As Heather Cox Richardson puts it in her quiet way, “While we are all focused on the pandemic, there is a lot going on.” Her recent posts describe various voter suppression activities, starting with the Reagan era, and explains why it matters that Trump fired Intelligence Inspector General Michael Atkinson. Her April 5 column reminds us that “We are surrounded by ordinary people who are giving themselves to serve others.”
This week’s issue of News You May Have Missed continues to track the impact of the coronavirus and policies surrounding it on many of those others–while still noting what else is going on.
1. Farmworkers struggle because of COVID-19, left out of relief
U.S. farmworkers are in grave difficulty as a result of the coronavirus and policies surrounding it. They are considered “essential” workers, according to the New York Times, but have few protections and are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. The United Farm Workers union describes their situation vividly. In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Greg Asbed, a founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and a McArthur fellow, points out the risks that farmworkers face:
- in general, they live in crowded condition where social distancing and isolation of the sick are impossibilities;
- they often travel to work in crowded buses provided by growers;
- they have been suffering from the effects of inadequate healthcare for years;
- many are undocumented and at risk of deportation, so they fear attempting to access social services that are helping others during the pandemic;
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued to raid immigrant communities during the pandemic.
- Farmworkers have been left out of coronavirus pandemic relief legislation thus far, and their vulnerability makes our entire food system vulnerable. S-HP
You can insist on coronavirus legislation that includes farmworkers and on an end to immigration raids. Addresses are here.
2. Farmworker children at risk
Agricultural workers are excluded from basic protections provided under federal employment law, and this lack of protection extends to child workers, who may legally begin agricultural work as young as age 12. Farmworkers under the age of 18 are killed in workplace accidents at four times the rate of other underage workers. Women—and this includes girls—doing agricultural work are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. In addition, according to EarthJustice, children are highly vulnerable to the pesticides used in agriculture, which have been documented to cause lowered IQs, developmental delays, and a higher risk of both ADHD and cancer. H.R.3394, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety Act, would address these issues by doing the following:
- raising the minimum age for farm work to 14
- limiting hazardous tasks to farm workers age 18 and older
- prohibiting farm work by children before 7a.m. and after 7p.m.
This legislation has been with the House Education and labor Committee since June of 2019. S-HP
You can urge swift, positive action on H.R.3394 by the House Education and Labor Committee and encourage your Congressmembers to stand up for children working in agriculture by supporting H.R.3394 or similar legislation. Addresses here.
3. Trump resists oversight of coronavirus relief funds. Pelosi persists.
Trump had wanted the recent $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, included $500 billion dollars for “corporate relief,” under the sole control of Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin. To ensure that this money was allocated appropriately and not used as a slush fund to benefit Trump and his cronies, the House insisted that the distribution of these monies be under the supervision of an oversight committee and an inspector general. However, Politico reports that, when signing the legislation, Trump added a signing statement, “‘I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the [inspector general] to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required’ by Article II of the Constitution…. Trump also indicated he would treat as optional a requirement in the bill that key congressional committees be consulted before Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development spends or reallocates certain funds.” Days later, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced the formation of a select committee with subpoena powers to oversee the handling of relief funds. According to the Washington Post, the committee is specifically charged with “rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.” S-HP
If you are so inclined, you can insist to Trump and Mnuchin that they honor the legislated oversight for these funds and thank Pelosi for acting to ensure these monies will be used appropriately. Addresses are here.
4. Immigrants pepper-sprayed in pandemic briefing, denied safe conditions
The struggle against inhumane immigration policies and the use of immigration detention has intensified during the coronavirus pandemic. A number of human rights and medical organizations have called for immediate action to prevent the spread of coronavirus in both U.S. detention campus and in the informal, and chaotic, camps where those subjected to the “Remain in Mexico” policy are forced to stay. These groups include Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders USA, Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugees International, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their specific requests include:
- that the U.S. stop violating its own refugee laws and treaty obligations;
- that the “Remain in Mexico” policy be abandoned as it presents a greater public health threat than releasing asylum applicants in the U.S.;
- that the poor health conditions in U.S. refugee detention centers be addressed, rather than used as a reason for continuing “Remain in Mexico”;
- that proper legal processes be followed for asylum requests;
- that asylum and immigrant applicants not be allowed to fall out of status (the legal timelines for processing applications) during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is citing multiple examples of individuals in immigration detention being denied adequate access to soap and water and hand sanitizer, not being provided information on avoiding coronavirus transmission, and kept in facilities within which the recommended social distancing guidelines are an impossibility. To this situation, add the fact that as, Mother Jones reports, in at least three instances, detainees have been pepper-sprayed in privately run GEO Group facilities. These are facilities with lack of adequate access to soap and water. Anyone hit with pepper spray is immediately going to start producing tears and mucous—and this is happening in overcrowded facilities during a viral pandemic. (If you need yet another reason to be appalled, see GEO Group’s self-promotion claiming respect for human and civil rights and corporate social responsibility. If you click on “locations,” you’ll see aerial shorts of all 129 GEO Group facilities, which contain a combined total of 95,000 beds.)
