Briefing for September 20-24, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for September 20-24, 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 20, 2021

Battle over Biden’s child-care bill takes new turn with virus: From Politico: “Working women, whose child-care duties vastly expanded during the pandemic, are bracing for a new hit to their incomes and careers as the resurgent coronavirus jeopardizes plans to keep kids in school full time. After 18 months of shutdowns, online learning, and canceled summer camps, the return to classrooms was supposed to be a turning point for women, whose participation in the labor force plunged to its lowest level in more than three decades during the pandemic. But as COVID-19 cases rose in the summer, more than 40,000 women dropped out of the labor force between July and August, even as Americans flocked back to work, government data shows. Men returned to the job over that period at more than three times that rate. That’s lent new ammunition to the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers in their push to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to overhaul the nation’s child-care industry to make it more accessible and affordable, arguing that doing so is the only way to get families back on track. They worry about a repeat of last September, when more than five times as many women as men fell out of the workforce. ‘I don’t see a way that we can truly have people returning to work, especially women, in the numbers that we need if we are not providing for child care,’ Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), a member of the House Democratic leadership, said in an interview. The latest jobs numbers, she said, ‘are a red flashing light that now is the time to invest in women in our workforce.’” 

Child-care workers are quitting rapidly, marking a red flag for the economy: The Washington Post reports: “Hiring and retaining good workers has been tough in the child-care industry for years, but it is escalating into a crisis. Pandemic-fueled staffing challenges threaten to hold back the recovery, as the staffing problems at day cares have a ripple effect across the economy. Without enough employees, day cares are turning away children, leaving parents — especially mothers — unable to return to work. Nearly 1.6 million moms of children under 17 are still missing from the labor force. They dropped out during the pandemic to care for children and have not been able to return to work as the school and day care situation remains chaotic, especially for unvaccinated children under the age of 12. There are still COVID-19 outbreaks occurring at schools, and some child-care centers and after-school programs remain closed or they are accepting fewer children. Even the White House is concerned. In a report this past week, President Biden’s Treasury Department called the current child-care system ‘unworkable,’ with high costs for parents, low wages for employees, and not enough spots for kids.” 

Homelessness and eviction have long been public health crises — The pandemic made them worse: Scalawag looks at efforts in several southern cities to cope with the eviction and homelessness crises — chronic issues across the region made even more acute by the pandemic. “In Texas, the pandemic brought a swift pivot to healthcare support for Austin’s Ending Community Homelessness Coalition (ECHO), a nonprofit that plans and implements strategies to end homelessness in Travis County. The organization’s main role is to act as a connector between different support systems. Part of their work is helping place people in temporary lodging that the city started providing at the beginning of the pandemic, and longer-term housing options. When it comes to helping unhoused folks get vaccinated, they’ve created flyers that show folks both where to get vaccinated and why they should consider it a safe option. ‘Homelessness is a source of constant crisis,’ said Kate Moore, Austin ECHO’s vice president of Strategic Planning and Partnerships. ‘You’re dealing with daily trauma. Where are you gonna use the bathroom? Where are you gonna get your next meal? Are you safe? With all of those daily crises, it can be really difficult to take the time to do something outside of your daily needs, like get a vaccine.'” 

Pregnant Girl  Telling teen parents to ‘dream big and keep going’: The stigma around teen parents has gotten slightly less negative in recent years — but not nearly enough in the view of Nicole Lynn Lewis. Lewis recently published Pregnant Girl, the story of her own experience as a teen mother who persevered to put herself through college and then graduate school. In 2010, Lewis founded Generation Hope, a nonprofit group that helps teenage families in the Washington, D.C., metro area with financial assistance and mentoring to help them thrive in college and help their children succeed in kindergarten. Lewis spoke to Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity recently about her book, Generation Hope’s plans for its second decade, and the new challenges teen parents have faced during the pandemic.  

