Briefing for October 4-8, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for October 4-8, 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 4, 2021

Many Americans saw their fortunes rise in the last year — and some lawmakers see lasting lessons: From Politico: “Poverty rates have dropped to their lowest level in more than a decade. Workers’ wages are rising. Children’s hunger rates are falling, bankruptcy filings have plummeted, and more people had health insurance in 2020 than the year before. Pretty upbeat news for an otherwise wretched pandemic year. Many Americans of ordinary means are doing markedly better in key areas than they were before the coronavirus shutdowns crippled major parts of the economy, recent data and surveys show, suggesting that the trillions of dollars in government relief in the last year not only kept people afloat but also pushed lots of them further ahead. That’s fueling a debate over what role the government should continue to play in reshaping Americans’ livelihoods. Democrats say the gains offer a case study in what U.S. society could look like if Congress vastly expanded the social safety net — an argument that many are making as lawmakers weigh whether to shell out another $3.5 trillion on programs that would limit families’ child-care expenses, make health insurance more affordable, and offer permanent tax breaks to families with kids, among other provisions. ‘You have to concede that these changes are making a difference — that we are inching up a bit, and that there is a discernible reduction of poverty,’ said Rep. Danny Davis, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means subcommittee on worker and family support. ‘We are investing in the return of our economy.’” 
‘The moratorium saved us — It really did’: Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, writes for the New York Times about the importance of the eviction bans issued by the Centers for Disease Control: “What have we learned from this brave national policy and historic experiment? We can start by asking if it worked. Did the moratorium prevent evictions? Did it promote public health? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes. The eviction moratorium was among the most important public health interventions of the pandemic. It saved lives, and the Supreme Court’s decision to vacate the moratorium will cost lives. The Eviction Lab at Princeton, which I direct, estimates that the eviction moratorium helped prevent 1.55 million eviction filings, affecting more than 3.7 million people. This number is almost certainly an underestimate of the moratorium’s true reach, since it’s based on data covering most but not all of the country and since it reflects the difference between the average number of evictions initiated in previous years — years without a pandemic and the resulting economic fallout — to the number initiated after the moratorium went into effect. (It should also be noted that the C.D.C. order did not cover all evictions, and some judges flat-out ignored it anyway.)” 
Pandemic EBT made real difference in reducing food insecurity during pandemic: A new study from the Brookings Institution looks at the impact of the Pandemic EBT program, which provided families with an electronic debit card to purchase groceries for the value of the school meals missed due to pandemic-related school closures for the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the 2020-21 school year, and, in some states, the summer of 2021. The study finds the program: 

  • Reduced the share of families in SNAP households where children experienced very low food security by 17%. 
  • Reduced food insufficiency among SNAP households by 28%. 
  • Had the largest effects in alleviating food hardship in states with relatively high rates of school closures due to COVID-19. In these states, Pandemic EBT reduced child very low food security by 22% and household food insufficiency by 39%.  

Parent perspectives on the expanded Child Tax Credit: The Urban Institute surveyed 20 families who had at least one child under age 6 and reported an income below 250% of the federal poverty level. The key findings: 

  • 16 out of the 20 parents reported receiving the credit at the time of the interview. 
  • 13 parents prefer receiving monthly payments; four prefer receiving single year-end payments. 
  • Nine parents anticipate their primary use of the monthly payments will be essential bills, and eight anticipate primarily using it for emergency funds or savings. 

The interviews also observed some common issues for parents who have not received the credit, such as lacking a bank account to receive the direct deposits, assuming they are ineligible for the CTC because they hadn’t filed a tax return, lacking clarity on whether foster children are eligible, or lacking clarity on eligibility more generally. 

