Briefing for October 18-22, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for October 18-22, 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 18, 2021

With hospitals still full from COVID, 1 in 5 American families delay health care: From NPR: “Last month, Chelsea Titus, a 40-year-old mother of one in Boise, Idaho, needed surgery to relieve severe pain from endometriosis. But hospitals there are so full of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients that doctors told her she’d have to wait. Nearly 1 in 5 American households has had to delay care for serious illnesses in the past few months, according to a new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Titus, who works for a tech company from the home she shares with her husband, her daughter, and a labradoodle named Winston, previously had surgery for endometriosis in which doctors removed her uterus and one ovary. When the condition flared again in September, the pain was severe. ‘Sometimes it feels like I am in active labor,’ she says. Endometriosis affects millions of women in the U.S. when tissue that typically grows inside the uterus also grows outside it. When the initial medication that Titus received didn’t help, she reached out to her on-call doctor. ‘He said, If the hospitals weren’t in the situation they were in, I would have you in for surgery today,’ she recalls.” 

USDA flagged millions of fraudulent COVID-19 hunger relief deliveries: The Counter reports: “Under the former Trump administration, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) made millions of dollars in payments to unqualified hunger relief contractors despite multiple warnings of potential fraud, according to a new congressional report. The findings stem from a year-long investigation by the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis into the Farmers to Families Food Box program. The report lends new evidence to previous allegations that the taxpayer-funded program paid contractors well over market price for food, placed undue burdens on already-taxed food banks and pantries, then failed to conduct sufficient oversight on the contractors it flagged for potential fraud. It cites reporting from The Counter extensively. ‘While the Trump Administration designed the Food Box program in a manner that would support agriculture and contractors, the program was not appropriately structured to meet its other primary goal: delivering healthy food to Americans struggling in a pandemic-induced economic crisis,’ the report reads.” 

The last days inside Trailer 83: Hannah Dreier of the Washington Post looks at the mounting challenges facing FEMA and housing disaster victims in an era of extreme weather through the experience of a California couple who spent nearly a year in FEMA housing and still had nowhere to go when it shut down. “When survivors are left with nowhere to go, the government sends FEMA to give them free housing, typically for up to 18 months after the date of the disaster. The agency has provided emergency trailers to nearly 200,000 families over the past 15 years. But now, with disasters and the needs that follow them increasing, the government finds itself trying to decide what it owes the displaced. How long is truly long enough to shelter the most vulnerable? Is it sufficient to give them housing or do they need social services, too? And should an emergency management agency really be playing landlord for years at a time in the first place?” 

Fewer in U.S. turn to food banks, but millions still in need: The Associated Press reports: “Hunger and food insecurity across the United States have dropped measurably over the past six months, but the need remains far above pre-pandemic levels. And specialists in hunger issues warn that the situation for millions of families remains extremely fragile. An Associated Press review of bulk distribution numbers from hundreds of food banks across the country revealed a clear downward trend in the amount of food handed out across the country, starting in the spring as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout took hold and closed sectors of the economy began to reopen. ‘It’s come down, but it’s still elevated,’ said Katie Fitzgerald, COO of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the efforts of more than 200 food banks across the country and that provided the AP with the national distribution numbers. She warned that despite the recent decreases, the amount of food being distributed by Feeding America’s partner food banks remained more than 55% above pre-pandemic levels. ‘We’re worried (food insecurity) could increase all over again if too many shoes drop,’ she said.” 

College students struggle with mental health as pandemic lingers: From the Washington Post: “College students nationwide are more stressed — with the coronavirus pandemic adding loneliness, worry about illness, economic distress, relentless uncertainty, and churn to a time of life that is already challenging for many. Demand for mental health services had already been high, but a recent study of college students found increased levels of anxiety and isolation during the pandemic. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 10% of adults surveyed in June 2020 had seriously considered suicide within the past month. Two years earlier, the share stood at about 4%. The issue is particularly acute for young adults. Among 18-to-24-year-olds surveyed in 2020, the CDC said, about 25% had seriously considered suicide. ‘It’s heartbreaking to see students struggling so much,’ said Kendra Randle, 20, a junior at the University of North Carolina studying neuroscience and psychology.” 

Has the pandemic changed anti-hunger policy forever? There is no silver lining to a pandemic in which more than 700,000 people have died and millions have suffered severe economic and emotional distress. But the government’s response to COVID-19, specifically in the use of direct-cash benefits, has raised hopes that in the midst of tragedy, policy solutions may have been discovered that could make the future brighter. Politico senior food and agriculture reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich explored the topic recently in a story headlined: “Could COVID-19 finally end hunger in America?” Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity spoke with her recently about what policymakers have learned about curbing food insecurity during the pandemic and what those insights may mean for future policy.  

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