Briefing for November 9-13, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for November 9-13, 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 13, 2020

America’s safety net for the disabled is failing during the pandemic: The country’s disability safety net was never adequate to support many of the people who rely on it, and throughout the pandemic, it has failed those who are now unable to find ways to make up the shortfall. While the government’s Social Security Disability Insurance provides necessary aid, it was never possible to survive on it alone, making it hard for recipients to get by if they lose their supplementary earnings. Social Security offices have been closed since March, which disability experts say has caused applications from people who need help to plummet. Unemployment remains high. The SSDI program “doesn’t provide the kind of protection or opportunities that we would hope,” said Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey in an interview with BuzzFeed News. Casey has proposed various legislation to increase support for people with disabilities. “There’s no question that there are a mountain of people that, in many cases, are and could fall through the cracks because of the economic impact of the pandemic.” 

Workers who lost coverage during the pandemic may need help getting coverage this fall: Millions of Americans have been dropped from their jobs and their employer-provided health insurance since March, when the coronavirus first ravaged the economy. Although no official tally exists, studies indicate that at least 10 million workers lost their insurance but that about two-thirds of them found alternative coverage — through a new job, Medicaid, a spouse’s or parent’s plan, or the ACA marketplaces. That leaves at least 3 million people without coverage, the most added in a single year since accurate record-keeping began in 1968. Experts are worried that, as the virus continues to wreak havoc on the economy, new rounds of business closings and layoffs could add to that number. The unprecedented situation has health insurance counselors (called navigators), ACA marketplace staff members, and insurers scrambling to assist a possible surge of people looking for health insurance during open enrollment. 

When falling behind on rent leads to jail time: Evictions in Arkansas can snowball from criminal charges to arrests to jail time because of a 119-year-old law that mostly impacts female, Black and low-income renters. Even prosecutors have called it unconstitutional. 

Rural hospitals brace for coronavirus surge: Most rural hospitals didn’t get inundated with COVID-19 patients during the spring and summer surges of the pandemic. But the accelerating spread of the virus in rural regions has hospital administrators wondering how they will rise to the challenge

Is low mask wearing in rural communities a sign of poor health messaging: From STAT: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of face masks to limit the spread of COVID-19, and state mask mandates are generally associated with a decrease in case rates. Yet many individuals in rural communities eschew wearing masks. This may be partly due to public health messaging that hasn’t been tailored to rural communities. Retention of health messaging is lower in rural areas than it is in urban or suburban areas, suggesting that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to disseminating crucial health information to the public.” 

Deficit concerns loom over anti-poverty action in new Congress: AEI Director of Poverty Studies Scott Winship, the former director of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, tells Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity that Republicans will be wary of expanding anti-poverty legislation in the new Congress because of concerns about the rising federal deficit. 

Coronavirus hits harder in nursing homes with Black, Hispanic residents: Nursing homes with larger populations of Black or Hispanic residents have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a higher likelihood of reported cases and deaths, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The disparities among nursing homes with a high share of Hispanic residents were particularly high in Florida, the analysis found. And they mirror the broader trend of COVID-19 hitting communities of color hard and fast. Across the country, COVID-19 deaths are more common in nursing homes where Black or Hispanic people make up at least 20% of the resident population. 63% of long-term care facilities with that share of Black residents reported at least one COVID-19 death compared to 40% of facilities with a lower share. A similar trend was found among facilities with a high share of Hispanic residents. 

