Briefing for September 21-25, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for September 21-25, 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 September 25, 2020

As coronavirus deaths continue to mount, racial disparities persist — and in some cases get worse: Data gathered early in the pandemic showed that communities of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 across the United States. But incomplete data left a muddy picture of these disparities. Today, as the U.S. has surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 deaths and reached nearly 7 million confirmed cases, racial data is more complete, and the trend is crystal clear: People of color get sick and die of COVID-19 at rates higher than whites and higher than their share of the population. The trend has persisted — and in some cases worsened — since NPR analyzed this data in May. As the country struggles to bring the pandemic under control, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans bear an unequal burden. An NPR analysis of the latest data available from the COVID Tracking Project shows how this plays out state by state. Here are the key findings of the national picture: 

  • African Americans continue to get infected and die from COVID-19 at rates more than 1.5 times their share of the population.   
  • In Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan, African Americans are dying at a rate more than 2.5 times their share of the population. 
  • Increasingly, Hispanics and Latinos die from COVID-19 at rates higher than their share of state populations. In May, this was true in only seven states, but now it is true in 19 states and the District of Columbia. 

Structural racism worsens the pandemic for Black and Latinx elders: A lifetime of discrimination makes older people of color especially vulnerable. On top of the risk of contracting the virus, research shows adults 65 and older are more than seven times as likely as younger adults to die from COVID-19. And among all older adults, older Latinx people have death rates approximately two times higher than older white people, and for older Black people the rate is approximately three times higher. 

Rural hospitals teeter on financial cliff as COVID Medicare loans come due: Many hospitals accepted loans from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services when the pandemic hit. The loans are technically due to be repaid at the end of the month, though the federal government has not yet begun trying to recoup its money, with the coronavirus still affecting communities nationwide. But hospital leaders fear it may come calling for repayment any day now. More than 65% of the nation’s small, rural hospitals — many of which were operating at a deficit before the pandemic — jumped at the Medicare loans when the pandemic hit because they were the first funds available, said Maggie Elehwany, former vice president of government affairs for the National Rural Health Association. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee included partial relief for all hospitals in a new government funding plan. The committee’s proposal would extend the start of the repayment period for hospitals and the amount of time they are allowed to take to repay. The continuing resolution that includes this language about relief for hospitals (among many, many other things) is still being hammered out, though it does face its own deadline: It must be approved by the House and the Senate within the next nine days or the federal government faces a shutdown. 

Fewer students are going to community college, despite high unemployment: Enrollment at U.S. community colleges has dropped nearly 8% this fall, newly released figures show, part of an overall decline in undergraduate enrollment as students face a global pandemic and the worst economic recession in decades. Often, enrollment in higher education spikes in times of high unemployment and recession as students seek additional job skills and postpone entering the workforce. But the pandemic has overturned those traditional calculations, according to preliminary data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which tracks college enrollment. 

The pandemic could widen the achievement gap; A generation of students is at risk: Gaps in access to school resources fall along racial and socioeconomic lines, and that gap has been magnified during virtual schooling. One in three Black, Latino or American Indian/Alaska Native families, for example, do not have high-speed home internet and are more likely than their white peers to be disconnected from online learning, a recent analysis shows. “Those who are at the bottom of the achievement gap are much worse off because of COVID-19 and distance learning,” said Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, “and the achievement gap is exacerbated.” 

Students of color more likely to be learning online: A Brookings Institution analysis shows that Black, Hispanic, and Asian students are, on average, around fifteen percentage points more likely than white students to live in a “remote-only” school district. In the absence of aggressive policy interventions, this online learning gap could widen existing educational disparities by race. 

Parents sue Los Angeles school district, calling online learning an ‘educational crisis’: The Los Angeles Unified School District’s distance learning plan has caused “enormous learning losses” and left tens of thousands of Black and Latino students without a basic education, according to allegations in a class action lawsuit filed against the district on Thursday

Harvard’s Chetty finds economic carnage in wealthiest zip codes: The data tracker built by Raj Chetty and his Harvard University colleagues maps the economic devastation of the pandemic down to the block level. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Chetty recently briefed former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on his latest findings and told them “the recession has essentially ended for high-income individuals,” while the bottom half of American workers represented almost 80% of the jobs still missing. 

Disaster looms for many as Congress remains deadlocked on pandemic assistanceAn NPR poll finds 19% of Americans say they are having “serious problems” paying their rent or mortgage, and 11% have fallen behind. Latino and African American households are twice as likely to be behind compared to white families. 

