Briefing for October 12-15, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for October 12-15, 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 October 12, 2021

When child care costs twice as much as the mortgage: Jason DeParle of the New York Times goes to Greensboro, N.C. to explore the child care crisis that the Biden administration is attempting to come to grips with through new legislation. “To understand the problems Democrats hope to solve with their supersized plan to make child care better and more affordable, consider this small Southern city where many parents spend more for care than they do for mortgages, yet teachers get paid like fast food workers and centers cannot hire enough staff. With its white pillars and soaring steeple, the Friendly Avenue Baptist Church evokes an illusory past when fathers left for work, mothers stayed home to mother, and education began when children turned five. But its sought-after preschool illuminates the dilemmas of modern family life. Until their elder son started kindergarten this fall, Jessica and Matt Lolley paid almost $2,000 a month for their two boys’ care — roughly a third of their income and far more than their payments on their three-bedroom house. But one of the teachers who watched the boys earns so little — $10 an hour — that she spends half her time working at Starbucks, where the pay is 50% higher and includes health insurance. The center’s director wants to raise wages, but has little room to pass along costs to parents who are already stretched. She has been trying since February to replace a teacher who quit without warning; four applicants accepted the job in turn, but none showed up. ‘I’ve been an administrator for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,’ said the director, Sandy Johnson. ‘Directors are at the point where they’re willing to hire anyone who walks through the door. The children deserve far more than that, and the families deserve far more than that.’” 

Eviction confusion — End of U.S. ban doesn’t cause spike: The Associated Press looks at some potential reasons why the expected tidal wave of evictions has not yet become a reality after the end of the U.S. evictions ban. “After a slow start, the pace to distribute the first $25 billion installment of $46.5 billion in rental assistance is picking up. Treasury Department officials said the program had served 420,000 households in August — up from 340,000 in July — and distributed $7.7 billion since January. Treasury officials said the strong signs of progress came from New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina, which at first struggled to get their programs going. New Jersey, for example, sent out no money in the first quarter but now has distributed 78% of its first-installment money and doubled the number of households served in August compared with July. Spending in Florida increased from $60.9 million in July to $141.4 million in August while South Carolina went from $10.6 million to $25.3 million. New York saw a jump from $8.5 million to $307 million. ‘These numbers are still early, uncertain, and there is likely additional pain and hardship not showing up in these reports,’ said Gene Sperling, who is charged with overseeing implementation of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package. ‘But what is out so far is certainly better than anyone’s previous best-case scenario for the month after the moratorium.’” 

Community clinics shouldered a huge burden during the vaccine rollout — But many have not been paid: Kaiser Health News reports: “Community clinics in California say they haven’t been paid for at least 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses given since January, creating a ‘massive cash flow problem’ for some and complicating efforts to retain staff. Clinics in other states, including Michigan and Mississippi, are also awaiting payment. The delays stem from the distinct way federally qualified health centers are reimbursed for care under Medicaid, the joint federal-state program providing health coverage for low-income people. Some centers are not even billing for the shots because they say it’s too complicated. Clinics are owed tens of millions of dollars, at minimum, for shots they’ve given since the vaccines received emergency authorization. Of the roughly 70,000 doses administered by La Clínica de la Raza, an organization with more than 30 Bay Area locations, almost none of those costs have been reimbursed, chief financial officer Susan Moore said. And the clinics don’t expect to receive reimbursement for around half of those shots because they were administered to the community without collecting insurance information. The extra staff time and supplies were covered with grant money.” 

Diapers are the latest pandemic shortage: The New York Times reports that diaper need — long a source of difficulty for many low-income families — has escalated during the pandemic. “The pandemic has upended global supply chains and created a run on many products, including diapers. Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble, two of the country’s largest diaper manufacturers, increased the prices of baby products this year. A typical package of 100 diapers costs $30 to $50 from most online retailers. Even a small price increase can put a strain on families, many of whom pay around $75 for a month’s worth of diapers for one baby, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. Many parents have to choose between buying diapers or other necessities, and some will leave their child in a soiled diaper because they can’t afford a replacement.” 

In Maryland, 21,000 are on the waiting list for a Medicaid home-based care waiver: The Washington Post reports that Maryland is just one of many states with enormous waiting lists for Medicaid-assisted home care, numbers that have been driven even higher by the impact of the pandemic on nursing homes. “In 2005, facing criticism that the long-term care system in the United States had an ‘institutional bias,’ the federal government made it possible — but not mandatory — for states to offer home and community-based services (HCBS) with Medicaid dollars. The goal was to let regular families access at-home help, a type of care usually reserved for the affluent. But over the past decade, experts say, these waiver programs have fallen far short of meeting demand. Across the country, at least 820,000 people — primarily the disabled and the elderly — are on wait lists for waivers that could help them afford home care, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Eligibility requirements, resources, and wait times for these programs vary from state to state, but most were under-resourced even before the coronavirus pandemic, leaving applicants to wait an average of 39 months.” 

More families could take advantage of broadband benefit: One of the many programs funded by Congress to help working families weather the pandemic is the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which allows eligible households to receive a discount to their broadband bill of up to $50 per month or $75 per month if the household is on a Tribal land. The EBB program also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer, tablet, or other device for qualifying households. But while the EBB has been enormously helpful to those who have used it, many families are leaving the benefit on the table. More than 19 million families that qualify are still not enrolled, according to MediaJustice, one of the groups trying to help raise the visibility of the EBB. The Federal Communications Commission reported recently that just $378 million of the more than $3 billion budgeted for the program has been allocated so far. MediaJustice National Organizer Brandon Forester spoke recently with Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity about the benefit. 

Some student loan borrowers may miss out on Child Tax Credit: CNBC reports that a quirk in legislative language could keep Child Tax Credit payments from going to over nine million student loan borrowers who are in default. “The expansion of the child tax credit is aimed at lifting millions of American families out of poverty. Yet an omission in its legislative language may leave behind a group that would most benefit from it: struggling student loan borrowers. The American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed into law in March, expanded the existing child tax credit, upping the payments, making them available to more people, and doling out the money in monthly installments. Under the new rules, families can get up to $3,600 a year for each child below the age of 6, and as much as $3,000 for those between 6 and 17. Beginning in July, that led to eligible households receiving up to $300 a month per child. The full credit, however, may not reach student loan borrowers in default.” 

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