Briefing for November 12, 2020

Scammers target people still waiting for financial relief: The IRS is warning people about a text-message scam piggybacking on the economic impact payments authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The text reads, “You have received a direct deposit of $1,200 from COVID-19 TREAS FUND. Further action is required to accept this payment into your account. Continue here to accept this payment,” according to the IRS. If you get this text, take a screenshot and email it to Be sure you don’t click the link, which will take you to a fake phishing Web address that mimics the agency’s “Get My Payment” tool at 
Nursing homes are still seeing dangerously long waits for COVID-19 tests: Nursing homes are still taking days to get back COVID-19 test results as many shun the Trump administration’s central strategy to limit the spread of the virus among old and sick Americans. In late summer, federal officials began distributing to nursing homes millions of point-of-care antigen tests, which can be given on-site and report the presence or absence of the virus within minutes. By January, the Department of Health and Human Services is slated to send roughly 23 million rapid tests. But as of Oct. 25, 38% of the nation’s roughly 15,000 nursing homes have yet to use a point-of-care test, a Kaiser Health News analysis of nursing home records shows
Health experts want to prioritize people of color for a COVID-19 vaccine — but how should that be done? From STAT: “‘Having a racial preference for a COVID-19 vaccine is not only ethically permissible, but I think it’s an ethical imperative,’ said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University. ‘The reason is both because of historic structural racism that’s resulted in grossly unequal health outcomes for all kinds of diseases, and because COVID-19 has so disproportionately impacted the lives of people of color.’ There are concerns, however, about legal objections to any framework that uses race and ethnicity when determining vaccine allocation and the way it might be interpreted in court. For instance, judicial scrutiny would not allow health care workers to skip a white person in line for a vaccine in favor of a person of color, as Gostin wrote recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He also noted that legally, a public health agency could probably not distribute vaccines to geographic locations based solely on race.” 
ICU doctor stresses pandemic impact in communities of color and blames White House: Dr. Taison Bell, the director of the medical intensive care unit at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, was doing rounds in the COVID-19 ICU, caring for about 20 patients, when he noticed that his unit was full almost entirely of Black and Latinx people, despite the fact that Charlottesville is 70% white. Bell, who grew up just an hour away from the hospital, says he “just couldn’t escape the thought of this virus disproportionately killing people in my community.” As he tells NPR’s Michel Martin on All Things Considered, he had to pause rounds and “acknowledge how tough emotionally it was for me just to see what we were seeing.” “I didn’t know what to do about it,” he says. “I didn’t know how to deal with that emotion, but I had to get it out there because if I was feeling that way, I knew that several other of my team members were feeling the same way, too.” 
How a Minneapolis clinic is narrowing racial gaps in health: North Minneapolis, one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in Minnesota, was already dealing with high coronavirus infection and death rates when George Floyd was killed by the police outside a corner store just three miles away. His death on May 25 sparked deeper conversations all across the U.S. about the ways racial inequality plays out, including when it comes to health. Nationally, Black people are at least twice as likely to die from heart disease, from COVID-19 or in childbirth, compared with white people, and north Minneapolis mirrors those trends. Nearly two-thirds of Latinos in the area who get tested for the coronavirus test positive — that’s a rate nearly 10 times higher than the state’s rate overall. “We were not surprised, because we serve a community that has health disparities,” says Stella Whitney-West, CEO of NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, a community health and dental clinic and social services agency located in the heart of north Minneapolis. But NorthPoint also has a five-decade history of addressing public health through the lens of race. It was founded with a mission to increase access to health care and social services in a community that today is 90% Black, Latino or Asian. 
Limiting indoor capacity can significantly reduce COVID infections, new study says: Restaurants, gyms, cafes and other crowded indoor venues accounted for some eight in 10 new infections in the early months of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic, according to a new analysis. The study, which used cellphone mobility data from 10 U.S. cities from March to May, also provides an explanation for why many low-income neighborhoods were hardest hit. The public venues in those communities were more crowded than in more affluent ones, and residents were more mobile on average, likely because of work demands, the authors said in the research published in the journal Nature on Tuesday. 
One in five coronavirus patients develops mental illness: New research suggests that people who have survived COVID-19 infections are at a greater risk of developing mental illness. This data, published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal, indicates that 20% of observed COVID-19 patients are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety, depression, or insomnia within 90 days after being diagnosed. 
Down-ballot local initiatives could help reduce inequality: Some additional ballot initiatives from last week’s election that impact poverty and inequality:

  • San Franciscans delivered two of the biggest victories in the fight over fair taxation, including a measure to raise the real estate transfer tax on sales of properties values above $10 million. 
  • In Portland, Maine, voters also approved a $15 minimum wage proposal (with a three-year phase-in).  
  • In King County, Washington, voters approved a proposal to allow the county to sell, lease, or transfer properties for below-market value if it’s used for affordable housing. 
  • San Francisco approved a bond measure to use $487.5 million from property taxes to fund housing for homelessness and mental health facilities, as well as a proposal to build 10,000 units of affordable housing. 