Mississippi aid program reached few renters but gave millions to law firm: The Washington Post finds that a Mississippi program to distribute federal housing aid got a fraction of its funds into the hands of renters — but the state gave $3.5 million to an Alabama law firm to oversee the program. “Across America, state distribution of federal cash meant to help people facing eviction during the pandemic has been uneven and slow. But Mississippi’s program has been one of the more problematic. More than seven months after Congress and former president Donald Trump created the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Mississippi had spent only 11% of $186.7 million in first-round funding according to the Treasury Department, compared with a national average of 32%. Mississippians are clamoring for the funds: 9,000 people applied to the program in August, up nearly 130% from the entire period from March 29 to July 31, said Scott Spivey, executive director of the Mississippi Home Corporation (MHC), the state’s quasi-governmental housing agency charged with running the program. But tenants and local advocates say it can take more than a month to get a response from the program, which is administered in part by Balch & Bingham, a politically connected Alabama law firm. Hired through a no-bid $3.8 million contract by MHC, Balch & Bingham plays a key role in reviewing and scrutinizing aid applications, a process critics say leads to enormous delays.” 

Extending the Child Tax Credit to undocumented immigrants is playing with fire: Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Center writes for American Compass: “Buried within the Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation package is a provision to extend the recently expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) to undocumented immigrants. This would be a grave mistake, and I say that as both a supporter of the CTC expansion and as a proponent of more liberal immigration. When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased the CTC in 2017, it also amended the law to require households claiming the credit to provide a valid Social Security Number (SSN) for each eligible child. Prior to the reform, a family could claim the per-child tax refund using only an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN. The IRS created ITINs in 1996 to ensure immigrants who are unable to obtain an SSN can still file taxes if they need to — including immigrants without lawful status. Allowing mixed-status families or immigrants with citizen children to claim the CTC is one thing. Extending it to undocumented children without an SSN is outright playing with fire. While the approximately 675,000 children who aren’t eligible for a SSN because of their immigration status would surely benefit from a monthly payment of $250–$300 per child, that’s all the more reason for Congress to create a pathway to their legal status. In contrast, eroding the distinctions afforded by citizenship or legal residency in lieu of reaching a political settlement on immigration reform effectively end-runs the democratic process, which is important to uphold even if one dislikes the consequences of the current impasse.” 

Affordable housing is essential for upward mobility: Edna Primrose, Assistant Director of Policy for the Education and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, writes for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: “To plan for the long-term creation of more affordable housing, we must expand data resources that provide a more accurate picture of the affordable housing landscape and affordability gaps. We also need additional funding for more accurate data tracking national eviction rates. Currently, the only data that the federal government collects about eviction is for public housing. There is no federal database of nationwide evictions. Long-term solutions for expanding affordable housing will require collaboration, leveraging multiple funding sources, reimagining lending decisions, and introducing innovative financial products that can help ensure the nation’s existing stock of affordable housing remains intact and habitable while also building a supply of new homes to address inventory shortages. We must plan now for the future. The ground we break today can create pathways to economic mobility for millions of children and families tomorrow.” 

I left poverty after writing Maid — but poverty never left me: Writer Stephanie Land, whose book Maid is now a series on Netflix, has an essay in Time on her experience going from food stamps to literary notoriety: “When people tell me I deserve all of this, I tell them everyone does. When people tell me I earned this, I picture the machine that printed out so many copies of my book and know that it did so because I am that resilient, educated person whom most expect to be successful. I am Little Orphan Annie skipping around in new shoes, singing, ‘Yesterday was plain awful, but that’s not now, that’s then.’ I’m the story we love to hear, and every time I speak to an audience, I point that out. It has become my purpose. But as my friend Rene Denfeld recently wrote on Facebook, ‘We live in a world that embraces the success story only because we are O.K. with the majority suffering.’ We need to look marginalized people in our community in the eye and listen to their stories of struggle, heartache, and impossibility. We need to sit with the pain people in systemic poverty and systemic racism experience, especially because those two things go hand in hand. There are excellent books on this subject, like Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. When people ask me how to help, I tell them to ask people what they need. I’m betting the answers are things like tampons and diapers and $10 for gas, because life is so small and short-sighted when you’re that hungry that you can’t demand affordable housing and a living wage. That’s for all of us who have means to fight for.” 

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