Briefing for November 30 – December 4, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for November 30 – December 4, 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 December 4, 2020

The cities in each state hit hardest by extreme poverty: USA TODAY and 24/7 Wall Street identify the cities hit hardest by extreme poverty in every state by reviewing Census data on the share of the population living below the poverty line in concentrated-poverty neighborhoods in each of the nation’s 383 metropolitan areas. All data — including unemployment — is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey.  

New study holds that evictions caused deaths that could have been prevented: A newly published study makes the case that evictions are tied to an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. The research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, compared numbers in the 27 states where state-level moratoriums ended with the 17 that have kept them in place. After controlling for factors such as stay-at-home orders, school closures and mask mandates, the researchers estimated that the lifting of moratoriums could have resulted in between 365,200 and 502,200 excess coronavirus cases and between 8,900 and 12,500 excess deaths — an average of 433,700 cases and 10,700 deaths. “I think whenever you see numbers like 430,000 cases, 10,000 deaths, it’s surprising and it’s troubling, and these are deaths that could have been prevented had the states maintained their moratoriums,” says one of the study’s lead researchers, Kathryn Leifheit of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. 

Failing grades double and triple during pandemic learning: Failure rates in math and English jumped as much as sixfold for some of the most vulnerable students in Maryland’s largest school system, according to data released as the pandemic’s toll becomes increasingly visible in schools across the country. In just one stark example, more than 36% of ninth-graders from low-income families failed the first marking period in English. That compares with fewer than 6% last year, when the same students took English in eighth grade. 

Will rural hospitals have to give back the money Congress gave them to weather the pandemic? Late changes to how hospitals may use coronavirus relief money may mean some rural hospitals will have to pay back money given to them this spring, as well as the interest they may have earned on it. The changes come as rural hospitals deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases and prepare for an increase in cases during the coming winter months. At issue is how hospitals are supposed to report their losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

‘There will absolutely be a black market’ – How the rich and powerful will get to the head of the line for vaccines: From STAT: “Athletes, politicians, and other wealthy or well-connected people have managed to get special treatment throughout the pandemic, including preferential access to testing and unapproved therapies. Early access to coronavirus vaccines is likely to be no different, medical experts and ethicists told STAT. It could happen in any number of ways, they said: fudging the definition of ‘essential workers’ or ‘high-risk’ conditions, lobbying by influential industries, physicians caving to pressure to keep their patients happy, and even through outright bribery or theft.” 

Caring for seniors during and after the pandemic: Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) writes for The Hill: “As we fight to get our nation through this moment in time, we must also look to our seniors’ future, and the next generation of seniors, and preserving and protecting Social Security is vital. We must improve the way cost of living benefits are paid out to beneficiaries. For example, regional disparities for housing, utility and general expenses must be taken into account when calculating payments, and without providing a more individualized approach to this situation, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that have plagued this system for years.” 

Farmworkers are being left behind by broken labor and disaster aid systems: Before and during a public health emergency or natural disaster, farmworkers — those who are undocumented and those who are on federal H-2A work visas — are often left to fend for themselves. Labor laws exclude most agricultural workers from historic worker protections, and policy reform to better protect workers remains stagnant. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed massive shortcomings in the nation’s labor and disaster aid systems, which have for decades failed to protect workers who come to the U.S. every year for seasonal work. That means hundreds of thousands of people are not guaranteed safety in the event of an emergency. “We invite them to come and work here,” said Lariza Garzón, director of the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry. “We should be kind and respectful and responsible enough to provide them with the basic needs of survival.” 

Third wave of coronavirus infections devastate Colorado’s Native-American and Hispanic communities:
A third wave of infections has hit Colorado, and as with previous waves, people of color are getting sick at higher rates. According to state data, newly reported infections for Hispanic and Native American populations shot up starting in early October. Now, the seven-day moving average of newly reported coronavirus infections is at 80 cases per 100,000 people for Hispanic residents and more than 60 cases per 100,000 for the American Indian and Alaska Native population. In both cases, the infection rate is more than quadruple what it was two months ago. “In the last couple of weeks, we’ve really seen an exponential rise with even more sick patients,” said Dr. Pamela Valenza, the chief health officer with Clinica Tepeyac, a community health center that serves Denver’s mostly Latino neighborhood of Globeville.  