Parents of students with disabilities try to make up for lost year: From the New York Times: “Education experts have said that it may take months or years to fully grasp the learning loss that children have suffered from remote schooling during the pandemic. But many of the parents and guardians of the roughly 200,000 students with disabilities in New York City say they have already seen drastic damages from their children’s loss of their usual therapies, services, or learning accommodations. Each school year presents myriad challenges for the thousands of parents who file for special education services. But the shift to remote learning has ‘exacerbated pre-existing achievement gaps’ for children with disabilities, according to a recent report by the state’s comptroller’s office. As the New York City school year starts this week, with no remote option for most students, these parents are bracing to see just how far their children have fallen behind. To address such gaps, the New York City Department of Education said it would spend $251 million for special education this fiscal year as part of its Academic Recovery Plan, funded by the Biden administration’s pandemic rescue stimulus package. Part of the money will be used to launch after-school and Saturday programs that will provide specialized instruction and services for all special education students, the city said.” 

Why working-class parents aren’t buying what D.C. is selling: Writing for the New York Times, Patrick T. Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, argues that some families want to see work requirements for the expanded Child Tax Credit. “By making an expanded child tax credit available for one year to all but the wealthiest households, the Biden administration is aiming both to strike a major blow against child poverty and to create a political constituency to guarantee the benefit’s longevity. Polling, however, finds the child benefits have lagged in popularity. A new YouGov/American Compass poll found that only 28% of voters said they preferred the expanded child tax credit to be made permanent and go to ‘all families, regardless of whether they work to earn money.’ This could be because of the credit’s slow rollout and the submerged nature of carrying out social policy through the tax code. But it could have more to do with the disconnect between policymakers in D.C. and working-class parents, particularly when it comes to family policy. The biggest divide may be on the importance of work. For a new report, the Institute for Family Studies (a conservative think tank) and partner organizations hosted focus groups of white parents in southeastern Ohio, Black parents around Atlanta, and Hispanic parents in the San Antonio area. We heard parents talk about work as a way of paying into the system, the price of admission for being eligible for government benefits like the expanded child tax credit. ‘Some people will be responsible with it,’ said a Hispanic dad in Texas. ‘The other people will just live off of it.’” 

COVID hits wildfire fighters even harder than last year: Stateline reports: “As wildfires rage across Western states, flattening rural towns and forcing thousands of people to evacuate, coronavirus cases and pandemic-related supply chain problems have made it harder to deploy firefighting resources to where they’re needed, fire officials say. More firefighters appear to be falling ill with COVID-19 and quarantining this year than last year, the officials say, because of the highly contagious Delta variant and mixed adherence to COVID-19 safety measures such as masking, vaccinations, and social distancing. ‘Last year, I actually was incredibly, pleasantly surprised by how little COVID it seemed like we had,’ said Melissa Baumann, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees’ Forest Service Council. Her union represents U.S. Forest Service employees, including wildland firefighters who work for the agency. ‘I did not hear of whole [fire] crews going down, right and left,’ she said. ‘I’m hearing that this year.’ In addition to the extra stress it puts on fire crews, the uptick in cases has alarmed some officials in Western states, who say fire-prone communities need all the help they can get to fend off dangerous blazes. ‘On the fire line and in camps, COVID-19 not only threatens the health of firefighters but our ability to deploy critical firefighting resources to the fire lines,’ wrote Washington state’s commissioner of public lands, Hilary Franz, to the U.S. secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior last month. ‘At a time when we need them the most, we cannot afford to have any get sick.’” 

A global pandemic has increased the financial struggles that already existed for rural hospitals: 100 Days in Appalachia, National Geographic, and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project have partnered to create Critical Condition, a three-part series documenting the impact of hospital closures on rural Appalachian communities in the wake of COVID-19. “Since 2010, 138 rural hospitals across the country have shut down. With the precipitous drop in revenue throughout the pandemic, many more are now in jeopardy. Hospital closures are both a symptom and a cause of the deteriorating condition of rural health care and of rural economies. The first consequence of a hospital closure is the loss of the emergency room. Access to specialty care is diminished. Then there’s the economic ripple effect. In many rural communities, the hospital is the biggest employer; tax revenue plummets, other businesses suffer.” 

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