Briefing for October 26-30, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for October 26-30, 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 30, 2020

Black and Hispanic workers, particularly women, lag in the U.S. recovery: The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone. Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, the G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15%. Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months. 
State unemployment offices are discovering errors that have impacted hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans: At the start of the pandemic, many Americans were not getting the unemployment benefits they were due. Now, seven months into the economic crisis, another problem is emerging: In the chaotic rush to push out payments, some workers have been paid by mistake and states are insisting that the recipients return the money. Incidences of unemployment-benefit overpayments are on the rise across the country, advocates at legal aid organizations say. National data is not yet available, but a few states that have released their numbers hint at the scale of the problem. In Texas, officials are seeking to recoup $214 million from 260,000 claimants. 
How landlords can support their tenants during the pandemic: The Urban Institute outlines ways landlords can help tenants during this challenging time while also keeping their own properties occupied: “Landlords’ capacity to support their tenants in this moment varies widely. Some landlords may be better positioned to provide financial relief and social supports to residents than others. For example, owners of larger portfolios are more likely to have financial reserves and credit to see them through the next few months. And landlords who accept housing vouchers may have more rental income stability than those who are solely reliant on rental payments from unsubsidized renters. Others may have long-standing relationships with residents and community partners that have enabled them to quickly pivot to address urgent needs and concerns at a relatively low cost.” 
Black participation in vaccine trials is crucial to Black economic recovery: Michelle Singletary of the Washington Post profiles Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC). Hrabowski and his wife, Jacqueline, want to change attitudes in the Black community about the dangers of vaccines, save lives and help rekindle the economy. Singletary writes: “The Hrabowskis, who are Black, volunteered for a Phase 3 clinical vaccine trial being conducted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine. They hope to serve as an example to show Black people they can trust the science behind the rush to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. ‘Our Black friends are surprised and worried that we’re in this trial,’ Freeman Hrabowski said in an interview. ‘And our attitude is very different from that. We have a chance to work for the public good and to help people in general and African Americans to understand that we’ve got to be a part of this process if we want to make sure that all of the challenges involving every population have been addressed as they look for a safe vaccine.’”
What rural America needs to weather the pandemic: An issue brief from the Center for American Progress has these policy suggestions to help rural America during the pandemic

  • Expand Medicaid 
  • Pass significant federal fiscal relief, especially state and local relief 
  • Elevate rural issues by re-establishing the White House Rural Council or other means 

Briefing for October 29, 2020

For each COVID-19 patient, a family is suffering too: The number of Americans hospitalized with the virus is increasing again, reaching 41,000 late last week, many with a circle of loved ones holding vigil in their minds even if they can’t sit at the bedside. A decade ago, critical care clinicians coined the term post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS. It describes the muscle weakness, cognitive changes, anxiety and other physical and mental symptoms that some ICU patients cope with after leaving the hospital. Those complications are fallout from the medications, immobility and other possible components of being critically ill. Now they worry that some family members of critically ill COVID patients may develop a related syndrome: PICS-Family. Studies show that about one-fourth of family members, and sometimes more, experience at least one symptom of PICS-Family, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or “complicated grief” — grief that is persistent and disabling — when their loved one has been hospitalized, according to a 2012 review article published in the journal Critical Care Medicine. Dr. Daniela Lamas, a critical care physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, believes relatives and friends of coronavirus patients may be particularly vulnerable. 

Renters thought a CDC moratorium protected them from eviction. Then, landlords found loopholes: Anchored in public health concerns that the economic stress of the pandemic will force millions of renters from the safety of their homes and into the crosshairs of a fast-spreading virus, the Centers for Disease Control issued an order in September aiming to keep the estimated 40 million renters facing eviction this year in place through Jan. 1. “I want to make it unmistakably clear that I’m protecting people from evictions,” President Trump said in a statement when the CDC order was announced. But tens of thousands of renters have realized that, rather than offer a bubble of stability in the midst of the pandemic, the federal response has injected confusion into housing courts. Because of the order’s wording, which gives local judges room for interpretation, and pushback from landlords, evictions have continued. According to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, from Sept. 4, the date the CDC order took effect, through Oct. 17, 20,523 evictions were filed in the 22 cities monitored by the project’s researchers. 