Briefing for December 3, 2020

‘We don’t even know who’s dead or alive’  Inside an assisted living facility during the pandemic: A harrowing read from ProPublica and The New Republic about life in a home for th elderly in the Bronx: “When someone in the building died, a notice was often taped to a window in the lobby: ‘WE REGRET TO ANNOUNCE THE PASSING OF OUR FRIEND…’ The signs did not say how or where the friend had died, and because they were eventually removed, they could be easy to miss. In March, as these names began to appear more frequently at Bronxwood, an assisted living facility in New York, Varahn Chamblee tried to keep track. Varahn, who had lived at Bronxwood for almost a year, was president of its resident council. Her neighbors admired her poise and quiet confidence. She spoke regularly with management, but as the coronavirus swept through the five-story building, they told her as little about its progress as they told anyone else. Some residents estimated that 25 people had died — that was the number Varahn had heard — but others thought the toll had to be higher. There was talk that a man on the second floor had been the first to go, followed by a beloved housekeeper. An administrator known as Mr. Stern called in sick. Around the same time, Varahn noticed that the woman who fed the pigeons had also disappeared.” 

States race to craft their own pandemic stimulus plans: Governors and state lawmakers across the country are racing to authorize millions of dollars in new coronavirus stimulus aid, aiming to plug gaping holes in their local economies before the end of the year. The burst of activity has intensified in recent weeks after months of false starts in Washington, where congressional lawmakers repeatedly have failed to deliver additional support for a growing number of Americans who are still out of work, struggling to pay their bills or facing severe financial straits. Michigan, for example, has sought to extend another round of enhanced payments to its unemployed residents. Minnesota has eyed one-time stimulus checks to locals under financial duress. And Colorado has mounted a wide-ranging effort to help its cash-starved workers and businesses, working on legislative proposals that could help cover rent payments, utility bills and other critical costs. 

Melinda Gates  The pandemic has exposed a broken caregiving system: The co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation writes for The Washington Post: “Now, as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office under the shadow of interlocking public health and economic crises, I am one of many advocates hoping that he will elevate a new issue as a presidential priority by appointing a czar for caregiving. The coronavirus has laid bare what was painfully clear to many families already: The caregiving system in the United States is broken, and it is women who are paying the price.” 

Burn-out for healthcare workers is real and getting worse: Anish K. Agarwal, an assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Focus has been placed on the numbers, be it hospital beds or ventilators. Though these numbers remain important, we need a specific focus on the people in health care and their well-being. Facing an unrelenting influx of COVID cases is not what many of us have ever seen. We can steel ourselves for random, or even inevitable, tragedies based on genetics, lifestyle, or accident. Seeing rapidly progressive death across the city is different and draining. Compounding this, we watch battles around public health guidelines unfold as we attempt to save lives. We need to think critically about how to support health-care providers. The challenges are felt by us all, but the nature of health care is threatening the mental health of the workforce.” 

Houston set to start relief fund with $1,200 checks for struggling residents: Houstonians could receive checks of up to $1,200 from the city this month, as City Hall prepares to launch a new relief program aimed at getting money to residents struggling to get by during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is poised to use up to $30 million to open a direct assistance fund, similar to one launched last month by Harris County, this week. The direct assistance could help residents make rent, pay off mounting bills, acquire childcare, buy groceries, or otherwise use it as they see fit. It could help as many as 23,750 families with daily expenses. 

Florida minimum wage hike could pave the way for other southern states: Sadaf Knight of the Florida Policy Institute tells Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity that the hardships of the pandemic were a crucial factor in the state’s strong bipartisan support for passing an amendment to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2026. 