Briefing for September 24, 2020

The eviction crisis has begun: Alieza Durana and Anne Kat Alexander of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University write for the Washington Post that between the expiration of the CARES Act eviction provisions and the CDC order barring many evictions on Sept. 4, “…we got a glimpse of the looming eviction crisis: In places that lacked local protections, and where we have data, evictions spiked — a sign of the social catastrophe to come if the CDC and local moratoriums end and Congress declines to step in.” 
Cities move from quick fixes to long-haul solutions for homelessness: In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, city leaders acted quickly to protect residents experiencing homelessness. Many cities turned hotels, convention centers, recreation halls, and other unused spaces into shelters. That allowed people at existing shelters to maintain social distance and gave those who needed to quarantine or recover from infection a safe space to do so. While those early days are behind us, the virus is not — and thousands more have become homeless due to the pandemic’s economic turmoil. Rather than waiting for a vaccine to return things to “normal,” cities are getting creative about turning short-term responses into long-term solutions. For example, Seattle is putting $60 million toward building nearly 600 units for chronically homeless residents, the city’s biggest single-year investment in permanent supportive housing ever. In San Diego last week, the city’s Housing Commission agreed to purchase two hotels to house up to 400 people who have been temporarily living at the city’s convention center. 
Push for racial justice creates momentum to protect Black-owned land: Lawyers and advocates say the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with federal provisions in the 2018 farm bill, have sparked greater interest in succession planning among rural landowners. The changes are happening against the backdrop of a broader national awakening to racial injustice, even in agricultural spaces. Black-owned land with active farm operations has decreased roughly 85% over the past century. About 95% of farmers are white. Heirs’ property is vulnerable to being snatched up without families knowing what they own, or it can become carved up among relatives and then lost entirely if just one person sells their share. As a result, heirs’ property contributes to the racial wealth gap and is among the strongest examples of historic and structural racism. 
The thrift store can be a community lifeline during a pandemic — as well as a risk for older volunteers: From Brieanne Berry and Luisa S. Deprez for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity: “The immense strain on formal social safety net programs like unemployment insurance, food stamps (SNAP), and housing vouchers has been well-documented. Yet the informal social safety net, of which thrift stores are an important part, is under the same strain, and facing a far greater risk of collapsing. Elderly women have, for so long, done the invisible work of accepting, sorting, and selling discarded goods to benefit the community. How do we proceed knowing that these women are at risk while the people they serve are in need?  What is the risk to the community if they do not remain open?” 
COVID-19 tanked the hotel industry; Workers of color are feeling the biggest squeeze: COVID-19’s economic aftershocks have hit the hospitality industry especially hard. Experts say it may not return to pre-pandemic strength until as late as 2023. That disruption presents both an immediate financial hardship and a long-term, existential one as veteran employees face the prospect of losing financial stability and status accrued over decades of work. Most jobs in the hotel industry are service-sector jobs, like those such as line cook or housekeeper, which have a majority Black and Latino workforce, according to federal data. 
Native Americans feel double pain of COVID-19 and wildfires: Native American tribes are no strangers to fire. Working with flames to burn away undergrowth and bring nutrients and biodiversity back to lands is an ingrained part of their heritage. But epidemics are also a familiar scourge. With the devastation that pathogens like smallpox and measles brought to Native populations following the arrival of Europeans, tribes are especially wary of COVID-19’s impact. “When thinking about the potential of COVID-19 repeating history and wiping out entire communities and tribes, there is concern,” said Vernon Stearns, who is responsible for organizing controlled burns as the fuels manager for the Spokane Tribe in eastern Washington. Some tribes have abandoned traditional fire suppression techniques, watching large swaths of land burn in order to protect a more fragile and essential resource: their people.

COVID-19 is making women’s economic situation even worse: Key findings from a National Women’s Law Center analysis

  • More than half of Black, non-Hispanic women (54.5%), Asian, non-Hispanic women (56.3%), and Latinas (63.7%) reported a loss of income since March, compared to 45.1% of white, non-Hispanic men and 46.0% of white, non-Hispanic women.  
  • More than 1 in 5 Black, non-Hispanic women (21.5%) and Latinas (21.1%) reported not having enough food in the past week, making them three times more likely than white, non-Hispanic men (7.0%) to report experiencing food scarcity.  
  • More than 2 in 5 Black, non-Hispanic women (40.8%) and Latinas (44.6%) reported facing housing insecurity, compared to 15.4% of white, non-Hispanic men.  

Briefing for September 23, 2020

Vast majority of Americans want additional aid to offset COVID woes: Americans are becoming increasingly pessimistic about the U.S. economic rebound, with almost 90% saying Washington needs to pass a new stimulus package to mitigate the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The growing concern about the economy, detailed in a new poll of likely voters for the Financial Times, comes even as Americans increasingly believe the country has turned the corner after the spike of infections this summer, which forced several states to slam the brakes on reopening plans. The monthly survey for the FT and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that more than 60% of Americans believe the outbreak — which has killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S. — is either staying the same or getting better in their local communities, the most optimistic outlook since the summer outbreak began. But that optimism has been tempered by renewed fears about the country’s financial situation, with 42% now saying they were more worried about the economy than public health — a 9-point jump from a month ago. 

