 16 and older, the vast majority of homebound people have not yet been vaccinated, said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. ‘As far as I can tell, no one’s really doing it. Maybe a few places in the country, but not on the mass scale it needs to be.’ Across the nation, an estimated four million Americans are homebound by age, disability, or frailty, unable to easily leave their homes to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Buckland noted that, while homebound people are not out in public where the virus is circulating, they don’t live in a bubble. Most rely for care on family members or a rotating staff of home health aides who come and go and often have their own homes and families. ‘For people with disabilities, you can’t close yourself off. You don’t have the option. People have to come into your home every day to give you services.’ The Biden administration in late March dedicated $100 million to help vulnerable older adults and people with disabilities get vaccinations. But many caregivers and homebound people say they aren’t yet feeling the impact of that effort.” 

Telemedicine is a tool — not a replacement for your doctor’s touch: The benefits of telemedicine have been evident during the pandemic and best practices are likely to continue to be used. But in a guest essay for the New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal makes the case that there are downsides are well. “Earlier in the pandemic it was vital to see doctors over platforms like Zoom or FaceTime when in-person appointments posed risks of coronavirus exposure. Insurers were forced — often for the first time — to reimburse for all sorts of virtual medical visits and generally at the same price as in-person consultations. By April 2020, one national study found, telemedicine visits already accounted for 13% of all medical claims compared with 0.15% a year earlier. And COVID-19 hadn’t seriously hit much of the country yet. By May, for example, Johns Hopkins’s neurology department was conducting 95% of patient visits virtually. There had been just 10 such visits weekly the year before. COVID-19 let virtual medicine out of the bottle. Now it’s time to tame it. If we don’t, there is a danger that it will stealthily become a mainstay of our medical care. Deploying it too widely or too quickly risks poorer care, inequities, and even more outrageous charges in a system already infamous for big bills. The pandemic has demonstrated that virtual medicine is great for many simple visits. But many of the new types of telemedicine being promoted by start-ups more clearly benefit providers’ and investors’ pockets, rather than yielding more convenient, high-quality, and cost-effective medicine for patients.” 

How migrant women farmworkers are organizing for a better life after the pandemic: OtherWords, a free editorial service published by the Institute for Policy Studies, looks at one group of essential workers who are often overlooked: “Throughout the pandemic, there’s been an outpouring of public support for essential workers. But this has largely excluded migrant women farmworkers, despite their vital role in keeping food on American families’ tables. Monica Ramirez is working to change that. ‘I’m the first generation in my family that didn’t have to work in the fields to make a living,’ Ramirez said. ‘So, I was raised to be part of this movement and fight on behalf of my community.’ Ramirez founded Justice for Migrant Women after creating the first legal project in the United States dedicated to addressing gender discrimination against farmworker women. That legal project became Esperanza: The Immigrant Women’s Legal Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. She’s witnessed firsthand the inequalities in the agriculture industry that made migrant women farmworkers particularly vulnerable. One in four farmworkers are women, but Ramirez said that studies on the health risks of pesticide exposure have typically focused only on men. On top of the risks pesticides pose to everyone, hundreds of thousands of women farmworkers face particular threats to their reproductive health and to their children. Pesticides have been linked to poor birth outcomes, congenital anomalies, developmental deficits, and childhood tumors.” 

1000 days of family support can create years of American prosperity: Blythe Thomas, director of 1,000 Days, an initiative of FHI Solutions, and the Rev. Eugene Cho, president and CEO of Bread for the World, write for the Hill: “The White House and Congress are set to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure. While improvements to roads, bridges, and broadband are crucial and necessary, we also urgently need to make bold investments in the ‘1,000-day infrastructure’ for the health and well-being of American families. The 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and a child’s second birthday is a time of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability — and that vulnerability is even more apparent in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. To thrive, mothers and children need, in the first 1,000 days, food and good nutrition, access to quality health care, paid family and medical leave, child care, and the tax credits that allow families to keep extra cash to pay for household necessities.” 

FEMA’s COVID-19 funeral assistance plan overwhelmed by huge demand: From the Detroit Free Press: “In the first 90 minutes of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s COVID-19 funeral assistance program, the office said it got nearly one million calls. On April 12, FEMA launched a COVID-19 funeral reimbursements program as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Since its launch, FEMA said via email that this program has received the largest number of funeral assistance applications in the agency’s history. Considering the record-breaking demand for this program, FEMA has run into several roadblocks. As people try to get help paying for the funeral of a loved one, they’re met with long wait times and busy signals. So, why didn’t FEMA go virtual? In an email to the Free Press, FEMA said that the fastest way to launch the program was to work with existing systems, but their default online application form for disaster assistance had many unrelated questions, which could have confused applicants. Creating a new online application would’ve delayed the launch for several months. The agency said it has contracted more than 5,000 people to assist. There is no deadline to apply and no cap on funding for the program so far. FEMA recommends that eligible applicants keep calling until they get through.” 

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