Briefing for September 28-October 2, 2020 on COVID-19 and Low-Income Communities

Briefing for September 28-October 2, 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 October 2, 2020

The chaos of repealing the Affordable Care Act during a pandemic: The Center for American Progress looks at the potential consequences if the ACA were to be struck down by the Supreme Court while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Their top points: 

  • People with preexisting conditions and disabilities, including COVID-19 survivors, would be vulnerable to discrimination by insurers. 
  • ACA repeal would throw insurance markets into chaos as millions would lose coverage during a pandemic. 
  • Struggling small businesses and the self-employed could be priced out of coverage. 
  • Young people under the age of 26 could lose access to their parents’ insurance during this period of mass unemployment. 
  • Black, Native, and Latinx Americans who have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 would lose insurance in startling numbers. 
  • Insurers could again discriminate against women. 
  • For the tens of millions who would become uninsured, sending children to school becomes not only a health risk but a bankruptcy risk. 
  • Drug costs for seniors would soar, and millions more would not be able to afford their prescriptions during a public health crisis. 
  • Many hard-hit states would be further devastated by the elimination of Medicaid expansion. 

Amid political attacks, benefit reductions and pandemic threats, immigrants keep the country fed: A Center for Public Integrity county-by-county analysis drives home how crucial Latino immigrants are to U.S. farm and food-processing industries nationwide. The analysis was drawn from Census Bureau survey data collected by IPUMS USA at the University of Minnesota. Focusing on 10 industries, Public Integrity found 1.87 million workers in front-line farm and food processing jobs, 790,000 of whom are immigrants. That’s about 43%, a share that’s two-and-a-half times the percent of immigrants in the total U.S. workforce. Nearly nine in 10 of the immigrant farm and food-processing workers are Latino. In some counties, the vast majority of thousands of workers are immigrants — 70%, 80%, even more than 90%. Nationwide, one-third of the 1.87 million are noncitizens. 

No mask, no custody  COVID-19 is a new factor in family law: From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “Melanie Joseph wants to see her son, but a judge won’t let her — for no reason except that she won’t wear a mask. Joseph’s 14-year-old son has asthma, a condition that could put him at risk of contracting COVID-19 during this pandemic, court filings show. Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen called the mother an ‘anti-mask person’ who had the ‘audacity’ to brag about it on Facebook. Conservatives take issue with the decision, but it illustrates how judges in family court now must consider the health risks of COVID-19 on top of juggling the interests of feuding ex-spouses, single parents and reluctant child-support payers.” 

Ten ways to make life better for the middle class: The Future of the Middle Class team at the Brookings Institution proposes ten policies, adapted from A New Contract with the Middle Class, by Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, that, if implemented, would improve the quality of life for middle-class Americans across five key dimensions. 

  • Eliminating income tax for most middle-class families 
  • Scholarship for Service 
  • Twenty days of guaranteed paid leave 
  • Mid-career sabbaticals 
  • No-cost family planning 
  • A national tax on sugary drinks 
  • Free therapy for all 
  • Mandatory attendance at a naturalization ceremony 
  • Citizens juries for policy issues 
  • Social media reform 

Equitable and just disaster preparation during a pandemic: The Center for American Progress calls on Congress to take the following steps to strengthen disaster response, particularly during hurricane season, while the pandemic continues: 

  • Provide a second extension of the FEMA deadline for renewing flood insurance policies. 
  • Provide funds to help states, cities, and communities prepare for and equitably rebuild after disasters. 
  • Allocate $20 billion for Superfund site cleanup and $840 million to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Superfund Emergency Response and Removal Program in future economic recovery and stimulus plans. 
  • Allocate $100 million to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) Environmental Career Worker Training Program (ECWTP) in future economic recovery and stimulus plans. 
  • Create and capitalize a Healthy Communities and Resilient Infrastructure Fund (HCRIF) as part of a long-term economic recovery and stimulus plan. 
  • Require federal agencies to safeguard federal investments in flood-prone areas. 