How a Charlotte nonprofit links landlords with people experiencing homelessness: From Next City: “According to Philip Payne, the developer and real estate investor who co-founded the Lotus Campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina, most private landlords are not the greedy, cutthroat people that many people imagine them to be. And there’s a short list of reasons why they hesitate to rent to people who have experienced homelessness — mostly related to concerns about people causing problems in apartment buildings or chronically failing to pay rent. To overcome those misgivings, the Lotus Campaign works with local landlords and homelessness service organizations to place in apartments individuals and families who have experienced homelessness or who are at risk of becoming homeless. At the outset, the two-year-old Lotus Campaign has paid participating landlords $1,000 per year for every unit they dedicate to the campaign … According to an impact report that the Lotus Campaign released last week, the group has so far helped house over 250 people in Charlotte, and 128 of them have since moved on to other housing or renewed their leases.” This story is part of a COVID-19 collection curated by the Solutions Journalism Network. 

As Texas college towns become coronavirus hot spots, universities try to keep students from infecting locals: In counties where four-year college students make up at least 10% of the population, cases have grown 34% since Aug. 19, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. That’s compared with 23% in counties with a smaller proportion of students. Colleges are “places where we’re starting to see a lot of spread,” said Stephen Kissler, an infectious disease researcher at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Of course, diseases don’t stay isolated in the populations where they start. That’s the big concern lately, trying to make sure the virus doesn’t spread into the surrounding community.” 

WIC waivers extended: The U.S. Agriculture Department announced Monday that waivers offering flexibility in delivering WIC benefits have been extended until 30 days after the end of the nationally declared public health emergency. “WIC waivers work,” said the Rev. Douglas Greenaway, president and CEO of the National WIC Association. “By reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and creating more options for participants, WIC has not only continued to support the nutrition needs of participating families but also has reached hundreds of thousands of families that are only newly eligible due to changing economic circumstances.” 

Why pandemic EBT should be extended: The Brookings Institution argues: “Research shows that even in a typical year, families cannot absorb the loss of the value of school meals in the transition from the school year to the summer. The combination of pandemic-instigated school closures and a severe recession has been devastating for families with children: between 9 and 17 million children live in a household where the adults say that their children do not have enough to eat, and they do not have the resources to purchase more food. These levels of food hardship among children are orders of magnitude higher than during the Great Recession. Despite this level of need, prepared meal programs are reaching a fraction of the eligible population.” 

A call for the media to do more to show the pain of average Americans during the pandemic: A plea by CNN media writer Brian Stelter, who writes: “The press must bear witness to the pain — and help the public see and hear it.” 

Briefing for September 22, 2020

Poorly protected postal workers are catching COVID-19 by the thousands  It’s one more threat to voting by mail: More than 50,000 postal workers have taken time off for virus-related reasons, slowing mail delivery. The Postal Service doesn’t test employees or check their temperatures, and its contact tracing is erratic.

Kentucky post offices have been disappearing for years  Rural post offices are threatened: Over the last decade, more post offices have been closed in Kentucky than in any other state, according to data from the U.S. Postal Service. Closures have hit every region, from coal towns in Appalachia to villages in the open fields of the Jackson Purchase. What’s lost is a beloved institution and last public commons in communities with few, if any, public spaces left. 

‘I miss mommy’  Families shattered by COVID-19 forge new path: As the U.S. approaches the milestone of 200,000 pandemic deaths, the pain repeats: An Ohio boy, too young for words of his own, who plants a kiss on a photo of his dead mother. A New Jersey toddler, months ago the center of a joyous, balloon-filled birthday, now in therapy over the loss of her father. Three siblings who lost both mom and dad, thrusting the oldest child, a 21 year old, into the role of parent to his sisters. With eight in 10 American virus victims age 65 and older, it’s easy to view the young as having been spared its wrath. But among the dead are an untold number of parents who’ve left behind children that constitute another kind of victim

Months of eviction uncertainty are taking mental health toll on millions: Months of uncertainty about potentially being evicted carry a real toll. In order to keep a roof over their heads, families may compromise on food, energy and health care bills, experts say. “These things not only take a physical toll, but they take a mental health toll,” says Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine. In a 2018 study published in the journal Pediatrics surveying more than 22,000 U.S. families, Sandel and other researchers found that those who had recently been behind on rent faced quadruple rates of food insecurity, twice the rate of maternal depression, and higher rates of child hospitalizations and developmental delays compared to those with stable housing. During the current recession and unemployment crisis, researchers think two or three times as many people may be feeling those effects.  

