Power Up: Low-income communities might fall through coronavirus stimulus package gaps

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The People

NOT APRIL FOOLS’: Bills are due tomorrow. It’s the first of potentially many looming deadlines that Americans across the country, hit by the coronavirus pandemic, may miss. 

After parts of the U.S. economy temporarily shuttered to slow the spread of the deadly virus, the third and largest stimulus package in American history enacted last week will provide some relief for the tsunami of 3.28 million Americans who filed for unemployment benefits last month. It will also provide billions of dollars in support for hospitals bracing for an influx of patients. 

But Democrats are already concerned that a fourth round of stimulus legislation will be necessary in order to continue to buoy the U.S. economy and American workers amid the coronavirus crisis. Lawmakers and advocates for the disadvantaged – including low-income people who may not have filed tax returns over the last two years, the homeless, and disabled veterans, may have trouble collecting on the government promise to help them during the pandemic.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone Jr. and House Education and Labor Chair Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, laid out what exactly House Democrats want to see in an additional measure during a conference call with reporters on Monday. 

  • “The fourth bill would be about recovery,” Pelosi told reporters. “We would like to see in what comes next something that has always been nonpartisan … and that would be an infrastructure piece that takes us into the future.”
  • Pelosi, Pallone and Scott also called for more direct payments to individuals; the third stimulus package provides a one-time check to Americans making less than $75,000 annually.
  • The lawmakers also said they’d request “significantly more” money for state governments, additional protective equipment, free coronavirus treatments (even for uninsured individuals), and more stringent health standards to protect health care and other at-risk workers.
  • Pelosi “suggested the next package include a retroactive rollback of a tax change that hurt high earners in states like New York and California,” the New York Times’s Jim Tankersley and Emily Cochrane report. “A full rollback of the limit on the state and local tax deduction, or SALT, would provide a quick cash infusion in the form of increased tax rebates to an estimated 13 million American households — nearly all of which earn at least $100,000 a year.” 
  • Republicans are already casting doubt on the need for more assistance:I’m not sure we need a fourth package, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox News on Sunday, adding he wants to see the first three packages implemented first. 
  • Our colleague Jeff Stein reports: “The odds of Republicans supporting that for now at least ‘are zero. No more spending. We did all the spending,’ one WH economic adviser says.”

Advocates and community groups working with some of the most vulnerable Americans told Power Up that a fourth stimulus package should directly further address the communities most likely to be hit the hardest by covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. 

They argue the third stimulus package – with its direct cash payments, extended and increased unemployment coverage, and $12 billion in funding for federal housing and rental assistance –  doesn’t go far enough in supporting disabled, homeless, and impoverished constituencies. 

  • “The question isn’t will we need a fourth package,” Bethany Lilly, the director of income policy at The Arc, which serves low-income families, told Power Up, but “how long will it take Congress to realize that they need to do a fourth package. It’s unfortunate but it’s kind of where we are right now.”
  • Lilly also argues the increase in matching federal funds for Medicaid included in the third stimulus is not enough to cover the influx of covid-19 patients who are poor, uninsured or disabled especially since those patients often require even more specialized and direct support care. “Front line Medicaid providers for those with disabilities need to get the funding they need to continue to serve their clients,” said Lilly. “I think Congress will have to come back and take a look to make sure that Medicaid providers have what they need — to make sure that people actually get the services they need.”

A national eviction freeze: Over $12 billion was included in that stimulus for federal housing and rental assistance, along with protections against foreclosures and evictions for those who live in public housing or have federally backed mortgage loans. The measures, however, do not cover those who are facing foreclosures and evictions from all affordable housing providers. 

  • Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called for a “uniform, national eviction and foreclosure moratorium that ensures we don’t lose our homes during the pandemic” on a conference call with reporters yesterday.
  • On the same call, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said he would continue to “fight foreclosures and evictions” in the next iteration of legislation.
  • “Federal action that is clear and unequivocal would be a game changer,” Tommy Newman, the senior director of impact initiatives at the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, told Power Up. “At least in Los Angeles, 600,000 people spend 90% of their income on housing. So their ability to hang on to that place is deeply in jeopardy right now …. we could have hundreds of thousands of people who are much more vulnerable” to homelessness,” he added.
  • Some want to go even further, calling for complete forgiveness of rental payments during the crisis: While some states like New York have already issued eviction moratoriums to prevent mass displacement and homelessness, local lawmakers are still concerned that debts accrued during this period will only mount,
  • The eviction moratorium, while good, does not solve the problem that is going to crash over us in three months time,” New York State Michael Gianaris told Curbed’s Caroline Spivack. “That’s all the moratorium does; it pushes back the date but does not stop the financial obligation from accruing. The only way to really deal with this is to actually forgive the rent payments. ”

Another issue: Advocates are also looking to ensure that low-income individuals are automatically eligible for stimulus checks. As it stands, the cash assistance payments are being tied to 2019 and 2018 tax filings. Those who have not filed tax returns recently will have a tougher time obtaining getting direct cash payments.

