Briefing for September 27-October 1, 2021 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for September 27-October 1, 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 27, 2021

The sad, predictable limits of America’s economic recovery: Emily Stewart of Vox looks at the millions of families who aren’t seeing the benefits of any economic upturn. “The country’s riches were already unevenly apportioned among the haves and have-nots before COVID-19 struck, and the pandemic exacerbated those circumstances. For many, support from the government has helped them tread water. But much of that support, such as expanded unemployment insurance, has dried up, and some people have struggled to access programs that are supposed to help them, like rental assistance. America risks widening the gaps even further. ‘Technically, recovery is what occurs after the economy bottoms out and then is returning to its normal state,’ says Karen Dynan, a Harvard economist who served as chief economist at the Treasury Department under the Obama administration. ‘But a lot of people find it odd to say the recession is over when the economy is still really weak.’ Or, at least, weak for some people. The pandemic economic downturn hasn’t been as severe as some economists and observers initially feared. The impact, however, has been incredibly uneven, as has the rebound from it. What’s happening in the economy depends on where you look and who you ask. In some ways, the economy has recovered relatively quickly. In others, it hasn’t recovered at all. And for some, the baseline wasn’t that good to begin with. In a Pew Research survey released in September 2020, 46% of low-income respondents reported having trouble with bills since the pandemic started, compared to just 5% of upper-income respondents. Just 21% of upper-income people said they were able to save less due to the COVID-19 outbreak, compared to 51% of low-income people. As the recovery goes on, Black and Hispanic workers still have higher rates of unemployment than white workers; the same goes for less educated workers compared with more highly educated workers.” 

The new, expanded Child Tax Credit does more than just reduce poverty: Authors of a new study looking at the expanded impact of the expanded Child Tax Credit write for the Brookings Institution that their findings “suggest that the CTC will not only act as a tool for decreasing child poverty in the short term, but also as a tool for increasing family social mobility in the long term … Based on these results, it appears that the CTC will help give families a little more slack in their budgets to help them meet their essential needs, while also allowing them to make important investments in their children’s future, such as college savings or paying for extracurricular activities. Both of these functions may help improve children’s well-being both now and over the long term, and policymakers should consider these benefits as they debate whether or not to make the CTC permanent.” 

Low wages and pandemic gut staffing support for those with disabilities: From Kaiser Health News: “Even before the pandemic, the nation had a shortage of direct support professionals working in private homes, group facilities, day programs, and other community settings. Fears of contracting COVID-19 at work have made the caregiver staffing problem worse. Persistent low pay amid a tight U.S. labor market makes it that much harder to attract workers. Worker shortages across the health care spectrum — from nurses to lower-level staffers — are an unprecedented challenge for hospitals and other medical organizations. The shortage is at an ‘epic level,’ said Elizabeth Priaulx, a legal specialist with the National Disability Rights Network. People with disabilities who have been approved by state Medicaid programs to receive 40 hours a week in caregiver services now often get just 20 hours, Priaulx added. If family members can’t help offset the gap, a person may be forced into a nursing home, she said.” 

Most rental aid went unspent in August: From Politico: “The Treasury Department said Friday that state and local officials had disbursed less than 17% of federal rental aid as of the end of August as bottlenecks continued to plague the $46.5 billion eviction prevention program eight months after its creation. The report came as Treasury warned program recipients about how it was going to reallocate funds from areas that were not disbursing the money. The White House pandemic relief office projected that the assistance delivered by the end of this year would total $16.5 billion at the current pace of distribution — enough to help between 60% and 65% of households at significant risk of eviction. About 2.6 million tenants are in danger of imminent eviction without aid, according to the Urban Institute. The program served 420,000 tenant households last month, bringing the total number served to 1.4 million. The $2.3 billion disbursed in August marks a nearly 32% increase over the $1.7 billion distributed in July, indicating some programs are getting better at distributing the money.” 

STAT photo project looks at COVID impact on rural Black communities in the South: Distanced, an ambitious photo project by photographer Bethany Mollenkof for STAT, documents the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on rural Black communities. “One-fifth of the Americans living in rural areas are people of color, mostly concentrated in the South and Southwest — both areas that experienced high COVID-19 death rates. Even before the pandemic, rural health infrastructure was strained, if not buckling, as hospitals and clinics struggled to stay open. These challenges exacerbate systemic inequities in care. As the pandemic hit, there was a devastating reality: If Black people living in rural areas get COVID-19 and can’t access the treatment they need, they are more likely to get severely ill or die from the virus, or have prolonged and difficult recoveries. Mollenkof spent six months reporting and creating thousands of photographs to intimately document the pandemic’s profound impact on Black life in the rural South.” 

Kids need Congress to build back better: Billy Shore, founder and executive chair of Share Our Strength, writes for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity that Congress needs to take action to be sure that the aid programs created during the pandemic have lasting impact. “If policymakers have the wisdom to extend or make permanent the actions they took, Americans can have the peace of mind that their kids will have the supports they need, not just during the pandemic but in the rebuilding after. The good news is there’s an opportunity for Congress to do this right now. The Build Back Better plan in front of Congress today has the ability to create true transformational change for millions of kids across the country. There will undoubtedly be a long road ahead before this bill makes it across the finish line. But if we could ensure COVID-19 did not prevent kids from getting the food and nutrition they needed last year, politics certainly shouldn’t get in the way this year.” 

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