Pandemic raises, lowers hurdles for disabled voters: The pandemic has created new problems for voters with disabilities — even as many of them are benefitting from the relaxation of rules regarding who can cast an absentee ballot. Many people with disabilities, estimated to be one-sixth of voters this year, encounter barriers when they attempt to vote in person. In a 2017 study of polling places used during the 2016 election, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 60% of them had one or more potential impediments. The most common were steep ramps outside buildings, a lack of signs indicating accessible paths and poor parking or path surfaces. Because of the pandemic, many states this year are not requiring a specific excuse for absentee voting — a relief for some people with disabilities, said Doug Kruse, a professor at Rutgers University and co-director of the school’s disability research program. As a result, he said, turnout among voters with disabilities may increase this year. Absentee ballots, however, can create challenges for some people with disabilities who need assistance to mark their ballots, such as the visually impaired. The issue of assistance with voting is particularly acute in assisted living facilities. In past election years, visiting relatives or friends could help residents fill out their ballots. But pandemic-related restrictions have curbed visitors, and in some states, such as North Carolina and Louisiana, state laws prohibit facility staff from helping residents vote. 

Seniors are forming pandemic pods to ward off winter isolation:Older adults in all kinds of circumstances — those living alone and those who are partnered, those in good health and those who are not — are deliberating what to do as days and nights turn chilly and coronavirus cases rise across the country. Some are forming “bubbles” or “pods”: small groups that agree on pandemic precautions and will see one another in person in the months ahead. (Other age groups are pursuing this “let’s stay connected” strategy as well.) Still, others are planning to go it alone. 

Facts have never mattered more: Dr. Kimberlyn Leary, the new senior vice president at the Urban Institute, talks to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity about her new position and Urban’s role as a provider of evidence-based analysis during a time of pandemic and racial tumult.  

How do you spell fiscal relief? American Prospect co-founder and co-editor Robert Kuttner argues that the Federal Reserve is not maximizing the pandemic relief resources it has at its disposal: “With any kind of corona relief package off the table until after the election and states and localities bleeding revenues and jobs, it’s a crime that the Federal Reserve is not liberalizing the terms of municipal lending under the existing CARES Act that Congress passed back in March. That $3 trillion relief package provided the Fed with $500 billion, which can leverage other lending at ratios of 10 to 1, or even more. Most of this money has gone to support Wall Street money markets.” 

Briefing for October 28, 2020

Single moms fear falling through holes in pandemic safety net: From NPR: “A lot of people need help in the pandemic, but especially single mothers. There are approximately 13.6 million single parents in the U.S., raising 22.4 million children. 80% of those single parents are moms. Women have lost more jobs than men during the recession, and others are quitting their jobs in frustration from the demands of child care. However, quitting is just not an option for most single parents. For single moms who are working, many feel fortunate to have a job, but between juggling remote school and housework, there’s never enough time. ‘I’m always kind of half-awake,’ says Ellen Griffin, with an exhausted-sounding laugh. ‘Last night I think it was 2 a.m. before I fell asleep, and then [I was] up at 6 a.m.’ Griffin is a single mom in Birmingham, Ala., where she works at a public library. She has two kids, 10 and 13. Before she gets to work at 8 a.m., she needs to get her older son set up for remote school at her father’s house. He’s 90 years old.” 

Food workers, rural Americans, go hungry despite farm aid: As hunger rises in America, the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout is under scrutiny ahead of the Nov. 3 election that could be decided by hotly contested Midwestern states like Wisconsin. President Donald Trump has funneled a record amount of aid to the agricultural sector, the majority going to big farms over food workers or small-scale farmers. Meanwhile, more than 54 million people in the United States could struggle to afford food during the pandemic, with the biggest increases in food insecurity in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to Feeding America, a network of 60,000 U.S. More people who harvest food, work in food processing and even own their own farms now need food assistance, according to dozens of food bank workers nationwide. 