  • “Low-income poor people with disabilities, for example, don’t generally file taxes. So because of that, they aren’t going to get checks like everyone else,” Lilly told Power Up. “It’s very unclear that there are going to be any additional resources to help pay for helping these 4 million very low income people with disabilities and seniors fill out their tax forms or take whatever steps they need to take to get their taxes filed.” 
  • “There are certainly questions about how certain individuals who don’t file tax returns will be identified and how to address these peoples,” Heather Ansley, the associate executive director of government relations at Paralyzed Veterans, told us. “And if our veterans fall in that gap where they didn’t file  returns, we hope that the process is as easy as possible.”
  • Guidance from Mnuchin: “We expect that within three weeks, that people who have direct deposit with information with us will see those direct deposits into their bank accounts, and we will create a web-based system for people where we don’t have their direct deposit, they can upload it so that they can get the money immediately as opposed to checks in the mail,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told “Face the Nation’s” Margaret Brennan. 
  • “They are still figuring things out as well,” Lilly added of guidance from the Treasury Department on how the rebates will be disbursed to those who have not filed taxes. 

At The White House

TRUMP’S CHANGE OF HEART ALSO INCLUDED POLITICS: “Aides and advisers say the president was heavily influenced by briefings from scientific and public health officials, as well as by the stark reality of the virus, including projections of greater deaths depending on what measures the government takes,” our colleagues Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report.

But campaign officials and political allies were also in his ear: “They arg[ued] that a spike in deaths could be even more politically damaging in November than the current economic downturn, according to two of the people familiar with the discussions. Campaign officials declined to comment,” our colleagues write.

  • It’s always about the base: “Public health officials warned Trump that many rural areas — which form the bedrock of the president’s political support — do not have the necessary hospitals and doctors to handle an outbreak, should it come.”
  • Polls showing widespread skepticism of an Easter reopening were also pushed: “Some administration officials had also circulated a Yahoo News/YouGov poll showing that 59 percent of Americans believed opening up ‘the country for business’ by Easter, as Trump suggested last week, was ‘too soon,’ two of the people said. And Trump has been pleased by how his approval ratings have ticked up recently.”
  • Different data:But there was another set of numbers that also helped persuade Mr. Trump to shift gears on Sunday and abandon his goal of restoring normal life by Easter. Political advisers described for him polling that showed that voters overwhelmingly preferred to keep containment measures in place over sending people back to work prematurely,” report the New York Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman.
  • The (political) numbers: “In a survey conducted by John and Jim McLaughlin, who were pollsters for Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, 52 percent of Americans preferred a full national shutdown requiring everyone other than those deemed essential to stay at home as opposed to 38 percent who favored universal testing and isolating only those demonstrated to be infected with the virus,” Peter and Maggie report.
  • Key quote: “There’s an acknowledgment that there’s no getting ‘back to normal’ if the virus is still a threat,” Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster, told the Times. “And for the most part, we are seeing people supportive of leaders at the state and federal level, even if there is frustration about an initially slow response.”

OFFICIALS SAY AS MANY AS 200,000 PEOPLE COULD DIE: “Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, told NBC News that the United States could record 200,000 deaths even ‘if we do things together well, almost perfectly,’” our colleagues Matt Zapotosky, John Wagner and Marisa Iati report.

  • It’s going to get worse before it gets better: That’s what federal and state health officials are saying “as deaths across the world from covid-19 climbed above 37,000 and those in the United States rose to more than 2,900,” our colleagues write.
  • U.S. deaths grew by more than 500 for the first time on Monday.
  • Some good news? “Harsh measures, including stay-at-home orders and restaurant closures, are contributing to rapid drops in the numbers of fevers — a signal symptom of most coronavirus infections — recorded in states across the country, according to intriguing new data produced by a medical technology firm,” reports the Times’s Donald G. McNeil Jr.
  • “The company, Kinsa Health, which produces internet-connected thermometers, first created a national map of fever levels on March 22 and was able to spot the trend within a day. Since then, data from the health departments of New York State and Washington State have buttressed the finding, making it clear that social distancing is saving lives.”