Briefing for October 1, 2020

The COVID-19 recession is the most unequal in modern U.S. history: Job losses from the pandemic have overwhelmingly affected low-wage, minority workers the most. Seven months into the recovery, Black women, Black men and mothers of school-age children are taking the longest time to regain their employment. White women, for example, have recovered 61% of the jobs they lost — the most of any demographic group — while Black women have recovered only 34%, according to Labor Department data through August. Workers with college degrees are 55% recovered, compared with less than 40% for workers with high school degrees. 
How the cratering economy became a second public health crisis: After months of standoff, Washington is making a last-ditch effort to reach a bipartisan deal for another round of coronavirus aid. Regardless, recovery could take years, with the nation’s most vulnerable enduring the worst of it. Their ranks will only continue to swell as the pandemic reshapes society, forcing more Americans out of their jobs and homes even as safety-net funding dries up. Kids in poor households have already lost their link to schooling and free meals amid closures. More and more families are relying on charity for food — even as donations decline and local services get cut. And millions of people who’ve lived paycheck to paycheck are facing a mountain of rental debt that will subsume their other needs. The numbers — beyond the 200,000 dead from the virus — dwarf any economic crisis since the Great Depression. More than 14 million households or as many as 34 million people may be unable to make rent as of mid-September, according to analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, as the tab owed to landlords nationwide could soon top $17 billion. Nearly 30 million people are getting unemployment benefits. One of every six adults and at least 16% of children can’t reliably get food. 
Millions of Americans risk losing water and power as massive unpaid utility bills pile up: More than 179 million people may be at risk for shut-offs as many state protections end. 

Trump requires food aid boxes to come with a letter from him: Last week, the Agriculture Department began mandating that millions of boxes of surplus food for needy families include a letter from President Donald Trump claiming credit for the program. The USDA’s $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box Program has distributed more than 100 million boxes to those in need since May, with the aim of redirecting meat, dairy and produce that might normally go to restaurants and other food-service businesses. But organizations handing out the aid complain the program is now being used to bolster Trump’s image a month before a high-stakes election — and some even have refused to distribute them. 

It’s true 1 in 1,000 Black Americans have died in the pandemic: Former Vice President Joe Biden cited a horrific statistic to make his case in Tuesday’s debate against President Trump. The worst part is it’s true. 
Elderly and homeless  America’s next housing crisis: Last year, after analyzing historical records of shelter admissions in three major American cities, a team of researchers led by Dennis P. Culhane, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the country’s leading authorities on homelessness, published a sobering projection: In the next 10 years, the number of elderly people experiencing homelessness in the United States will nearly triple as a wave of baby boomers who have historically made up the largest share of the homeless population ages. And that was before a pandemic arrived to stretch what remains of the social safety net to the breaking point
How to make sure city budgets ensure racial equity: As the pandemic continues to rage, the necessity of centering questions of race and equity in all aspects of budgeting has become apparent to many city leaders. But what does this mean for governments struggling to serve the same size population with smaller budgets and significantly smaller staffs? If it’s true that budgets reflect the values of an organization, what can government agencies do to make meaningful steps toward racial equity? Bloomberg CityLab has seven suggestions

  • Clearly define equity: Find a common language and define terminology that can be shared with the entire agency and within every department.  
  • Drill down into the numbers to expose inequities: Detailed data can reveal issues that broader statistics miss, said Karla Bruce, chief equity officer for Fairfax County, Virginia.  
  • Use data as evidence to hold officials accountable: Data is a valuable tool for convincing officials to take concrete steps. In Fairfax County, Bruce used data to focus on facts, rather than people’s personal opinions. 
  • Track and keep assessing the success of investments in equity.
  • Include the voices of diverse communities in budget discussions. 
  • Take a high-level view of funds for greater equity.
  • Find creative ways to simplify delivering funds.