Second food-stockpiling wave has hit, with 3,400% pantry surge: American consumers who’ve worked their way through the trove of shelf-stable meals they frantically bought back in March are at it again. This time, food makers are prepared. General Mills Inc., the maker of Cheerios and Annie’s boxed mac and cheese, added 45 external production lines through contractors since the first round of pantry loading this spring. Campbell Soup Co. spent $40 million to expand production of Goldfish crackers and is building capacity for chip brands like Cape Cod. Conagra Brands Inc. boosted third-party manufacturing and warehousing, while Stonyfield Farm, a producer of organic yogurt and milk, added farmers to its supply network. 

Minnesota nonprofits turn attention to voter outreach: Videos in American Sign Language are helping deaf and hard of hearing Minnesotans learn how to register to vote. At food shelves, volunteers are handing out voter registration forms along with frozen yogurt. And at mosques, churches and temples across the state, religious leaders are reiterating: Go vote. This year, nonprofits are boosting outreach to get more Minnesotans to vote in the Nov. 3 election, especially people of color and those who are often disenfranchised. While nonprofits have long focused on civic engagement — most recently, encouraging people to fill out the 2020 census — they’re doubling down on voter efforts as the COVID-19 pandemic increases interest in mail-in voting, which began in Minnesota on Sept. 18. “Nonprofits are really well-positioned to do civic engagement work. They’re rooted in communities,” said Catherine Gray, the Minneapolis Foundation’s director of impact strategy and civic engagement. “These are trusted messengers.” This story comes from a special COVID-19 collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network. 

Pandemic complicates college prep for Native students: Troubling statistics underscore the need for programs to help Indigenous students to prepare for and succeed in college — but many of those programs have been scuttled because of the coronavirus. “We know that rigorous college preparatory curriculum is essential for Native students in order to create equitable and strong pipelines to college,” Lashawna Tso, New Mexico’s new assistant secretary of Indian Education, wrote in an email to New Mexico In Depth. In 2020, in addition to cancellation of in-person events, government budget crunches threaten the very existence of programming meant for Indigenous students in their transition to college. New Mexico state lawmakers cut college readiness funding in June during a special session to balance the state budget.

Briefing for October 27, 2020

Trump administration fights in court to block pandemic aid for lowest-income Americans: The Trump administration is fighting in federal court to block states from giving billions of dollars in emergency food stamps to the lowest-income Americans during the coronavirus crisis. Residents of Pennsylvania and California have sued President Donald Trump’s Agriculture Department over a policy that has kept roughly 40% of households who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from receiving any emergency benefits during the pandemic. After being ordered by a federal judge last week to proceed with the payments in the Pennsylvania case, the department is continuing to appeal. 

Medicare and Medicaid to cover early COVID-19 vaccine: This week, the Trump administration will announce a plan to cover the out-of-pocket costs of COVID-19 vaccines for millions of Americans who receive Medicare or Medicaid, four people with knowledge of the pending announcement told POLITICO.  Under the planned rule, Medicare and Medicaid will now cover vaccines that receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, the people said, which is a change from current policy. The regulations, which have been under development for weeks, are likely to be announced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Now more than ever, the stock market is not the economy: President Trump routinely draws a straight line between the outsized performance of the U.S. stock market and his economic policymaking. At the last presidential debate, he not only took credit for heftier 401(k) balances those stock gains powered, he warned it would all “go to hell” in a Biden administration. But the stock market is not the economy. Markets routinely fall out of step with broader economic trends, a fact plainly evident to the tens of millions of people who remain out of work or underemployed even as Wall Street dutifully clawed back most of its pandemic-driven losses from earlier in the year. That point was underscored recently with the release of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, a snapshot of household financial health that is updated every three years. In 2019, it showed, 47.4% of U.S. families owned no stock whatsoever. That includes indirect ownership through retirement accounts like 401(k) plans. For nearly half of all Americans, in other words, the stock market’s movements have no direct impact on their personal financial health

Where a stimulus is needed most: Axios reports on Census Bureau data showing that three of the country’s four most populous states expect to see at least one in four citizens lose some employment income in the next four weeks. 

