Briefing for October 13-16, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for October 13-16, 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 October 16, 2020

Eight million have slipped into poverty since May as federal aid has dried up:From Jason DeParle for the New York Times: “After an ambitious expansion of the safety net in the spring saved millions of people from poverty, the aid is now largely exhausted and poverty has returned to levels higher than before the coronavirus crisis, two new studies have found. The number of poor people has grown by eight million since May, according to researchers at Columbia University, after falling by four million at the pandemic’s start as a result of a $2 trillion emergency package known as the Cares Act. Using a different definition of poverty, researchers from the University of Chicago and Notre Dame found that poverty has grown by six million people in the past three months, with circumstances worsening most for Black people and children. “These numbers are very concerning,” said Bruce D. Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago and an author of the study. “They tell us people are having a lot more trouble paying their bills, paying their rent, putting food on the table.” 

Trump’s Medicare drug discount cards face uncertain future: Three weeks after President Trump announced the government would send tens of millions of older Americans $200 to help pay for medicine, the election-season idea is mired in uncertainty over whether such drug discount cards are legal, proper or will ever exist. Since the last-minute inclusion of the cards in a presidential speech, Trump’s aides and Medicare officials have been hastily drafting and revising a proposal to build scaffolding under the president’s promise. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are distancing themselves from the idea, each emphasizing that they were not consulted by the White House before the president’s announcement, three officials familiar with their thinking told the Washington Post. 

Pandemic-fueled stress eating, inequities, lack of fitness expected to increase child obesity: Pediatricians and public health experts predict a potentially dramatic increase in childhood obesity this year as months of pandemic eating, closed schools, stalled sports and public space restrictions extend indefinitely. About one in seven children have met the criteria for childhood obesity since 2016, when the federal National Survey of Children’s Health changed its methodology, a report out Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found. Though the percentage of children considered obese declined slightly in the past 10 years, it is expected to jump in 2020. “We were making slow and steady progress until this,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a Northwestern University economist and professor. “It’s likely we will have wiped out a lot of the progress that we’ve made over the last decade in childhood obesity.” 

How poor regions lose out from Census undercounts: Getting an accurate count of America’s population has proven difficult in the 2020 Census as the coronavirus pandemic has hampered voluntary responses and forced officials to scale back door-knocking efforts. The Trump administration has placed other hurdles on the path to an accurate count. Its attempt to add a question about citizenship to the census earlier this year likely discouraged undocumented immigrants from filling out the survey, even though the administration’s effort failed, demographics experts say. Local officials nationwide worry about the impact of undercounts on their communities. “This is going to be the worst response rate we’ve ever had,” said Lauren Reichelt, Health and Human Services Director for Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. 

The medical community has failed people of color in the past; these doctors want to build trust: To help bridge a historic trust gap and champion the interests of Black people and other marginalized groups during the pandemic, the National Medical Association, the nation’s leading organization of Black physicians, set up an expert task force to vet regulators’ decisions about COVID-19 drugs and vaccines. The task force will also vet government recommendations for tackling the pandemic, which continues to disproportionately affect Black people and other communities of color. In many ways, the National Medical Association is doing what it has done since it was founded in 1895 as an organization to advocate for the interests of Black physicians and patients during an era when the American Medical Association barred membership to Black people. 

Briefing for October 15, 2020

Millions face jobless benefits cliff with lifeline set to expire: A failure by Congress to enact a new economic relief package would prolong the pain of the coronavirus crisis for many Americans, but those without jobs face a special threat — millions could run out of unemployment benefits altogether by the end of the year. The Senate reconvenes on Monday, giving lawmakers about two weeks to send legislation to President Donald Trump before the Nov. 3 election. But the sides are far apart, with Democrats demanding at least $2 trillion in funds, Republicans pushing for $500 billion, and the White House attempting to bridge the gap even as Trump sends conflicting signals about what he wants. 
America’s history of racism was a pre-existing condition for COVID-19: In a six-part series, a team of USA TODAY reporters explores how the policies of the past and present have made Black, Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans prime targets for COVID-19. They found: 

  • America’s education and economic systems are still unequal, disproportionately leaving people of color out of higher-wage jobs. When COVID-19 struck, more people of color were serving as essential workers directly in the path of the virus. 
  • Decades of discrimination in housing corralled people of color into tightly packed neighborhoods, fueling the virus’ spread. Those neighborhoods tend to lie in “food deserts,” leading to diabetes, obesity and heart disease that make people more likely to die from the virus. 
  • Environmental policies designed by white power brokers at the expense of the poor have poisoned the air they breathe, fueling cancers and leaving communities weakened in the path of the virus. A lack of federal funding left the most vulnerable communities cut off from healthcare at the most critical moment. 
  • Of the 10 U.S. counties with the highest death rates from COVID-19, seven have populations where people of color make up the majority, according to data compiled by USA TODAY. Of the top 50 counties with the highest death rates, 31 are populated mostly by people of color.  