What’s between 30 million Americans and an evictions tsunami? Francesca Mari writes for The New York Times: “We’ve all been so concerned about the transition on Jan. 20 that many of us have forgotten another critical date for American democracy: Dec. 31. That’s when the federal eviction moratorium — which has held the pandemic-related eviction tsunami at bay — expires. After that date, more than 30 million Americans are at risk of losing their homes. Congress must act to stabilize the country’s rental market, prevent widespread displacement and curtail the growing domination of housing by big corporations. More than half of renters pay 30% or more of their income on rent, according to the 2019 American Housing Survey, and more than half of lowest-income renter households reported some loss of employment income between mid-March and mid-September. Although CARES money has been flowing to states, which have established various rental assistance programs, all of them are oversubscribed. ‘I can’t point to a city that says we’ve got this figured out,’ Mary Cunningham, vice president for metropolitan housing and communities policy at the Urban Institute, told me. ‘It’s really the role of the federal government to provide. They’re the ones with the ability to match the need.’“ 

Better reporting, collection of race and ethnicity data is crucial to fighting COVID-19: Oliver T. Brooks, a pediatric and adolescent medicine physician, chief medical officer for Watts Healthcare Corporation, and immediate past president of the National Medical Association and LaVarne A. Burton, president and CEO of the American Kidney Fund, write for STAT: “In July, the New York Times wrote about federal data showing that Black and Latino people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in a widespread manner. The newspaper was able to report on this only because the data were made available after the Times filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release the information. Enough is enough. As COVID-19 continues to overwhelm our nation, it is imperative that we openly and honestly report, collect, and share comprehensive data from sources other than Medicare so we can understand and effectively address the pandemic, especially among the most threatened communities. This starts with changing how the health care system collects and reports race and ethnicity data.” 

Briefing for December 2, 2020

More Americans pay rent on credit card with no sign of relief bill from Congress: With their savings running out, many Americans are being forced to use credit cards to pay for bills they can’t afford — even their rent. Housing experts and economists say this is a blinking-red warning light that without more relief from Congress, the economy is headed for even more serious trouble. There’s been as much as a 70% percent increase from last year in people paying rent on a credit card, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. “If you’re putting your rent payments on to a credit card, that shows you’re really at risk of eviction,” says Shamus Roller, executive director of the nonprofit National Housing Law Project. “That means you’ve run out of savings; you’ve probably run out of calls to family members to get them to loan you money.” 

Unemployment benefits fell below the poverty line in 13 states: Thirteen states have allowed unemployment benefits to fall below the poverty level of $245 a week, or $12,760 a year, according to a study released Monday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The change has occurred since the end of July, when a federal program providing $600 in supplemental weekly benefits expired. The CARES Act signed into law in March provided the weekly $600 payments to all unemployment benefit recipients. The amount was an attempt to bridge the difference between average weekly payments that came in at $333 per week and median income. In addition to regular unemployment benefits in 13 states slipping below poverty levels, a special CARES program for gig economy workers and the self-employed, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), fared even worse. Those benefits fell below poverty levels in 29 of 41 states that reported data, according to the GAO. 

Study shows students are falling behind in math during pandemic: A disproportionately large number of poor and minority students were not in schools for assessments this fall, complicating efforts to measure the pandemic’s effects on some of the most vulnerable students, a not-for-profit company that administers standardized testing said on Tuesday. Overall, NWEA’s fall assessments showed elementary and middle school students have fallen measurably behind in math, while most appear to be progressing at a normal pace in reading since schools were forced to abruptly close in March and pickup online. The analysis of data from nearly 4.4 million U.S. students in grades 3-8 represents one of the first significant measures of the pandemic’s impacts on learning. 

