Briefing for November 2-6, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for November 2-6, 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 November 6, 2020

Food insecurity is worse for rural residents during the pandemic: From the Daily Yonder: “For those in rural areas, causes for food insecurity are increased by the pandemic. Isolation, job loss, lack of access to grocery stores, and limited social services availability don’t change because of a pandemic, said Teresa Bertossi, University of Minnesota-Duluth faculty member. ‘20% of rural households in the U.S. live in food deserts now, which seems strange to people, I think, but they have really limited geographic access to food banks and pantries and grocery stores,’ she said. With COVID-19, the issues facing rural areas are also economic. In a recent study from Columbia University, researchers found that prices for groceries in rural areas are 4.2% higher than they are in urban areas, and during the pandemic, prices across the board have risen. ‘I think COVID-19 has intensified rural food insecurity, but it didn’t cause it,’ Bertossi said. ‘Part of that is that already food costs more in a rural place and then it has risen by 2.6%. So that’s quite a bit during the pandemic.’”

A new item on your medical bill  the “COVID” fee: The coronavirus pandemic has made the practice of health care more costly as providers must wear protective gear and sanitize equipment more often, even as they face declining revenue. Two groups of providers have been particularly hard hit: Dentists have lost billions since patients began postponing nonurgent dental care this spring, and assisted living facilities, grappling with lower overall demand, have also been forced to admit fewer residents to help stop the spread of infection. To address this financial shortfall, some health providers are turning directly to patients. Surprise “COVID” and “PPE” fees have turned up across the country, in bills examined by The New York Times

Management company owned by Jared Kushner files to evict hundreds of families as moratoriums expire: Westminster Management, an apartment company owned in part by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, has submitted hundreds of eviction filings in court against tenants with past due rent during the pandemic, according to interviews with more than a dozen tenants and a review of hundreds of the company’s filings. A state eviction moratorium currently bars Maryland courts from removing tenants from their homes, and a federal moratorium offers renters additional protection. But like other landlords around the country, Westminster has been sending letters to tenants threatening legal fees and then filing eviction notices in court ― a first legal step toward removing tenants. Those notices are now piling up in local courthouses as part of a national backlog of tens of thousands of cases that experts warn could lead to a surge in displaced renters across the country as eviction bans expire and courts resume processing cases. 

Already hit hard by the pandemic, Native Americans faced major obstacles to vote: COVID-19 has disproportionately hit Native Americans, adding to a long list of obstacles to voting in many tribal communities: high rates of poverty, long distances to polling places, limited access to transportation, slow and/or limited U.S. Postal Service delivery, and voter registration and voter ID laws that don’t recognize nontraditional addresses on tribal land. Some traditional turnout efforts, such as carpooling or offering bus rides to the polls, weren’t possible this year because of the pandemic. The lessons organizers have learned this year could renew efforts to dismantle some of the longstanding barriers that Native Americans face at the ballot box. 

A new Hippocratic oath asks doctors to fight racial injustice and misinformation: First-year medical student Sean Sweat “didn’t want to tiptoe around” issues of race when she sat down with 11 of her classmates to write a new version of the medical profession’s venerable Hippocratic oath. “We start our medical journey amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a national civil rights movement reinvigorated by the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery,” begins the alternate version of the oath, rewritten for the class of 2024 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. It continues: “We honor the 700,000+ lives lost to COVID-19, despite the sacrifices of health care workers.” Sweat and the other incoming first-year medical students recited this newly penned pledge, along with a traditional version of the Hippocratic oath, as part of orientation activities during their first week of medical school this fall. 

Briefing for November 5, 2020

Coronavirus raises new challenges for those who are homeless: From Axios: The challenge of helping people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic has spurred some cities to action and prompted bitter divisions in others, as shelters struggle with the new challenges of adhering to the CDC’s social distancing, PPE and sanitary guidelines. Some cities have tried new ways to help, such as buying up vacant hotels, apartments and other buildings to use as housing. Some feel grief as outdoor homeless encampments grow. And a triple threat — the advent of cold weather, new spikes in coronavirus cases, and the lifting of evictions moratoriums — is looming. 