Outside the Beltway

HEADLINES FROM THE HOT SPOTS: Power Up’s continuing look at how the virus is affecting states and cities throughout the country.

NEW YORK: 

A hospital ship arrived in New York: “The 1,000-bed USNS Comfort will be used as a ‘relief valve,’ treating non-coronavirus patients while the city’s increasingly stressed hospitals handle people with covid-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said,” the Associated Press’s Tom Hays and Marina Villeneuve report.

Over 900 people have now died in New York City: The number of virus-related deaths in New York City rose to 914 Monday afternoon, up 138 from around the same time Sunday, officials said,” per the New York Times.

  • On a more hopeful note: “Cuomo said that while the number of hospitalizations continues to grow, the rate which it is growing was tapering off. ‘We had a doubling of cases every two days, then a doubling every three days and a doubling every four days, then every five,’ he said. ‘We now have a doubling of cases every six days. So while the overall number is going up, the rate of doubling is actually down,’” the Times reports. 

Cuomo’s popularity is soaring: The governor has stressed this is no time for politics, but his approval rating has skyrocketed as his state endures the outbreak.  As the headline of our colleagues Sarah Ellison and Ben Terris’s story pointed out, Cuomo “is the same as ever, with one big difference: People like him.”

  • The sea change is incredible: According to a Siena College poll released on Monday, Cuomo’s favorability rose nearly 30 percentage points since February.
  • Despite a boomlet in Cuomo 2020 talk, the governor told his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, the answer to whether he would consider or is thinking about entering the presidential race is “No.”

CALIFORNIA:

Hospitalizations are surging in the state: “Between Friday and Monday, the number of California patients hospitalized with covid-19 in intensive-care beds nearly tripled to 597 from 200. The number of hospitalizations has nearly doubled, from 746 to 1,432,” the Los Angeles Times’s Melody Gutierrez and Taryn Luna reports.

  • Key stat: “Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said the state’s modeling suggests California will need 50,000 new hospital beds by mid-May,” the LA Times reports.

In the Media

THE ENTIRE DMV WILL SOON BE UNDER STAY AT HOME ORDERS: “Maryland, Virginia and the District barred residents from leaving home unless it’s absolutely necessary, joining a handful of other states that have issued such orders in hopes of controlling the fast-spreading novel coronavirus,” our colleagues Antonio Olivo, Ovetta Wiggins and Gregory S. Schneider report.

  • Together, according to the census, the orders cover about 15.2 million people: Like other states and jurisdictions, the details of the directives, their enforcement and their implementation vary slightly. Mayor Muriel Bower’s order for Washington goes into into effect Wednesday through April 24. Both Virginia and Maryland’s orders are now in effect, but Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s lasts through June 10. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) gave no end date.

TL;DR compliance is no longer optional: “We are no longer asking or suggesting Marylanders to stay home, Hogan said during a news conference in Annapolis. “We are directing them.” All three orders carry the possibility of large fines and jail time for violators, or both. 

  • So what can you do?: “Officials said residents may still go outside for food, medication and essentials, and to exercise or walk pets, but should avoid shopping for other things and contact with people not from their households,” our colleagues write.

What else will change: We’ll repeat this just to make sure it’s clear: If you live in the DMV, you can still leave your home for essential reasons. To answer your many other questions, our colleague Rebecca Tan has put together a very helpful guide. If you want to read the full text of each order, we’ve linked them here: D.C., Virginia and Maryland.

  • D.C: Ride-sharing drivers will not be able to have more than two passengers at once; they must all wipe down their cars with disinfecting wipes after each ride. All apartment common areas, including rooftops and party rooms, must be closed.
  • Virginia: There’s now a formal ban on colleges and universities holding in-person classes. Northam (D) and state officials have clashed with Liberty University, a private evangelical-focused institution in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. and now run by his son and Trump ally Jerry Falwell Jr. Falwell Jr. encouraged students to return to the university’s campus in recent days and defended his decision amid intense criticism.

Viral

New York’s Empire State building honored front-line health workers:

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