Risk of getting COVID-19 in grocery stores is higher in low-income neighborhoods: A recent study published in the journal Nature found the risk of being exposed to COVID at the grocery store is twice as high in low-income neighborhoods as in high-income neighborhoods. “Grocery stores visited by lower-income individuals have a higher number of people per square feet, and also their visitors stay a bit longer,” said Serina Chang, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University and lead author of the paper. The study used the cellphone location data of 98 million people in 10 large metro areas to look at where people are most likely to be exposed to the virus, and found restaurants, gyms, coffee shops, hotels and places of worship to be among the highest-risk places. It also underlined something that is already well-known: that low-income people and people of color were at higher risk of exposure during the first wave of the pandemic because they were less likely to be able to stay home and avoid crowded places — including the grocery store.  

At tiny rural hospitals, weary doctors treat friends, family: The coronavirus pandemic largely hit urban areas first, but the autumn surge is devastating rural America, too. The U.S. is now averaging more than 170,000 new cases each day, and it’s taking a toll from the biggest hospitals down to the little ones, like Scotland County Hospital in Missouri. The tragedy is smaller here, more intimate. Everyone knows everyone. People come to the hospital from six surrounding counties, typically for treatment of things like farm and sports injuries, chest pains and the flu. Usually, there’s plenty of room. Not now. The small hospital with roughly six doctors and 75 nurses among 142 full-time staff is in crisis. The region is seeing a big increase in COVID-19 cases, and all available beds are usually taken. Scotland County Hospital’s doctors already are making difficult, often heartbreaking decisions about who they can take in. Dr. Shane Wilson said some moderately ill people have been sent home with oxygen and told, “If things get worse, come back in, but we don’t have a place to put you and we don’t have a place to transfer you.” 

Who should lead pandemic outreach for homeless populations? How about the homeless: A new program attempting to test homeless individuals in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district for the coronavirus has found success using members of the city’s homeless community to offer counseling and care. This story comes from a special COVID-19 collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network. 

Briefing for December 1, 2020

More than 1 in 4 homeless children dropped off schools’ radars during the pandemic: In January, the U.S. Department of Education reported a record-high 1.5 million schoolchildren as homeless. By this fall, amid the pandemic’s school closures, shrinking capacity at homeless shelters, and ever-higher family mobility, more than 423,000 of them have fallen off schools’ radars. That estimate comes from a new report by the nonprofit homeless education advocacy group SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, which found a 28% drop in the number of homeless students identified in fall 2020 compared to this time in 2019, based on reports from nearly 1,500 homeless liaisons in 49 states. Nearly 70% of homeless liaisons in the study reported they have had pandemic-related identification problems this year, in part due to school closures and families being forced out of homeless shelters because of new pandemic capacity restrictions. (The most recent federal data, which covers 2017-18, represented an 11% jump over the prior year and double that a decade ago.)  

Teaching in the pandemic  ‘This is not sustainable’: From The New York Times: “All this fall, as vehement debates have raged over whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction, teachers have been at the center — often vilified for challenging it, sometimes warmly praised for trying to make it work. But the debate has often missed just how thoroughly the coronavirus has upended learning in the country’s 130,000 schools and glossed over how emotionally and physically draining pandemic teaching has become for the educators themselves. In more than a dozen interviews, educators described the immense challenges, and exhaustion, they have faced trying to provide normal schooling for students in pandemic conditions that are anything but normal. Some recounted whiplash experiences of having their schools abruptly open and close, sometimes more than once, because of virus risks or quarantine-driven staff shortages, requiring them to repeatedly switch back and forth between in-person and online teaching. Others described the stress of having to lead back-to-back group video lessons for remote learners, even as they continued to teach students in person in their classrooms. Some educators said their workloads had doubled. ‘I have NEVER been this exhausted,’ Sarah Gross, a veteran high school English teacher in New Jersey who is doing hybrid teaching this fall, said in a recent Twitter thread. She added, ‘This is not sustainable.’” 