‘Staggering need’  COVID-19 has led to rising levels of food insecurity across the U.S.: June report by the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern University found that food insecurity had doubled overall and tripled among families with children due to the pandemic, relying on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. One of the authors of that report, IPR director Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, wrote in a September report for the Food, Research and Action Center that the number of adults who reported that members of their family often did not have enough to eat rose from nearly 8 million in 2018 to between 26 and 29 million between this April and July. In an interview with CBS News, Schanzenbach said that she was “confident” that this pattern of rising food insecurity would “continue to hold.” “I do feel very comfortable saying it’s really elevated,” Schanzenbach said. 

Thirty U.S. cities to tackle budget crises and advance equity: On Wednesday,Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the 30 U.S. cities that will participate in the What Works Cities City Budgeting for Equity and Recovery program, a new effort that will help cities confront budget crises while strengthening their commitment to equity in the wake of COVID-19. The program will help cities develop and implement plans to drive financial recovery and ensure that their budget crises do not disproportionately harm low-income residents and communities of color. It will also provide the opportunity for leaders from the 30 cities to problem solve with a network of peers and produce a set of tactics for other local leaders to follow. 

The business interests of vaccine trials work against people of color: From Quartz: “Pharmaceutical companies’ struggle to recruit diverse participants to test potential COVID-19 vaccines reflects broader business interests that reinforce racial bias. The industry has long failed to prioritize enrollment of minority groups, instead creating financial incentives for recruitment clinics that emphasize speed at the expense of diversity. Addressing those long-standing biases is critical to conducting any high-quality vaccine study. The work is time-intensive and, having failed to prioritize diversity until now, many organizations running clinical trials are struggling to change their practices under pressure.” 

The hardest hit in the South call for help: Spearheaded by Stacey Abrams, the SouthStrong coalition — 175 Southern organizations, scholars, and community groups working for an equitable pandemic response — has released a new report, “2,300 SOUTHERN VOICES Call for Help.” SouthStrong, along with Propel (maker of the Fresh EBT app that helps users manage their public assistance benefits), heard from 2,300 SNAP-recipients in 12 southern states about their experiences during the pandemic, public policies that have helped them, and what they want to tell policymakers at this moment

People of color shouldn’t be treated equally in vaccine trials they should be over-represented: Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency room physician who studies racism and sexism in medicine, says there should be a disproportionate representation of people of color in the COVID-19 vaccine studies. “Balanced representation should be disproportionate representation of Black and brown people, because they’re more affected by the disease,” Choo told Marketwatch. “Investors should be really asking them, what are your plans so that this is as widely disseminated as possible.” 

Briefing for October 14, 2020

Two Black university leaders urged their campuses to join a COVID-19 vaccine trial  The backlash was swift: The presidents of two historically Black universities in New Orleans thought they were doing a public service by enrolling in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial back in August, so much so they urged their campus communities to consider doing the same. “I said we should inform our communities because I think there’s something about teaching by example,” said Reynold Verret, a biochemist who leads Xavier University of Louisiana. “We’re two Black men who rolled up their sleeves.” So Verret and Walter Kimbrough of Dillard University were stunned by the fierce backlash that followed their joint letter to faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Hundreds of outraged commenters flooded their schools’ InstagramTwitter, and Facebook accounts. “Our children are not lab rats for drug companies,” said one post. “I can’t believe a HBCU would do this to our people,” said another reply. “Tuskegee, Tuskegee. …Me and mine aren’t first in line,” said another response. 

‘Waiting for FEMA’  Thousands who fled Louisiana hurricanes languish in hotels: In already challenging 2020, with dual hurricanes hitting southwestern Louisiana during a pandemic and an economic collapse, thousands of displaced and distraught residents now face another indignity: They are waiting for help, sometimes in seedy hotels far from home, hoping that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will come to their rescue with temporary homes, funding, anything. 

Kentucky’s digital divide is a challenge for kids trying to learn in rural areas: In Kentucky’s western coalfield region, Ashley Hale’s 11-year-old son had to manage virtual learning since the spring with spotty internet. Trying to help her child get set up with his online classes from their Hartford home and communicating with her son’s teachers in Ohio County Schools became a test of patience. One phone call with a teacher to go over schoolwork was dropped three times within 10 minutes, Hale said. “I can’t get any other provider out here,” Hale said in August. “…Most of the time, I have to go out on my driveway to get a signal so it doesn’t drop.” These conundrums are part of Kentucky’s digital divide, which leaves thousands of kids without internet while they are forced to learn at home during a pandemic

In this small West Virginia town, a local cooperative is proving high-speed internet can work: In Wardensville, a town near West Virginia’s border with Virginia, all of the approximately 260 residents have access, if they want it, to a high-speed internet connection, thanks to a local internet company and a decade-old federal grant. Wardensville is an outlier. For years, West Virginia has sat near the bottom of national rankings of broadband access. That’s despite state and federal officials channeling millions of dollars in federal subsidies to the telecommunications giant Frontier in an effort to prop up its aging network in the state. Now, most of West Virginia’s rural communities are largely reliant on Frontier for both phone and DSL internet connections — if they’re available at all. This story comes from Mountain State Spotlight, the new non-profit newsroom in West Virginia. 