How school closures have impacted period poverty: It’s estimated that between 80% and 90% of children of school age have been out of an educational setting at some point throughout the pandemic. Schools are so much more than a place of learning for so many children, and research has found that one in four people who have periods struggle to purchase menstrual hygiene products on an ongoing basis. As many schools have moved to virtual education from September, many students will lack access to period products otherwise provided at their schools 

‘We are stuck, with little to no options’ 
Six months after the CARES Act, many Americans are still struggling: Despite everything else happening, another stimulus deal is at the top of Ronald Starr’s mind. The 51-year-old Illinois resident has been out of work for a year, and tells CNBC Make It via email that he finds it troubling that Congress isn’t stepping up to help Americans who still cannot find work. While unemployment figures have improved, in July, 22% of those who had lost their job because of coronavirus said they were still unemployed and they did not expect to return to their old jobs, according to the Federal Reserve. Lower-income workers were less likely to have returned to work in the same job. Starr is worried about keeping his lights on as Illinois’s utility shutoff moratorium ended. He says he has applied to dozens of jobs, with no luck. “The work just isn’t there,” says Starr. “We are stuck, with little to no options and no help on the horizon.” 

Millennials and Gen-Z are spreading coronavirus, but not at parties or bars: Younger generations are blamed for the pandemic’s spread, but also face the brunt of the transmission risk that comes with keeping the economy going. 

Briefing for September 21, 2020

Nursing homes oust unwanted patients with claims of psychosis: From the New York Times: “Across the United States, nursing homes are looking to get rid of unprofitable patients — primarily those who are poor and require extra care — and pouncing on minor outbursts to justify evicting them to emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals. After the hospitals discharge the patients, often in a matter of hours, the nursing homes refuse them re-entry, according to court filings, government-funded watchdogs in 16 states, and more than 60 lawyers, nursing home employees and doctors.” 
Millions of children could miss pandemic food aid as states scramble to meet Trump administration mandates: Millions of low-income children are likely to miss out on special benefits that help their families buy groceries this month because the Trump administration has imposed eligibility requirements that prevent some states from getting the payments out before the money expires. The program, known as Pandemic-EBT or P-EBT, gives households about $5.70 per day for every school day missed. The money is distributed exactly like food stamps — on debit-like EBT cards. The aid can only be used to buy food. 
How communities can avoid having jobs permanently lost to the pandemic: John C. Austin and Brad Hershbein of the Brookings Institution offer three strategies to help cities avoid permanent job losses: 

  • Place-based scholarship or “promise” programs can be an effective tool to increase residents’ skills, not just by helping more residents get needed postsecondary education, but also by attracting highly skilled newcomers and families that value education. 
  • Education-to-workforce pipelines are another option for communities looking to better match evolving employer occupational demands with robust career preparation.  
  • Adopting customized business services and new technologies for job searching are also strategies that communities could use to match employer skill demand with local worker supply. 

The pandemic is driving America’s working poor to the edge: CNBC interviewed David Shipler, author of The Working Poor: Invisible in America. His view on how the pandemic might impact the country’s working poor: “People are going to be very desperate for work of any kind. I think the pandemic and the accompanying economic damage will make people much less able to negotiate for higher wages, and less willing even to try to negotiate for better working conditions. And many low-wage workers can’t work from home. They have to go and expose themselves to COVID-19.” 

New data shows LGTBQ Latinx people suffer disproportionately from COVID-19: The Human Rights Campaign Foundation released new data showing that Latinx LGBTQ people are more likely to have had their employment adversely impacted due to the coronavirus, are more likely to have made changes to their household budgets and are more likely to have asked for delays in paying various expenses for necessities than the general population. The research, released in partnership with PSB Insights, builds on prior data showing the negative economic impact of the pandemic on LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ people of colortransgender people of color and Black LGBTQ people

How schools can partner with communities to reduce digital inequities during the pandemic: Two policy suggestions from Nicol Turner Lee at the Brookings Institution:  

  • Schools and local governments should transform vacant local establishments into classrooms and immediately deploy unused business equipment through partnerships or one-time tax credits. 
  • Federally subsidized housing and homeless shelters should offer free Wi-Fi and school buses enabled with Wi-Fi could be parked in harder to serve areas, including rural and urban scattered site housing developments. 

How to combat coronavirus risk factors for people of color: Sherita Hill Golden, M.D., M.H.S. and chief diversity officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine, offers two strategies

  • Targeted COVID-19 messaging: “Of particular concern in the immigrant community is the myth that seeking medical attention will make it more difficult for people to obtain a green card in the future. This is not true, and that message needs to be communicated,” Golden says. 
  • Testing for people of color: “We need to ensure that all symptomatic individuals are referred for COVID-19 testing, particularly African American, Latinx/Hispanic and Native American individuals,” Golden says. 

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