Lessons from the pandemic for public benefit programs: Allison Yates-Berg of ideas42 writes for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity that pandemic-prompted waivers for the WIC program have offered behavior insights that administrators can use to improve the crucial nutrition program. Her three top takeaways: 

  • Whenever possible, reduce or remove any ambiguity for participants: Enduring a pandemic, and accessing or administering public benefits and services in a pandemic, is new and confusing territory. Making processes simple to follow is even more important for remote or redesigned programs, which feel new to everyone. 
  • Capture the (incredibly taxed) attention of participants at the right moments: The pandemic has sucked attention away from other important things in life. When you’re thinking about homeschooling, how you’ll pay rent, and finding your next job, you have a lot on your mind. For public benefit program participants, little attention remains for the numerous requirements of these programs.
  • Account for the (hidden) costs on staff: Consider the various types of costs your design may impose on staff, including temporal costs and cognitive effort. Build your designs into existing workflows and be cognizant of the number of things you’re asking of staff. As much as possible, co-design, pilot, observe, and get feedback from staff. 

Briefing for September 30, 2020

Evictions damage public health; The CDC intends to curb them for now: The Centers for Disease Control is now citing stable housing as a vital tool to control the coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans. Home is where people isolate themselves to avoid transmitting the virus or becoming infected. When local governments issue stay-at-home orders in the name of public health, they presume that residents have a home. For people who have the virus, home is often where they recover from COVID-19’s fever, chills and dry cough — in lieu of, or after, a hospital stay. But the moratorium is not automatic. Renters have to submit a declaration form to their landlord, agreeing to a series of statements under threat of perjury, including “My housing provider may require payment in full for all payments not made prior to and during the temporary halt, and failure to pay may make me subject to eviction pursuant to state and local laws.” Confusion surrounding the CDC’s order means some tenants are still being ordered to leave their homes. 
Five things that can help disabled people navigate the pandemic: Andrew Pulrang writes for Forbes: “The best, surest way for disabled and chronically ill people to make it through would be a more effective and adjustable national strategy to fight COVID-19. But in the absence of that, here are five things that could help disabled and chronically ill get through the next few months, or the next year if that’s how long it takes:” 

  • Understanding and patience from family, friends and neighbors 
  • Flexibility in work 
  • A two-track approach to congregate care 
  • Financial support for service providers 
  • Better, smarter management of the pandemic itself 

Four ways to improve water access in Navajo Nation during the pandemic: In May, Navajo Nation had the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the country. As of September 29, there were more than 10,300 reported cases of COVID-19 and 555 confirmed deaths from a population of roughly 175,000. Public health measures have been enacted, including reservation-wide daily curfews and weekend lockdowns, increased testing and screening locations, and a surge in grassroots efforts by tribal members. Lack of access to clean water may have exacerbated the spread of the coronavirus and has complicated efforts to curtail it. Amanda Gold and Jessica Shakesprere of the Urban Institute offer four ways to improve water access

  • Expand simple solutions to meet urgent needs 
  • Build local capacity 
  • Increase funding for rural water and wastewater systems 
  • Support coordination of federal resources 

Pandemic underlines deep-rooted problems in Indian health service: Few hospital beds, lack of equipment, a shipment of body bags in response to a request for coronavirus tests: The agency providing health care to tribal communities struggled to meet the challenge

Getting by without a car was always hard; Now it’s a public health risk: During the COVID-19 pandemic, living without a car isn’t just an inconvenience. It’s a public health risk. The CDC is recommending that people drive alone as much as possible, but more than 10.5 million households in this country don’t have a personal vehicle. 

Is extended isolation killing older Americans in long-term care? Data on the mental health effects of the long lockdown at America’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities is scant. But experts, resident advocates, and those with loved ones on the inside say that lockdown is fueling a mental health crisis that’s amplifying the devastating impacts of the pandemic on the long-term care industry, where more than 70,000 long-term residents and staff have already died from COVID, accounting for 4 in 10 pandemic deaths. They say that feelings of loneliness, abandonment, despair and fear among residents — and their toll on physical and neurological health — are only pushing the pandemic’s death toll higher. 