‘My students are up against COVID-19, economic despair, online learning and heedless results’: Larry Strauss, a high school English teacher in South Los Angeles since 1992 and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, writes: “I used to walk around while I was teaching. Sometimes my step-counting app registered 2 miles just inside my classroom and the hallways of the school. In the dog days of the pandemic, I am grateful that I still have a job and that I can afford a new chair so that when I’m hunched over my computer to teach, my back hurts less. My home office is quiet, and when the wildfire smoke isn’t too thick, I can let a breeze come in through the window and brush my face. My 180 high school students do not enjoy such accommodations. Most of them huddle in crowded living spaces with second-rate technology and unreliable internet, trying to learn and earn good grades amid distractions that include having to manage the online learning of their younger siblings, some with special needs. The pandemic has thrown many of their families into economic despair. In some homes, high school seniors search the web for college scholarships while parents calculate their proximity to homelessness. Some have already descended to that condition. They’re scattered across the city, the region and, in some cases, the Western United States to bunk with uncles and aunts and cousins.” 

How racism amplifies COVID-19 risk for everyone: From Vox: “The concentration of over 223,000 U.S. COVID-19 casualties in vulnerable Black and brown communities, while unconscionable, has not been a surprise. Systems like policing and low-wage labor trap a disproportionate number of people from these communities in unsafe interactions. People of color are more likely to be stopped, arrested, and jailed. They are also more likely to work in low-wage jobs classified as essential, without the ability to take time off, get adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), or avoid exposure to people who refuse to wear masks. Those elements, combined with other socioeconomic factors such as segregated housing and lack of health care, suggest that Black and brown Americans will contract and die from COVID-19 at much higher rates than their white peers. Even as we continue to learn how exactly the virus infects and kills some but not others, the data confirm those fears. This summer, the Brookings Institution think tank found that racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths persist across “all age categories.” What we did not know — and what our response has not reflected — is how those disparities are not just tragic outcomes but drivers of infection and death. As experts in social psychology, data science, sociology, statistical inference, and public safety, we constructed a new model that illustrates how the racial disparities in our essential systems amplify the risk of infection for everyone, including those who may have imagined themselves as separate from the people behind the climbing casualty figures.” 

Black women were among the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs — then the pandemic arrived: From Forbes: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has decimated small businesses and early-stage ventures, especially those owned by women and people of color. Black women sit at this juncture, bearing a disproportionate share of the virus’s impact. For years, Black women have created new businesses at a rapid clip, far outpacing other racial and ethnic groups. But strong financial headwinds from the pandemic and a lack of access to new funding sources threaten to wipe out decades of economic progress, leaving Black female business owners in a state of perpetual uncertainty, waiting for relief they fear will never come.” 

Briefing for October 26, 2020

Hospital bills for uninsured COVID-19 patients are covered, but no one tells them: Most major health systems participate in a program through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in which uninsured patients with COVID-19 have their bills covered. It was set up through the pandemic relief legislation known as the CARES Act. But few of those systems inform patients of that upfront. There’s no requirement to, which is one of the program’s shortcomings, says Jennifer Tolbert of the Kaiser Family Foundation who studies uninsured patients. “This is obviously a great concern to most uninsured patients,” Tolbert says. Her research finds that people without insurance often avoid care because of the bill or the threat of the bill, even though they might qualify for any number of programs if they asked enough questions. 

