The racialized inequalities of water shut-offs

The racialized inequalities of water shut-offs

While national attention has focused on exorbitant electricity bills in Texas after last month’s deep freeze, the Covid-19 economic downturn has also seen many families fall behind on their water bills. As Chris Shaffner writes in Route Fifty, many states passed emergency moratoriums to prevent shut-offs in the early days of the pandemic. But even though the virus remains rampant, many of those moratoriums have now expired – resulting in strict shutoff policies in states and cities across the country that disproportionately affect Black and brown families: 

Research also confirms that people of color are disproportionately affected by shutoffs. Even before the pandemic, Black families earning less than 1.5 times the federal poverty level were twice as likely as white families to experience shutoffs. And a 2018 study determined that two-thirds of Latino utility customers in California lived in ZIP codes with the highest shutoff rates.

Shaffner mentions a 2020 report by the Guardian and Consumer Reports which found that water bill costs have increased by 80% from 2010 to 2018 in 12 cities, including New Orleans. Despite water being necessary for daily life, we have allowed water service to become prohibitively expensive and then punished people for not being able to pay up with shut offs: 

In Detroit, where almost 80% of residents are Black, city officials in 2014 launched an extensive shutoff program that has disconnected almost 150,000 households since it began. The United Nations has since condemned the program as a human-rights violation that disproportionately affects Black people.

Help for kids in Covid relief plan
The U.S. Senate is expected to take up President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief plan as early as Wednesday, with the goal of winning final passage before federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14. The plan will not include the $15 per hour minimum wage that Biden has sought, but still calls for a significant increase in economic aid to children, with relief targeted to families with the lowest incomes who need help the most. NPR’s Cory Turner and Anya Kamenetz report on the plan to provide a monthly allowance of up to $300: 

Poverty can act like an invisible weight that children carry well into adulthood. “There is fascinating research out there that shows children in poverty, their brains are actually not developing at the same pace or in the same ways as children in well-resourced households, so that children become disadvantaged for life,” says Elaine Maag, who studies tax policy at the Urban Institute. Research suggests that investing money to lift kids out of poverty, especially young children, has enormous long-term benefits.

With the Senate evenly divided along partisan lines, Biden has little room to maneuver in the coming days. The Washington Post’s Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report that the president spoke with a group of Senate Democrats who are looking for ways to make the bill more “targeted” and questioning the $350 billion in aid proposed for state and local governments. 

Community college enrollment drops during Covid
Recessions are often a time when people head back to school for additional education or training. But in Louisiana, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a 12% drop in enrollment at community and technical colleges. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that part of that is due to the active 2020 hurricane season – SOWELA in hard-hit Lake Charles leads the pack with a 28% enrollment drop. But much of the drop is due to the disruptions that Covid created for many community college students:

(Quintin) Taylor (of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System) said that, in the early stages of the pandemic, many community college students had to scramble to make child care arrangements and to grapple with their own children’s sudden change in instruction. “Our students are not the typical 18-, 19- and 20-year-old student,” he said. He said another factor in the decline was that fact that, because of the pandemic, some high school graduates opted to attend four-year universities because the temporary suspension of ACT and SAT requirements allowed them to do so without having to achieve traditional qualifying scores.

As Louisiana passes 1 million doses, Johnson & Johnson vaccines arrive
While the past year in Louisiana Covid-related news has been largely bad, there is reason to be hopeful. Emily Woodruff of The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate reports that the state has surpassed 1 million vaccination doses administered, and now that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has received federal approval, it is also on it’s way to Louisiana: 

This week, a third authorized coronavirus vaccine, from pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, is set to boost weekly supplies received from the federal government. The product is also easier to ship, store and administer, requiring just one dose. State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter said last week that Louisiana expected to receive 38,000 doses in a weekly shipment after authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which was given Saturday.

Public health officials encourage Louisianans not to discount the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is reportedly less effective in terms of preventing disease in global trials, particularly because the vaccine is effective in preventing severe disease and no recipients of it have experienced Covid-related hospitalization or death.

Number of the Day:
50.7 million – The number of Americans who have received one or both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. This includes 25.5 million people who have been fully vaccinated. More than 96.4 million doses of vaccine have been distributed so far.  (Source: Washington Post)