Traveling health workers decry COVID care conditions: As COVID-19 surges across the country, health care systems continue to suffer critical shortages, especially among non-physician staff such as nurses, X-ray technicians and respiratory therapists. To replenish their ranks, facilities have relied on “travelers.” Staff agencies have deployed tens of thousands nationally since March outbreaks in the Northeast. The arrangement presents risks for travelers and their patients. Personnel ping-ponging between overwhelmed cities and underserved towns could introduce infections. As contractors, travelers sometimes feel tensions their full-time colleagues do not. Frequently employed by staffing agencies based thousands of miles away, they can find themselves working in crisis without advocates or adequate safety equipment. In 2020, the upsides of their jobs — freedom and flexibility — have been dwarfed by treacherous conditions. Now the ranks of travelers are thinning: The work is exhausting, bruising and dangerous. Thousands of front-line health workers have gotten the virus and hundreds have died, according to reporting by Kaiser Health News and The Guardian. 

The pandemic’s toll on young black women: Amanda Furdge, the youth program coordinator with the Children’s Defense Fund’s Southern Regional Office and director of the Unita Blackwell Young Women’s Leadership Institute with the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative for Social and Economic Justice, and Annerieke Daniel, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, write for The Progressive: “The pandemic has exposed systemic inequalities and structural racism. It has taken a disproportionate toll on Black people, especially in the rural South, where limited access to medical care and high poverty rates lead to some of the country’s worst health outcomes. Being out of school for months on end, young people — especially in areas without reliable internet or phone services — are cut off from friends, teachers, and school communities. Many struggle with isolation and loneliness. They missed out on milestones, such as class trips and graduations; they fear for their health as they return to classrooms.” 

Florida becomes first state in the South to pass a $15 minimum wage: On Tuesday night, voters in the Sunshine State voted to give up to 2.5 million Floridians a raise. More than 61% of voters approved Amendment 2, a ballot measure that will require the state to raise its hourly minimum wage to $15 by September 2026, and to enshrine that increase in the state’s constitution. The approved increase will nearly double the state’s current minimum wage of $8.56. The increase will happen slowly, with employers being required to add one dollar a year to wages in order to work up to the $15 minimum. The first increase will bring the hourly minimum up to $10 by September 2021. This vote makes Florida the first state in the South to approve a $15 minimum wage — a livable wage benchmark that progressive labor groups like Fight for 15 have sought for years, and which became part of the Democratic Party’s official platform in 2016. Florida is the eighth state to approve the $15 minimum, and the first state to do it by ballot measure. 

Large corporate landlords have filed 10,000 eviction notices since September: From early September to Oct. 17, despite the Centers for Disease Control eviction ban, almost 10,000 eviction actions have been filed in 23 counties in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas by large corporate landlords, court documents show. After at least one landlord group lobbied the Trump administration, the CDC clarified its ban on Oct. 9, opening the door for still more such actions. New eviction filings have jumped since then, court records show. During the week of Oct. 12, for example, almost 2,000 proceedings were recorded in the five states, almost twice the number from the previous week. 

Video game depicts life during the pandemic for people of color: Early in the pandemic, Chanhee Choi, a multidisciplinary interactive artist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, was inspired to create “Pandemic 2020” — a first-person, 3D, environmental art game that depicts what life is like for people of color during the pandemic. Players take on the role of the virus as they travel through seven different levels and scenes of the game and are faced with hostility and anger from the other characters. While some of these characters would run away from the player out of fear, the others would physically or verbally fight them. 

Pandemic could be the wake-up call businesses need to fix a broken child care system: Kendra Hurley writes for USA TODAY: “With schools moved online and day cares closing after months of lost tuition coupled with the increased costs of providing child care in the time of COVID-19, business leaders are grasping that child care matters to their bottom lines. But this revelation is fresh, tenuous, and subject to amnesia.” 

Briefing for November 4, 2020

Ballot initiative results: While the presidential race appeared too close to call for the foreseeable future, voters in a number of states did make decisions on referendums and ballot initiatives that will impact low-income communities and works as the pandemic continues. Some key results: 

  • Florida voters approved a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026. 
  • Arizona seemed poised to approve a proposition that would raise taxes on incomes for individuals making over $250,000 or families making more than $500,000. This tax revenue will be distributed to the Student Support and Safety Fund that will provide classroom and teacher support (i.e. teacher salaries). 
  • California passed a measure that would allow rideshare and delivery drivers to be exempt from a new state law requiring them to be treated as employees. If drivers are classified as independent contractors, they “are not entitled to certain state-law protections afforded employees —including minimum wage, overtime, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation.” 
  • Colorado voters approved a proposition to establish a 12-week paid family and medical leave program funded by employees and employers in a 50/50 split. 
  • A California referendum to uphold a 2018 law that sought to eliminate cash bail and replace it with an algorithm to assess a person’s risk for not appearing at trial appeared headed to defeat. 
  • California voters defeated a proposition that would have expanded rent control statewide. 
  • California’s Proposition 15, which would significantly roll back a 1978 ballot measure that capped state property taxes on businesses, was trailing as votes continued to be counted. 
  • In Illinois, the fate of an income tax referendum was still uncertain. The measure would change the Illinois Constitution to switch the state from a flat-rate income tax to a graduated-rate system in which taxes would increase as income rises.