Years of being denied basic rights left Latino farmworkers vulnerable to the pandemic: Thousands in California’s Imperial County have been sickened or killed by COVID-19. Imperial County, which is 85% Hispanic, has consistently had one of the highest death rates in the United States at a time when Latinos are one of the hardest-hit ethnic groups in the pandemic, according to data compiled by USA TODAY. Farmworkers here pull from the ground the lettuce and broccoli that end up on dinner plates across America. This work often means low wages, poor nutrition and scant access to health care — factors that put them in the crosshairs of the coronavirus. Imperial County’s suffering mirrors the struggles of many Latinos across the nation, who are more likely than non-Hispanic white Americans to face poverty and poor nutrition after centuries of being pushed into low-paying jobs and segregated communities. Now, they are also more likely to die from COVID-19. As of Oct. 15, Imperial County had counted 335 COVID-related deaths. That’s 185 deaths per 100,000 residents — nearly triple the national rate of 66 per 100,000. Neighboring San Diego County, which has half the percentage of Hispanic residents, has a drastically lower death rate (26 per 100,000). 

Meatpacking workers say attendance policies force them to work with potential COVID-19 symptoms: From a collaborative reporting project between the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and the USA TODAY Network: “In April, despite his fever, a meatpacking worker continued to carve neck bones out of pig carcasses at a JBS plant in Iowa. Two weeks later, he would test positive for COVID-19. But in the meantime, he said, he kept clocking in because of a punitive attendance system widely used in meatpacking plants: the point system. Under the policy, workers usually receive a point or points for missing a day. If they gain enough points, they’re fired. For a few months earlier this year, as case counts swelled, Tyson Foods suspended its point system, and Smithfield Foods said it has halted its version for the time being. However, the point system has endured at Tyson and JBS plants throughout the pandemic, and it has continued to coerce people with potential COVID-19 symptoms into showing up to work, said plant employees, their family members, activists and researchers.” 

Researchers find doubts about coronavirus vaccine among people of color: The Food and Drug Administration is preparing for the eventual rollout of one or more COVID-19 vaccines by identifying the concerns that some people have about taking such a vaccine. At a meeting last Thursday of experts advising the FDA on COVID-19 vaccines, the concerns of front-line workers and people of color were read aloud verbatim, highlighting the crucial project of communicating the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine in an environment of deep political distrust. Those concerns were gathered at a series of listening sessions organized by the Reagan-Udall Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to advance the work of the FDA. 

Inequality has been building for decades in the U.S., but experts say the coronavirus ‘ripped it open’: Experts, who have been trying to sound the alarm on the growing economic inequality in the United States for the past few decades, are seeing their worst fears realized during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March, tens of millions of Americans across the country have lost their jobs as a result of the economic fallout from the pandemic. No group has been spared: men and women, young and old, Black and white. But as the economy starts to recover, some groups are faring significantly worse than others, including Blacks, Hispanics, millennials, mothers and low-wage workers in the service industry. They are not returning to work at the same rate as white professional workers.  

Pennsylvania vote-by-mail law expands access for everyone except voters with low incomes: This year, for the first time, any registered voter in Pennsylvania can apply for and receive a mail ballot without having to give a reason for being unavailable on Election Day. But in Philadelphia, the poorest big city in America, a law that passed with bipartisan support and was touted as providing historic access to the ballot box is doing little to boost turnout among low-income Philadelphians, according to a data analysis by The Philadelphia Inquirer and ProPublica. Instead, they are casting ballots in person when they do vote — even during a deadly pandemic that has disproportionately affected low-income people and people of color. 

Parents are worried about schools. Are the candidates? Communities large and small are battling over whether and how to reopen schools closed since March. Superintendents are warning of drastic budget cuts on the horizon, teachers’ unions are calling for standardized tests to be canceled for a second straight year and millions of children are learning remotely, with little evaluation of the impact on their academic growth. Yet for months now, the extraordinary challenges of schooling during the coronavirus pandemic have not been a dominant campaign theme for either President Trump or his opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. 

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