Millions of workers poised to lose access to paid leave as virus spikes: Tens of millions of workers stand to lose access to federally mandated paid sick and family leave at the end of December, compounding the hardship over the surging pandemic for American families. Families First, a relief package enacted in March, required many employers to provide workers with two weeks of coronavirus-related sick leave at full pay and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave to care for family members at two-thirds pay. Researchers estimate this covered half the U.S. workforce. But those provisions — which cost about $105 billion — are slated to expire at the end of the year, along with expanded unemployment insurance and other policies, meaning that as many as 87 million public and private sector workers could be deprived of the benefit. That comes as virus cases and deaths are spiking, forcing many communities to roll back business and school re-openings. 

Thousands of doctor’s offices buckle under the strain of COVID-19: STAT reports: “Although no one tracks medical closures, recent research suggests they number in the thousands. A survey by the Physicians Foundation estimated that 8% of all physician practices nationally — around 16,000 — have closed under the stress of the pandemic. That survey didn’t break them down by type, but another from the Virginia-based Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative found in late September that 7% of primary care practices were unsure they could stay open past December without financial assistance. And many more teeter on the economic brink, experts say.” 

Mass vaccinations will be huge challenge for rural states such as Alabama: Under its Operation Warp Speed initiative, the Trump administration has promised simultaneous distribution of vaccines to “all of America.” The soaring ambition, however, is set to run headlong into the barriers to health care and mistrust of speedily developed vaccines that mark Perry County, Alabama and other rural, impoverished parts of America. Residents of these places are especially vulnerable to the virus because of their poor health status and often precarious employment in low-wage service industries. Responsibility for their inoculation, meanwhile, will fall to a public health system maimed by budget cuts and riven by racial and other inequities. The day-to-day delivery of shots, without reinforcements, will play out at understaffed clinics, overwhelmed pharmacies and beleaguered long-term care facilities. 

Outbreaks in meatpacking plants were likely worse than reported: During the first wave of the pandemic, the meatpacking industry emerged as an early and shocking hot spot. Since then, around 40,000 meatpacking workers nationwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to news organizationstracking the industry. Around half of them were employed by JBS, Smithfield, Tyson, or Cargill, the four industry giants collectively responsible for more than 80% of the meat consumed in the U.S. At least 200 workers have died. But a BuzzFeed News investigation has found that the real scope of the outbreaks — in an industry where workers stand shoulder to shoulder for hours in sometimes poorly ventilated warehouses — was likely far worse, because dozens of plants didn’t test all their employees even when scores of workers were falling ill and, in some cases, public health officials offered the tests free of charge. 

States need emergency regulations to protect essential food workers: Amy K. Liebman, director of environmental and occupational health for the Migrant Clinicians Network, as well as director of its Eastern region office, writes for STAT: “Nine months into the pandemic, workers at the center of the U.S.’s multibillion-dollar food industries continue to be forced to choose between not working — and so being unable to put food on their own tables — and running the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 or dying from it.” 

Briefing for November 30, 2020

Decades of gains over U.S. poverty are at risk: The escalating coronavirus pandemic could reverse decades of gains in the fight against poverty, as U.S. government aid for the vulnerable dries up. In the early months of the crisis, the federal Cares Act, which gave an extra $600 a week in unemployment assistance and $1,200 stimulus checks, helped prevent poverty from dramatically deepening. But that lifeline for low-income earners is being cut off. Unemployment benefits are set to expire for millions of workers in late December and talks over a new stimulus package have stalled — just as some states reimpose job-hammering lockdowns to halt a surge in cases. 

A growing number of Americans are going hungry: More Americans are going hungry now than at any point during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, according to a Washington Post analysis of new federal data — a problem created by an economic downturn that has tightened its grip on millions of Americans and compounded by government relief programs that expired or will terminate at the end of the year. Experts say it is likely that there’s more hunger in the United States today than at any point since 1998, when the Census Bureau began collecting comparable data about households’ ability to get enough food. One in 8 Americans reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the past week, hitting nearly 26 million American adults, an increase several times greater than the most comparable pre-pandemic figure, according to Census Bureau survey data collected in late October and early November. That number climbed to more than 1 in 6 adults in households with children. 