Millions still haven’t gotten stimulus checks, including many who need them: It’s been more than 200 days since Congress instructed the IRS to send $1,200 stimulus checks to every citizen below a certain income threshold. And yet, it’s likely as many as 12 million people — including those who most need a financial boost — never got the cash. The reasons include confusion about how the complex program works, IRS missteps, technical snafus and Treasury Department policy decisions that cut out large groups of people altogether. Those who fell through the cracks have until Nov. 21 to claim the money or risk losing out on any second round of stimulus payments, which Congress has been negotiating for months. “Out of what should be an incredibly positive story, [the IRS] just kept getting black eye after black eye after black eye,” said Nina Olson, who served as the IRS’ taxpayer advocate until last year and is now director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights. “And that’s coming partly from the IRS just being overwhelmed, but also not doing the planning and strategic thinking that they really should have once it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to be a 60-day flu.” 

Seniors form COVID pods to ward off isolation this winter: Older adults in all kinds of circumstances — those living alone and those who are partnered, those in good health and those who are not — are deliberating what to do as days and nights turn chilly and coronavirus cases rise across the country. Some are forming “bubbles” or “pods”: small groups that agree on pandemic precautions and will see one another in person in the months ahead. Others are planning to go it alone. Judith Rosenmeier, 84, of Boston, a widow who’s survived three bouts of breast cancer, doesn’t intend to invite friends to her apartment or visit them in theirs. “My oncologist said when all this started, ‘You really have to stay home more than other people because the treatments you’ve had have destroyed a lot of your immune defenses,’” she said. 

Nursing homes, after seeing an improvement, now face a new COVID-19 threat: Nursing homes across the country are bracing for a dark winter as rising coronavirus infections appear to be reversing trends that had showed an improved outlook for the nation’s most vulnerable, an ABC News review of state-by-state numbers reveals. “As case counts rise in communities around the country, nursing homes and providers in other congregate care settings are under siege,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, the association of nonprofit providers of aging services. “Despite the improvements in testing, older adults in nursing homes — and in all care settings — continue to be under threat from this pandemic.” 

More than 61,000 children got COVID-19 last week: More than 61,000 children in the U.S. were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week — more than in any other week during the pandemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association reported on Monday. In all, 853,635 children have been diagnosed with the virus this year, representing 11.1% of all U.S. cases. The percentage of pediatric cases has risen steadily since mid-April, when children accounted for just 2% of COVID-19 cases in the country. 

Pregnant women are more likely to die from coronavirus, though the risk remains small: Pregnant women who catch the coronavirus are at greater risk of death and severe illness than women who are not pregnant, even as the risk overall remains small, according to federal statistics released Monday. The data — the most comprehensive U.S. accounting to date of how the virus affects pregnant women — shows that pregnant women are almost three times more likely to be admitted to intensive care units, and more than three times more likely to be put on a ventilator. The findings echo previous studies linking pregnancy to increased risk for severe illness. The overall risk to pregnant women remains small because they tend to be younger and healthy, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Briefing for November 2, 2020

Trump food box letters create problems in run-up to election: Food banks, schools and other nonprofits serving needy families during the pandemic are expending considerable resources in the final days of the election to remove or explain letters from President Donald Trump that are now required in millions of government food aid boxes. The USDA’s $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program began requiring that all boxes include a self-praising letter from the president, in both English and Spanish, a month ago — setting off a rash of criticism that Trump is leveraging taxpayer resources to bolster his reelection campaign. But as election day nears, nonprofits distributing the boxes are becoming increasingly worried about unwittingly engaging in political activity, according to interviews with more than two dozen people involved in the program. They’re ramping up efforts to remove the letters — and some are adding letters of their own explaining that the boxes are unrelated to the campaign. “I view it as propaganda,” said Melissa Acedera, founder of Polo’s Pantry, a mobile food pantry that aids the most vulnerable in Los Angeles, including those who are homeless. 

