Briefing for September 13-17, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for September 13-17, 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 September 13, 2021

House Democrats look to extend monthly child tax credit payments: The Washington Post reports that House Democrats “have proposed extending the expanded child tax credit until 2025 as part of a vast array of new tax policies unveiled Friday to aid low-income Americans, fight climate change, reduce the cost of health insurance, and lower prescription drug prices. The new credits and other provisions are a central component of Democrats’ still-forming $3.5 trillion tax and spending package. Lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee released the draft measure as work continues across the Capitol to translate President Biden’s economic agenda into legislation. With the child tax credit, Democrats have sought to extend the life of a policy that Biden and top party lawmakers have described as essential to addressing poverty. If adopted, it would allow families to benefit from a credit of $3,000 for each child between ages 6 and 17, and $3,600 for each under age 6. Families could receive those sums in monthly installments, rather than waiting until they file their taxes annually to claim the benefits.” 

Recovering from a broken school year: As part of a special New York Times’ magazine package on the impact of the pandemic on the education system, Emily Bazelon moderates a panel discussion featuring six experts who discuss the effect on students and how this school year can help them recover. Meira Levinson, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and former middle-school teacher for Atlanta and Boston public schools, comments on the pandemic’s impact: “There’s a lot we don’t know yet, but we do have scattered studies and some standardized test data from various states. And those pretty consistently show that kids knew less and performed less well on tests at the end of the last school year than kids in the equivalent grades have performed in previous years. Kids who come from more historically marginalized communities — poor students, Black and Latino and Native American students, students with disabilities — on average experienced a larger gap, compared with previous years, than kids who come from wealthier families or who are white or affluent and/or who attend private school. We also know that entry into community colleges and other two-year college programs is down, though entry to four-year colleges, particularly at selective schools, has not dropped much. So, what we see is greater stratification of the American educational system. These inequities have been present for centuries, but they have been very much exacerbated.” 

Poor diet dramatically influences COVID death toll, study finds: From Arizona State University’s Cronkite News: “Researchers are studying possible connections between poor diet and America’s staggering death toll. Early studies show deaths could be affected by multiple factors, including rates of vaccination, mask and social distancing policies, and environmental pollution. But the types of food that Americans eat — spurred by government policies and discrimination against people of color — may be another cause, researchers say. ‘I think … beyond a doubt that poor nutrition has contributed to more severe COVID outcomes, more hospitalizations, and more deaths,’ said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston. Mozaffarian co-authored a study published in February estimating that about two-thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. are due to just four conditions: obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure. Mozaffarian called COVID-19 the perfect storm for these underlying conditions to wreak havoc on the body. ‘COVID-19 is not just a virus that attacks the lungs, like a normal flu virus,’ he said. ‘COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the blood vessels and causes really excess inflammation … and so it’s like pouring gasoline on the fire.’ According to a CDC analysis of more than 148,000 COVID-19 patients from April 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, 78% were overweight or obese. The agency flagged obesity as a major risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19.” 

100 groups call for extension of WIC food and vegetable benefit: The Packer reports that more than “100 organizations, including the United Fresh Produce Association, have signed a letter to Congressional leaders urging an extension of the short-term increase to WIC benefits for fruits and vegetables that expires on Sept. 30. After four months of increased access to vegetables and fruits, over 4.7 million WIC participants will see a benefits cliff on Sept. 30. ‘As a group of the nation’s leading food and nutrition security, health policy, child health, and retail and agriculture organizations, we urge Congress to act swiftly — before Sept. 30 — to extend the WIC benefit increase to assure that mothers and their children have adequate resources to ensure nutrition security,’ the letter said. ‘Maintaining the increased WIC CVB at $35 per month will contribute to positive economic impacts to low-income families and the statewide economy as well as ensure families have access to healthy food, playing a critical role in improving nutrition and health across the lifespan.’ The National WIC Association, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School (CHLPI), Vouchers 4 Veggies — EatSF, United Fresh, and more than 95 other organizations signed the Sept. 7 letter, according to a news release.” 

Stillbirths have doubled in Mississippi during the pandemic — officials are sounding the alarm: From the Washington Post: “Mississippi has recorded 72 fetal deaths in unvaccinated pregnant women infected with the coronavirus, state health officials announced Wednesday, sounding the alarm on the virus’s danger in pregnancy. Speaking during a news conference, Mississippi State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said those deaths had occurred since the start of the pandemic. The number, which includes only deaths that occurred past 20 weeks of gestation, ‘is twice the background rate of what would be expected,’ he said. ‘That’s quite a number of tragedies that, sadly, would be preventable right now,’ Dobbs said, referring to the availability of vaccines. He said the state is also investigating the deaths of eight pregnant women who were infected with the virus. Those deaths occurred over approximately the past four weeks, during the Delta variant-fueled surge, he said. Many underwent emergency Caesarean sections in an attempt to save their babies. Citing those cases, Dobbs and other state health leaders urged those who are pregnant to get the shot that can protect them from the virus. ‘We encourage you to please get vaccinated,’ said State Epidemiologist Paul Byers, noting that his daughter had recently delivered a healthy baby after rolling up her sleeve. ‘That’s going to be the best way to ensure that you and your babies stay healthy.’ Research has found that pregnant and recently pregnant women face a higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19, with an increased likelihood of requiring hospitalization, intensive care, and use of a ventilator. Those who contract the virus in pregnancy are also at greater risk of preterm birth.” 

From COVID to Ida, Louisiana’s marginalized ‘see no way out’: The Associated Press reports: “Darkness set in for Natasha Blunt well before Hurricane Ida knocked out power across Louisiana. Months into the pandemic, she faced eviction from her New Orleans apartment. She lost her job at a banquet hall. She suffered two strokes. And she struggled to help her 5-year-old grandson keep up with schoolwork at home. Like nearly a fifth of the state’s population — disproportionately represented by Black residents and women — Blunt, 51, lives below the poverty line, and the economic fallout of the pandemic sent her to the brink. With the help of a legal aid group and grassroots donors, she moved to Chalmette, a few miles outside New Orleans, and tried to settle into a two-bedroom apartment. Using a cane and taking a slew of medications since her strokes, she was unable to return to work. But federal benefits kept food in the fridge for the most part. Then came Hurricane Ida. The storm ravaged Louisiana as the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the U.S. mainland, wiping out the power grid before marching up the coast and sparking devastating flooding in the Northeast. Among survivors of the deadly storm, the toll has been deepest in many ways for people like Blunt — those who already lost livelihoods to the COVID-19 pandemic in a region of longstanding racial and social inequality. Advocates say the small wins they’d made for marginalized communities and people of color since the pandemic began have been quickly wiped out. ‘The government is really disconnected from what it’s like for people who have little to no safety net,’ said Maggie Harris, a documentarian and grassroots organizer who last year created a fundraiser for Blunt and other women economically devastated by the pandemic. ‘You marginalize people, you don’t pay them enough, they have health problems and aren’t insured, you offer little cash assistance or rent assistance, and you allow them to be evicted. The message that people get is their lives are expendable.’” 

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