Key programs set to expire at end of next month: Axios outlines the key pandemic aid programs that will phase out on Dec. 31

  • Unemployment: Over 13 million Americans are relying on weekly unemployment checks through two programs that are weeks away from expiration, according to government figures released Thursday.  
  • Housing: After Dec. 31, homeowners can’t request penalty-free forbearance for federally-backed mortgage payments. The measure also stopped mortgage lenders from starting a foreclosure process. About 2.7 million homeowners are depending on some sort of forbearance plan. The eviction ban issued by the Centers for Disease Control also ends. 
  • Student loans: The CARES Act paused payments on government-backed student loans without interest. 
  • State aid: Whatever isn’t expended of the $139 billion allocated to states in the CARES Act will disappear at the end of the year. 

With no action by Washington, states race to supply pandemic aid: Faulting inaction in Washington, governors and state lawmakers are racing to get pandemic relief to small-business owners, the unemployed, renters and others whose livelihoods have been upended by the widening coronavirus outbreak. In some cases, elected officials are spending the last of a federal relief package passed in the spring as an end-of-year deadline approaches and the fall COVID-19 surge threatens their economies anew. Democrats have been the most vocal in criticizing President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate for failing to act, but many Republican lawmakers are also sounding the alarm. The Democratic governors of Colorado and New Mexico convened special legislative sessions in the closing days of November to address the virus-related emergency. Earlier this week, the New Mexico Legislature passed a bipartisan relief bill that will deliver a one-time $1,200 check to all unemployed workers and give up to $50,000 to certain businesses. In New Jersey and Washington state, Republicans who are a minority in both legislatures were the ones pushing for special sessions. They want to direct more money to struggling small-business owners. Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, who control both houses of the Legislature, are considering whether to return in December to address effects of the latest coronavirus wave after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers put forward a $500 million COVID-19 relief bill earlier this week. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, plans to convene lawmakers in December to contend with the virus, partially at Republicans’ urging. 

New survey shows Americans with low incomes agree on policy solutions: New polling results revealed last week that people with low incomes agree upon a range of policy solutions to poverty and hunger. Conducted in November by the Colorado-based firm Kupersmit Research on behalf of the national anti-hunger direct service and advocacy group Hunger Free America, the survey found that many people across the country with household incomes of $50,000 or below share views about raising the minimum wage as well as expanding access to and benefits of public assistance programs. According to the poll, 73% of Americans living in or near poverty somewhat or strongly agree that “the U.S. government should enact the policies and programs necessary to end U.S. hunger by ensuring that all Americans can afford and access sufficient, nutritious, culturally compatible food.” Majorities of those polled said boosting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would help some or a lot, and that all school meals should be “universal, free, and nutritious, regardless of family income.” 

Public school enrollment drops as frustrated parents pull their children out: From The New York Times: “Two and a half months into the school year, Massachusetts compiled its data and found sobering results: Enrollment in public schools was down 37,000, or almost 4 percent, from last year, a startling drop for a system that has mostly held steady. Though no nationwide data is available, similar snapshots are emerging all over the country. Enrollment in New York City public schools is down 31,000 students, or 3.2 percent, according to preliminary data obtained by Chalkbeat. Officials in Montana reported a drop of 2 percent.Wisconsin and Missouri have reported declines of 3 percent. North Carolina has reported a drop of 4 percent. The reason is no mystery. With public schools mostly shifting to remote or hybrid learning, parents are pulling their children out entirely, opting to keep them at home or looking for options that offer more in-person instruction.” 

Three things the incoming administration should know about how the pandemic is impacting young children: Key takeaways from The Urban Institute’s Erica Greenberg:  

  • Young children and their families are uniquely affected by the pandemic, but the effects have been especially severe for Black and Latinx families, families with low incomes, single-parent families, and families of children with disabilities 
  • Supporting young children includes supporting their families 
  • Controlling the coronavirus will help, but it’s just the beginning 

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