Trash is piling up  Sanitation workers are feeling the strain: From Chicago to New York City, Philadelphia, and New Orleans, U.S. disposal workers are facing a daunting burden: Municipal trash collection is a job more essential than most, and it comes with additional health risks for the people who do it. Since the pandemic arrived, many sanitation workers say they haven’t been given the protective equipment and extra wages that they need to do the task safely. Several U.S. cities have seen coronavirus-related labor shortages and slowdowns, which are coming as municipal budgets are severely stressed. And as the pandemic drags on, the trash keeps piling up. 

Briefing for September 29, 2020

Food insecurity in the U.S. by the numbers: NPR lays out the basic statistics that show the depth of the food insecurity crisis as the pandemic continues: 

  • Nearly one in four American households has experienced food insecurity this year 
  • Millions more children are experiencing food insecurity 
  • Black families are twice as likely as white families to experience food insecurity 
  • 19 million Americans live in food deserts 
  • 38 million people used SNAP in 2019  
  • COVID-19 could double the number of people experiencing food insecurity internationally 

Feeding the hungry during the pandemic: COVID-19 caused a huge increase in SNAP benefits enrollments, but the massive federal program is still lagging behind the demand. Volunteer food supply programs could help fill that gap. 

New data shows communities of color had unequal access to coronavirus aid: The Brookings Institution reports: “Congress’s major COVID-19 relief program for small businesses, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), has so far distributed 5 million loans across the country. That distribution, however, has not been equal. Newly released data offers a comprehensive snapshot of how access to PPP loans varied considerably based on neighborhood demographics, with small businesses in majority-white neighborhoods receiving PPP loans more quickly than small businesses in majority-Black and majority-Latino or Hispanic neighborhoods.” 

Neighborhoods at risk for COVID-19 see disproportionately high eviction rates: In a dozen large cities around the country, neighborhoods with elevated rates of medical conditions that put people at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 have seen disproportionately high rates of eviction filings over the last six months, according to a CNN analysis of data from The Eviction Lab, a Princeton University research institute. That means that thousands of people evicted over the last six months were living in areas with the highest health risks from the coronavirus. 

America’s missing kids  Thousands of students don’t show up for distance learning: As parents nationwide tread through a wildly different education landscape this year, many kids are disappearing from the rosters of their public schools. Clark County (Nevada) schools are down about 10,000 students this year, a loss that will translate into a reduction of about $61 million from the state of Nevada, though the impact won’t be felt right away. It’s a similar story in many other large districts that started the year with all children learning virtually: Dallas; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Nashville, Tennessee; Miami; and Broward County schools in Florida all reported enrollment declines, missing large swaths of children in the youngest grades. 

In internet dead zones, rural schools struggle with distance learning: As American schools across the country struggle with whether to reopen or stay virtual, many rural districts are worried their students will fall even further behind than their city peers. This pandemic has shone a glaring light on a lot of inequalities. The federal government estimates that more than a third of rural America has little or no internet. In numerous recent interviews, educators have told NPR they’re concerned the rural-urban divide will only worsen if kids can’t get online to learn. 

COVID-19 vaccine trials aren’t including enough older people: An op-ed by Dr. Sharon K. Inouye of the Harvard Medical School for Next Avenue makes the case that vaccine trials aren’t including enough older Americans: “Imagine the end of the pandemic — with new cases and deaths trending down towards zero — a time we are all eagerly anticipating. Key to achieving this goal will be the development of effective treatments and vaccines. Yet, based on a research study my team and I have conducted, older adults, particularly those in their 70s and 80s, may be systematically excluded from the clinical trials necessary to develop and test them.” 

Don’t let politics strangle coronavirus aid: Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute writes for Bloomberg Opinion that both parties should seriously consider the coronavirus aid package released by the House Problem Solvers Caucus earlier this month: “The Problem Solvers have pointed a way forward. To help struggling families, shorten the length of the downturn, and preserve the productive capacity of the economy, Congress should follow their lead.” 

Briefing for September 28, 2020

Odds of coronavirus infection greatly increase with poverty, CDC says: Poverty can vastly increase a person’s chances of contracting the coronavirus, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, which looked at income-based disparities in Utah, found that the risk of becoming ill with the disease in a low-income community could be three times greater than in a high-income one. “Extreme deprivation could compound transmission,” the CDC concluded.