Winter will devastate small businesses without a new federal lifeline: Lexi Reese and Jeanette Quick of Gusto write for The Hill: Small businesses needed to prepare for winter yesterday. It’s time for the government to deliver a lifeline that addresses their most urgent needs and gives them the power to find safe and creative ways to operate through the winter. 

Briefing for November 10, 2020

Nursing home COVID-19 deaths rise four-fold in surge states: Despite Trump administration efforts to erect a protective shield around nursing homes, coronavirus cases are surging within facilities in states hard hit by the latest onslaught of COVID-19. An analysis of federal data from 20 states for The Associated Press finds that new weekly cases among residents rose nearly four-fold from the end of May to late October, from 1,083 to 4,274. Resident deaths more than doubled, from 318 a week to 699, according to the study by University of Chicago health researchers Rebecca Gorges and Tamara Konetzka. Equally concerning, weekly cases among nursing home staff in surge states more than quadrupled, from 855 the week ending on May 31, to 4,050 the week ending on Oct. 25. That rings alarms because infected staffers not yet showing symptoms are seen as the most likely way the virus gets into facilities. When those unwitting staffers test positive, they are sidelined from caring for residents, raising pressures on remaining staff. 

Social distancing had little impact on workers with lower incomes: A new Boston University School of Public Health study of the first four months of the coronavirus epidemic, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, shows that physical distancing (also called “social distancing”) policies had little effect on lower income people still needing to leave their homes to go to work — but does show them staying home when they could. 

Despite pandemic, Trump administration to freeze farm worker pay: From The Counter: “While the results of the 2020 election remained up in the air through most of last week, the current administration continued to plow ahead on a longtime promise to lower the minimum wage for seasonal farm workers. On Thursday, with little fanfare, the Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule that will transfer approximately $170 million in projected wages per year from workers to employers, according to the agency’s own analysis. From 2021 through 2022, DOL will freeze minimum wages for over 200,000 seasonal farmworkers participating in the H-2A visa program at current levels, which were set at the end of 2019. Starting in 2023, it will then peg future wage increases to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment cost index, which DOL says will raise wages at a lower rate than under current methodology. Previously, the agency adjusted these rates every year to reflect pay fluctuations in the farm labor market. Experts believe that this new move will effectively result in a pay decrease.” 

Is the pandemic a wake-up call for state Medicaid expansion? The Center on American Progress makes the case that the pandemic has made Medicaid expansion more important than ever in states who have yet to take that step: “A new CAP analysis finds a mortality gap between expansion and non-expansion states even among majority-Black counties: 153 of every 100,000 residents died from COVID-19 in non-expansion states, compared with 125 per 100,000 residents in expansion states. Medicaid expansion is an opportunity to improve health insurance coverage for low-income residents, narrow racial disparities in access to treatment, and help insulate low-income residents from the effects of the economic recession. States that have not yet expanded Medicaid should view the pandemic as a wake-up call to do so.”  

The pandemic worsened the housing crisis; what action might a Biden administration take? Jenny Schuetz of the Brookings Institution tells Fast Company that the incoming administration could strengthen and clarify the Centers for Disease Control’s eviction ban as well as push a large COVID-19 recovery plan. Biden’s administration will also likely begin working on a few of the key issues outlined in his campaign’s housing plan, including investing in energy efficient buildings and expanding access to affordable housing vouchers. A major focus will be addressing widespread housing discrimination, according to Gerron Levi, senior director of government affairs at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a group focused on affordable housing and community development.  

Minority contact tracers build trust in diverse cities: A contact tracing program jointly launched by San Diego State University and San Diego County is helping to combat misinformation and dispel fears for immigrants, refugees, and minorities in San Diego by employing ethnically and racially diverse community members. The contact tracers help those who need to quarantine devise a plan to do so safely, while also acting as community health care workers to help those families get the necessities they need. This story comes from a special COVID-19 collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network. 