Black Americans are paying more to own a home and falling farther behind: Black Americans pay more than any other group to own a home, a disparity that contributes to roughly half of the $130,000 retirement savings gap between Blacks and whites, according to a new study from MIT. Black homeowners pay more in mortgage interest, mortgage insurance and property taxes than other homeowners, according to the paper by Edward Golding, executive director of the MIT Golub Center for Finance and Policy, and co-authors Michelle Aronowitz and Jung Hyun Choi. Overall, the differences in mortgage interest payments amount to $743 a year, mortgage insurance premiums come to $550 a year and property taxes are about $390 per year. Together, this results in $67,320 in lost retirement savings for Black homeowners when invested over 30 years, according to the paper. 

How do kids learn online when English is not their native language? Tulsa found a way: Early signs show that teacher planning, support for families outside the classroom and an investment in translation are helping families in any school district that teaches English learners. In Tulsa, support for English learners ranges from the academic to the practical — from breakout virtual classrooms for language support to backpacks brimming with underwear and socks. This story comes from a special COVID-19 collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network.

Briefing for October 13, 2020

No home, no wi-fi — pandemic adds to strain on college students from families with low incomes: Trapped between the financial hardships of the pandemic and the technological hurdles of online learning, the millions of low-income college students across America face mounting obstacles in their quests for higher education. Some have simply dropped out, while others are left scrambling to find housing and internet access amid campus closures and job losses. 
Landlords, lobbyists launch legal war against federal eviction ban: Landlords, apartment owners and housing industry groups have unleashed a barrage of legal challenges against the Trump administration’s order protecting renters from eviction, leaving millions of families once again facing the risk of homelessness in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Over the past month, an array of lawyers and lobbyists have inundated federal, state and local courts. They have sought to stop renters from invoking the federal ban, and in some cases, they’ve tried to quash the policy altogether, arguing that the government did not have the authority to issue it in the first place. 
Three in five older workers could retire in poverty because of pandemic: The majority of older workers could end up poor in retirement because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, according to a recent study. 61% of workers 55 and over may retire in poverty when they reach 65, according to the study from the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School, up from 56% if no recession occurred this year. About 3.1 million workers will be forced to leave the labor force and into involuntary retirement because of the COVID-19 outbreak, another analysis from the center found
People of color face significant barriers to mental health services: Racism and stigma make it harder for people of color to get services, and it’s gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic. Mental health issues affect everyone, but people of color — Black, Latinx, Asian and Native American people — have higher rates of some mental health disorders and face greater disparities in getting help than White people. Those issues are primarily due to lack of access to services resulting from institutional discrimination, interpersonal racism and stigma — which can all harm the psyche of people of color in places where they are not the majority. 
COVID-19 gag rules at U.S. companies are putting everyone at risk: In the past few months, U.S. businesses have been on a silencing spree. Hundreds of U.S. employers across a wide range of industries have told workers not to share information about COVID-19 cases or even raise concerns about the virus, or have retaliated against workers for doing those things, according to workplace complaints filed with the NLRB and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 
‘I chose the worst year to get my life together’  Recent college grads struggle to start careers: At the start of the year, Generation Z, typically defined as those born after 1997, was headed into the workforce during the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. But with more employers cutting jobs and some boosting qualifications for open positions, many recent college graduates are worried they’ll fall behind in their careers. Some are saving money for student loan payments by cutting expenses, while others are applying for part-time and low-wage jobs. Many still live with their parents. 
How to build equitable, climate-change ready communities in the wake of COVID-19: The Center for American Progress offers suggested policy changes Congress can take to strengthen low-income and tribal communities and communities of color from the impact of climate change: 

  • Provide $2 billion for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) in the next COVID-19 relief package 
  • Fund $30.36 billion for Community Development Block Grant 
  • Provide $2.25 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program 
  • Create a Healthy Communities and Resilient Infrastructure Fund 
  • Expand funding for federally qualified health centers 
  • Provide $6 billion for the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program 
  • Fund anti-displacement strategies 

One in four pregnant people with COVID-19 may have lingering ‘long-haul’ symptoms: A recent study at the University of California, San Francisco, found that COVID-19 symptoms lingered in many of the study participants, which included 594 pregnant or recently pregnant people, most of whom were not hospitalized. Half of the participants still reported illness after three weeks, while 25% were still recovering after two months or longer. (The typical duration for mild cases is two weeks.) 

Public schools are rethinking an increasingly crucial function  feeding students: As restaurants reopen and re-shut across the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic, public school cafeterias have been cranking out millions of meals over the summer while figuring out the logistics of feeding students in the new academic year. Gone are the salad bars and buffets where students mix-and-match their ideal lunch. Instead, open schools are delivering meals to classrooms, restaurant-style, while others are setting up grab-and-go lines and having students eat outside or in gyms, auditoriums and choir rooms. And schools where students are learning from home are continuing summer’s meal pickups, an increasingly important function as families struggle to make ends meet

How COVID-19 exposes a disability reporting gap: The disability community is disproportionately affected by issues like police violence and climate change. But media rarely includes disabled voices

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