The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, expected to land on President Trump’s desk on Friday, is an unprecedented response to a crisis without parallel. It includes a massive expansion of benefits to the recently unemployed, cash payments to most American families and an array of new spending designed to help businesses. But Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, writes that the bill falls short in providing adequate assistance to vulnerable low-income families who have been hit especially hard.
For example, the package fails to include measures either to expand health coverage or to cover COVID-19 treatment for those who are uninsured. (…) The legislation also fails to increase SNAP benefits. Such an increase, provided in the last recession, is important to help struggling families put food on the table and help provide the boost to consumer spending that the economy needs. (…) In addition, the package does not include flexible funding for states to help very poor families with children avert crises, as Congress did in 2009-2010, when it provided modest but vital funding for what was known as the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Emergency Fund.
An epidemiologist’s nightmare
Public officials are pointing to Mardi Gras – an “epidemiologists’ nightmare” – as a likely accelerator of community spread of COVID-19 in the Crescent City. At the time of the annual celebration, the U.S. only had 50 known cases, none of which were in Louisiana. But New Orleans now has the highest per-capita death rate in the country. Katy Reckdahl, Campbell Robertson and Richard Fausset of The New York Times report:
The attendant tragedy of the pandemic — economic devastation to a city that lives on tourism and good times — has been following close behind. Most of the city’s tens of thousands of hotel and restaurant jobs do not pay enough for workers to have sufficiently saved for weeks on lockdown, but they pay better than nothing at all. “Our food banks say they’ll be out of food by next week,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans, adding that the city was estimating a budget deficit of at least $100 million next year, given the vanishing sales tax revenues. “And,” the mayor continued, “we have hurricane season coming in June.”
Making matters worse, New Orleans also has a high percentage of people with pre-existing medical conditions. Gordon Russell of Nola.com | The Advocate reports:
The Data Center on Thursday published a report comparing the rates at which New Orleanians suffer from some of these conditions to those in some of the other communities hardest hit by the coronavirus so far. Some of the differences are stark: For instance, 13% of New Orleanians are diabetic, compared to 6% of those in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle and which was the nation’s first hotspot for the virus. Likewise, 39% of New Orleanians have high blood pressure, compared to 28% of New Yorkers.
Coronavirus a steep sentence for local inmates
With close quarters and minimal access to sinks and other provisions to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, inmates and staff at Orleans Parish jail are at increased risk for contracting and spreading the disease. As of Thursday, four Orleans Parish jail health care workers and five Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office employees had tested positive for the virus, according to WDSU News. Still, too many people remain behind bars, including many at high risk of infection. Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of ACLU of Louisiana, in a letter to The Advocate, calls for change:
The ACLU of Louisiana’s recent study found that 57% of people in jail had been arrested for nonviolent offenses, and were being held simply because they could not afford to buy their way out. That is why we have joined public health experts and community organizations in calling for the immediate release of individuals in detention who are at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, and for alternatives to arrest and incarceration in all but the most dangerous cases. Mass incarceration will not keep New Orleans safe from crime — or the coronavirus.
The virus is changing our lives
The Washington Post is out with new poll numbers that prove what most of us already know: Life in America has changed dramatically – and quickly – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are more stressed than they were during the depths of the Great Recession, and women with children at home are bearing the brunt of the pressure. Nine in 10 people are staying at home “as much as possible.” Dan Balz and Emily Guskin report:
The change in Americans’ lives has been swift and dramatic. Less than two weeks ago, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found 40 percent saying their lives had been disrupted and only 16 percent calling those disruptions significant. In the Post-ABC poll, more than 3 in 4 say their life has been disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, with half the population saying there has been “a lot” of disruption.
Number of the Day
$1.8 billion – The estimated amount Louisiana will receive of the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is part of the CARES Act up for a vote today. (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)