Economic fallout from pandemic continues to hit lowest-income Americans the hardest: A new Pew Research Center survey finds that, overall, one-in-four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak started, a third have dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet, and about one-in-six have borrowed money from friends or family or gotten food from a food bank. As was the case earlier this year, these types of experiences continue to be more common among adults with lower incomes, those without a college degree and Black and Hispanic Americans. 

Millions of Americans with low incomes could get left out of Trump’s plan to send $200 drug discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries: 
President Donald Trump vowed last week to send $200 drug discount cards to 33 million Medicare beneficiaries in a legally dubious gambit aimed at strengthening his political support among seniors. But that could exclude 13 million low-income Americans enrolled in the program who are receiving federal subsidies to better afford their prescription medicationsJuliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Business Insider that the administration appeared to be focusing on providing cards to beneficiaries not already receiving government assistance. Around 13 million low-income Americans in Medicare are enrolled in a federal “Extra Help” program that helps them pay premiums and co-pays. Individuals are eligible for subsidies when their incomes are below 150% of the poverty line, or around $19,000, and own minimal assets. 

Virus’s unseen hot zone: the American farm: Across the country, fruit growers blocked testing of seasonal farmworkers and told those who caught the coronavirus to keep it quiet. County and state officials were largely unable to stop them. 

Among people of color asked to join COVID-19 vaccine trials, worries about inequities run deep: From STAT: “That the communities hardest hit by Covid-19 have also been woefully underrepresented in clinical trials is no coincidence, and in racing to find 30,000 participants who could represent an even broader population, pharma companies have found themselves face to face with health care’s deepest fault lines. Being Black, Latinx, Native American, or Pacific Islander, for instance, means you are more likely to go without health insurance than if you’re white, and that makes a difference. If you want people to sign up as test subjects for experimental vaccines, it helps if they feel comfortable going to a hospital — and are able to take sick leave.” 

States must protect and expand in-person voting sites during the pandemic: From Hauwa Ahmed at the Center for American Progress: “The coronavirus pandemic poses a significant challenge for U.S. elections and public health, and elected officials must take steps to preserve Americans’ access to the ballot box. To that end, it is critical that states provide voters with a wide range of safe opportunities to vote, particularly to vote early. While some voters may choose to vote by mail, others may want the option to vote in person—which can be made safer by expanding in-person voting options. Thus, states should avoid curtailing in-person options and must maintain—and in some cases, even expand—these voting locations.” 

Scientist fights for better data on coronavirus impact on Native Americans: Abigail Echo-Hawk can’t even count how many times she’s been called a troublemaker. It’s happened at conferences, workshops, and even after she testified before Congress—all places where she has advocated for the full and ethical inclusion of American Indians and Alaska Natives in public health data. “I didn’t used to know what to say,” she says. “Now, my answer is, ‘Is calling for justice making trouble?” As the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) and the chief research officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board, Echo-Hawk has been working for years with Indigenous people, mostly in cities, across the United States to collect data about their communities. The virus has taken a disproportionate toll on many Indigenous communities in the United States. But its full impact is unclear because of problems Echo-Hawk has long fought to correct, including racial misclassification and the exclusion of Indigenous co. “Abigail has highlighted the inadequacy of, the restricted access to, and the delays in receiving data” about how COVID-19 is affecting Indigenous people in the United States, says Spero Manson, director of the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, who is Pembina Chippewa.  

How America’s schools got so sick: For students in low-income communities, the coronavirus crisis is layered on an existing public health crisis: deteriorated school buildings that are unhealthy places to learn. 

Black-owned gay bars are dwindling – can they survive the pandemic? A global health crisis is not the only headwind that the few remaining Black-owned gay bars in the United States are facing. Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, these LGBTQ social spaces were dwindling across the country. 

Medicine for the Greater Good: One hospital’s way of supporting its nearby communities of color: With support from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Medicine for the Greater Good now works with almost 100 community and faith groups in and around Baltimore. Over the past seven years, its helped more than 5,000 people throughout the city learn about how they can do more to maintain and improve their health.

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