In medical schools, students seek robust and mandatory anti-racist training: Faculty members and student activists around the country have long called for medical schools to increase the number of students and instructors from underrepresented backgrounds to improve treatment and build inclusivity. But to identify racism’s roots and its effects in the health system, they say, fundamental changes must be made in medical school curriculums. This activism has been ongoing — White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL), a student-run organization fighting racism in medicine, grew out of the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests. But now, as with countless other U.S. institutions since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, medical schools and national medical organizations are under even greater pressure to take concrete action

Briefing for November 9, 2020

Virtual schooling has largely forced moms, not dads, to quit work: The pandemic recession has been dubbed a “she-session” because it has hurt women far worse than men. The share of women working or looking for work has fallen to the lowest level since 1988, wiping out decades of hard-fought gains in the workplace. On Friday, the Labor Department’s jobs report showed that the economy has gained back just over half of the jobs lost in March and April, but the situation remains dire for women. There are 2.2 million fewer women working or looking for work now than in January, vs. 1.5 million fewer men, according to the Labor Department data. Put another way, women have recovered only about 39% of the big drop in the labor force they suffered in the spring, while men have recovered 58% of their jobs. Much of the difference in these diverging fortunes for men and women boils down to moms having to stop working to take care of kids

The lessons Democrats should take away from Florida’s passage of a minimum wage hike: In last Tuesday’s election, Florida voted 60-40 in favor of Amendment 2, a ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 by September 30, 2026, even as it also voted to keep President Donald Trump in office. Beyond signaling that people just aren’t ideologically consistent, there is another — and perhaps more important — read into Florida’s results: Increasing wages is an attractive proposition to a lot of people, and it’s a position Democrats should embrace. “Across the board, it is not necessarily a left or right issue. Voters across the aisle actually know that it is impossible in Florida and around the country [to] actually survive on $8.56 and what the current minimum wage is,” Allynn Umel, national organizing director of the Fight for $15, a group that advocates for a $15 minimum wage and a union, said on a call with reporters Wednesday. 

Wedge issues continue to divide the U.S. electorate — but poverty shouldn’t be one: The Rev. William J. Barber II writes for USA TODAY: “The long story of inequality in America is that race, politics and cultural wedge issues have been deployed consistently to divide and conquer coalitions of Native, Black, white, brown and Asian Americans who have pushed this nation to guarantee equal treatment under the law and an economy that works for everyone. Those wounds don’t go away when we commit to tackle poverty, but there is promise that they can heal when we recognize that some things are not about left or right, but about right vs wrong. It’s wrong that nearly half of citizens of the richest nation in the world struggle to make ends meet. Ending poverty is a moral issue that can and must unite us all.”  

How an Oregon measure for universal preschool could be a national model: From the New York Times: “On Election Day, Multnomah County, which includes Portland, Ore., passed one of the most progressive universal preschool policies in the nation. The measure, to be paid for by a large tax on high earners, will provide free preschool for all children ages 3 and 4, in public schools and in existing and new private preschools and home-based child care centers. It will also significantly raise teachers’ wages so they are equivalent to those of kindergarten teachers. It seeks to overcome the central problem in early childhood care and education: It is unaffordable for many families, yet teachers are underpaid. The solution, Multnomah County voters decided, is to finance preschool with public funding instead of private tuition, and to pay teachers much more. It also seeks to overcome some of the pitfalls of universal preschool policies in places like New York and Washington, D.C. In doing so, early childhood researchers say the policy could serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country.” 

They lived paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic hit — then their worst nightmare came true: Even before the coronavirus pandemic, a large share of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck, teetering precariously on the edge of financial ruin. Years of stagnant wages, especially among low-income earners and people of color, coupled with the rising cost of living, made it harder and harder for many people to put much, if any, of their earnings away in case of an emergency, let alone for goals like buying a house, sending their children to college or preparing for their old age. One in three households reported difficulty making ends meet in January, before the onset of the economic and health crises, according to a recent Harvard University, George Washington University and University of Oxford study. Some 40% of Americans said they couldn’t cover a $400 unexpected bill without selling something or going into debt, a 2018 Federal Reserve report found. In other words, even as the country was in the midst of its longest economic expansion in history and unemployment levels were at half-century lows, families were one home repair, medical bill or lost paycheck away from potential disaster. Then a disaster of epic proportions hit: the COVID-19 recession. 

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