Briefing for November 1-5, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for November 1-5, 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 news service summarizing relevant stories, which you can read below. As of September 13th, the team has switched this effort from a daily format to publishing every Monday.

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Briefing for November 1, 2021

Pandemic has made it even more difficult for one in three Americans to access healthy food: A new study from Michigan State University via The Conversation: “COVID-19 has made food access more challenging for many communities. In Michigan State University’s Fall 2021 Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, 31% of the people we talked to said the pandemic had affected their household’s ability to obtain food. This included 28% of households earning less than $25,000, and 38% of those earning more than $75,000 annually. We surveyed 2,002 representative Americans between Aug. 27 and Sept. 1, 2021, to explore how the pandemic influenced the food landscape and shaped people’s food resources, choices, and diet. Millions of Americans left the workforce during the pandemic, so it may not be surprising that 53% of those with limited food access reported having fewer financial resources than they did before then. To make matters worse, food and gasoline prices surged during the same period. This made decisions about where and how to spend fewer dollars even more challenging for families already struggling to make ends meet.” 

How a group of Black doctors got Philadelphia vaccinated: Bloomberg Equality and CityLab report: “Earlier this year, Philadelphia’s partnership with the student-led group Philly Fighting COVID Inc. abandoned testing sites in Black neighborhoods. It seemed like the latest affront in a long legacy of racism that has fueled distrust in the medical system, dating back to the infamous Tuskegee experiments in the 1930s. But Philadelphia, after a slow start, is closing out the year with one of the highest Black vaccination rates in a major U.S. city. In Philadelphia, 54% of Black citizens are now vaccinated. That puts it at the top of a group of the country’s 10 most Black cities, with populations of 500,000 or more and with Black people making up anywhere from 77% to 28% of the population. (The country’s second-largest city, Los Angeles, has vaccinated 55% of its Black residents, but they’re just 8% of the population.) The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, a group of 50 Black health-care professionals, is a big reason Philadelphia — where Black people are 38% of the population — turned vaccination rates around. Doctors fanned out into hard-hit neighborhoods citywide, initially using their mobile unit to test residents. As demand grew, they worked with community leaders to set up testing sites in churches and community centers. They also conducted general health checkups, treating any ailments they could.” 

Dems close in on Medicare prescription drug proposal compromise: From Politico: “Democrats are zeroing in on a deal to lower prescription drug prices that the party hopes it could add to President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending bill as soon as Monday, according to sources familiar with the effort. The conversations involve a group of Senate Democrats, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, House leadership and rank-and-file, as well as the White House. Prescription drug reform was left out of last week’s draft proposal due to ongoing disagreements between moderates like Sinema and House Democrats like Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who is hoping for a more expansive effort to lower drug prices. Yet after that omission, Democrats have redoubled their efforts. Leaving out prescription drug reform from Biden’s climate and social spending bill would be a massive loss for Democrats, who have campaigned on lowering drug prices for several years.” 

Why paid leave’s demise this time could fuel it later: The New York Times reports that even though paid leave has fallen out of President Biden’s spending framework, the issue still has signs of life. “Advocates say lawmakers should not give up yet. Marc Freedman, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for employment policy, said the business group had been meeting with congressional offices before the pandemic, pressing for a national paid leave plan to replace the patchwork of state and local government plans popping up. The government would create a minimum benefit that businesses would be allowed to exceed for recruitment and retention, financed by a payroll tax paid by employees. Such a plan would help smaller businesses compete for labor with larger corporations, while offloading some of the burden on companies that already offer leave plans. ‘We very much want to restart those conversations,’ he said. Some Republicans, especially Republican women, say they are ready to join those talks. ‘It’s an issue we need to address as a nation and look at and get creative with,’ said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who helped secure paid leave for federal workers.” 

Chicago to create one of nation’s largest UBI programs: From The Hill: “Chicago will use $35 million to test a universal basic income program for one year. The city will send $500 to 5,000 low-income families as part of what Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) has said is the largest universal basic income program in the country, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. ‘This program is controversial for some. But for me, it just makes plain sense,’ Lightfoot said of the program, per the Sun-Times. ‘Of course, we need to teach people how to fish. But, in this moment with so many people suffering in pain and worrying about financial ruin, this is what we must do to make sure that these families don’t slip into the abyss.’ The plan comes as part of Lightfoot’s $16.7 billion budget for 2022, which passed in a City Council meeting on Wednesday. The mayor touted her win as ‘the most progressive budget ever in the history’ of the city, the Sun-Times reported. The universal basic income checks will be funded using some of the almost $2 billion Chicago received from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan. While most of Chicago’s 50 aldermen supported this use of the funding, the 20 members of the city’s Black Caucus were disappointed the money did not go to violence prevention programs, according to The Washington Post.” 

Working class families express concerns about Child Tax Credit: As Democrats continue to try to finalize a domestic policy spending package that would include at least a temporary extension of the expanded Child Tax Credit, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has called for instituting work requirements for the benefit. A new report by Ethics and Public Policy Center fellow Patrick T. Brown suggests that some working-class families may agree with that view. Brown spoke with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity recently about the study’s findings and the continuing congressional debate over one of the Biden administration’s signature policies.  

Less than a quarter of eviction aid disbursed: Politico reports that new data released by the Treasury Department shows the disbursement of federal rental aid “has started to plateau, despite Biden administration pressure on state and local governments to ramp up delivery of the money to avert evictions during the pandemic. State, local, and tribal officials had disbursed about $10.7 billion in rental assistance as of the end of September, representing less than a quarter of the $46.5 billion Congress authorized in two tranches since last December. The release of $2.8 billion in September marked a 9.1% increase from August, which had seen a 44.7% increase from July. With some states and cities still experiencing bottlenecks or waning demand, Treasury said it will soon begin the process of recapturing funds from where distribution is lagging. Sept. 30 was the deadline for state and local officials to obligate or disburse 65% of the money they received under the first batch of funding or risk seeing it redistributed to other parts of the country.” 

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