Kids are now in school at a majority of the nation’s largest districts — just as COVID-19 cases surge: The U.S.has entered a second round of back-to-school, just as the coronavirus surges around the nation. In smaller school districts, careful in-person reopenings in August and September didn’t lead to an explosion of COVID-19 cases. Now, the country’s largest school systems, which had largely eschewed in-person instruction, are venturing partially back into the classroom. The majority of the 15 largest districts in the nation now have at least some students in school buildings. Only two of those districts had any form of in-person learning as of early September. Large schools had faced bigger hurdles than smaller ones as they waited out case spikes in major cities and concerns grew about possible outbreaks in school buildings. Now, as several major districts have decided to try to meet in person, rising COVID-19 cases again threaten their efforts.  

The COVID-19 hazard continues but hazard pay remains the same; Why America’s essential workers deserve a raise: From the Brookings Institution: “While the hazards of COVID-19 are growing worse, few frontline essential workers are receiving any hazard payat all. Most large retail employers ended temporary pay bumps months ago, despite many companies earning record sales, eye-popping profits, and soaring stock prices. After facing strong resistance in the Republican-controlled Senate, House Democrats dropped their hazard pay proposal from their revised legislation in September. Innovative hazard pay initiatives by state governments have been among the few bright spots, but the scale of these efforts is small compared to the need.” 

The pandemic has exacerbated housing insecurity for renters of color: From Jaboa Lake at the Center for American Progress: “There has been a long history of housing insecurity for people of color in the United States due to racially targeted policies and widespread discrimination, particularly within the rental housing market. These policies and practices continue to keep people of color in poverty. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, an estimated 34 million individuals were living in poverty in the United States, with Black and Latinx people experiencing higher rates of poverty than whites. Native American, Black, and Latinx renters were also more likely to be extremely low income. During the coronavirus pandemic, disparities by race have persisted: Renters of color report having less confidence in their ability to pay rent and experiencing greater difficulties staying current on rent compared with their white counterparts. It is clear that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting renters of color differently, exacerbating past inequality, and leading the path to a future of worsening inequality.” 

As pandemic raged and thousands died, government regulators cleared most nursing homes of infection-control violations: Government inspectors deployed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the first six months of the crisis cleared nearly 8 in 10 nursing homes of any infection-control violations even as the deadliest pandemic to strike the United States in a century sickened and killed thousands, a Washington Post investigation found. Those cleared included homes with mounting coronavirus outbreaks before or during the inspections, as well as those that saw cases and deaths spiral upward after inspectors reported no violations had been found, in some cases multiple times. All told, homes that received a clean bill of health earlier this year had about 290,000 coronavirus cases and 43,000 deaths among residents and staff, state and federal data shows. 

Black Americans are the most reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine: Black Americans distrust the government so much they’re not participating in large numbers in COVID-19 clinical trials, and many say they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine — at least not until many others get it. Although the first two large clinical trials of candidate vaccines have managed to include about 3,000 Black participants each, it hasn’t been easy. And later trials might have even more trouble. Polls show that among racial and ethnic groups, Black Americans are the most hesitant to get a vaccine once one becomes available, and their skepticism is rising fast. In one September survey, only 32% of Black adults said they would get a vaccine, down from 54% in May. 

Will the hardest-hit communities get the coronavirus vaccine? From Gina Kolata at the New York Times: “It is an idea that may never have been tried in wide-scale vaccine distribution: Citing principles of equity and justice, experts are urging that people living in communities hardest-hit by the pandemic, which are often made up of Black and Hispanic populations, get a portion of the first, limited supply of coronavirus vaccines set aside just for them. A committee of experts advising Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is considering the idea. But as it comes into focus, its underlying concepts and execution must be further defined, and the approach may then face legal and political challenges, even as the medical system grapples with the anticipated logistical hurdles of distributing new vaccines.” 

In Alabama, some felons are being wrongly barred from voting: Thousands of felons in Alabama won the right to vote following the passage of a state law in 2017 that narrowed the list of felony convictions that barred offenders from ever voting again. But the implementation of that law has been piecemeal, with some county officials taking a proactive stance and registering hundreds of newly eligible people, while other county and state officials have at times hindered or blocked people with forgivable offenses from regaining the franchise

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