There are currently some 6,600 children being held in immigration detention—3,600 in facilities for unaccompanied minors, and other 3,000 in family detention. As of March 30, at least four unaccompanied children in immigration detention had tested positive for coronavirus. After appeals on behalf of children in immigration detention, U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee has ordered swift—but not immediate—release of children in immigration detention, according to the New York Times. She has ordered that the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement provide an accounting by April 6 of all efforts they have taken to release detained children. S-HP
You can write to the GEO Group and demand investigations by Congress and the Homeland Security Inspector General regarding GEO Group’s use of pepper spray in immigration detention centers during the coronavirus pandemic. You can also join the groups calling for release of those in immigration detention, particularly children, and for immediate provision of appropriate care, supplies, and space for those in detention. Addresses are here.
5. ICE harassing immigrants during pandemic
While California continues to live under “shelter-in-place” rules, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued to raid immigrant communities. California has ordered all “non-essential” businesses and services closed, a policy which raises the question of why harassing these communities and worsening a climate of fear is essential. In addition, in doing this work, ICE is making use of N95 medical masks, which are under high demand and which the Surgeon General has said should be reserved for frontline medical workers, according to the LA Times. In fact, on March 25, ICE put in a request for 45,000 N95 masks, the SF Chronicle reported.
The Chronicle quotes Brian Grady, a physician and president of the San Francisco-Marin Medical Society, as saying the request “flies in the face of all the public health measures to combat and minimize the spread of COVID-19…. We are currently experiencing a severe shortage of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], particularly N95 masks, for health care workers. Requisitioning a large number of these to further the effort to arrest and detain people sends exactly the wrong message at this time.” S-HP
You can write to your elected representatives asking for an end to immigration raids during the coronavirus pandemic and insisting that N95 masks and other PPE be reserved for medical use.
6. State Dept. to require DNA tests of immigration applicants
A proposed Federal Rules Change from the Department of State, “Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposals, Submissions, and Approvals: Affidavit of Relationship,” would require DNA testing for all “anchor” immigration applications: “Anchor” immigration being immigration allowing a parent or child to join other family members already living legally in the U.S. The cost of this testing would be borne by the “anchor” (U.S. resident) or other family members. In the case of successful applications, individuals may be eligible for reimbursement. As of April 4, no comments had been submitted regarding this proposed rule change. Official comments are due by April 20. S-HP
You can comment on the burden DNA testing would place on immigrants applying to reunite with family members. Be sure to refer to the docket number.
7. Black people dying at higher rates from COVID-19
Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ, reports that “while black residents make up only 23% of the population in the county, they account for 58% of the COVID-19 deaths.” These kinds of statistics are echoed around the country, according to Axios, which says that poor communities and communities of color are experiencing a disproportionate impact. Poverty and environmental conditions in those communities lead to higher rates of high blood pressure, respiratory problems and diabetes, all risk factors for more severe cases of COVID-19. Lack of access to health care, crowded living situations, and the inability to work from home all compound the risks. RLS
You can demand immediate coronavirus relief targeted at communities of color and insist that accessible healthcare and expanded preventative medicine for these communities must be national goals, regardless of any other challenges we face. You could also write any of the caucus co-chairs on Black and community health and thank them for their continued work on this issue. Addresses are here.
8. Racial Disparities in COVID-19 testing
According to reporting by Nashville Public Radio, concerns have been raised about racial disparities in testing for those with coronavirus symptoms. In Nashville, three drive-through testing centers were set up in primarily minority communities, but their opening was delayed due to a lack of test kits and personal protective equipment. In other parts of the city, testing has predominantly been offered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center at its walk-in clinics, which serve more-affluent, predominantly white areas of the metropolitan area. One of these testing centers is being staffed by Meharry Medical College, the historically Black medical college located in north Nashville, the heart of the city’s historically Black community. Dr. James Hildreth, president of Meharry, has said that he has seen no overt bias, but instead views the delay in getting the testing centers up and running as part of ongoing disparities in healthcare services. Similar testing disparities have been noticed in Shelby County, TN, where Memphis is located, where screening is happening in the predominantly white suburbs, rather than the predominantly Black urban neighborhoods. Community activists have raised concerns about modes of testing (drive-thru testing requires a car) and of using social media to publicize the testing locations (which requires technical savvy and internet connection at home, with libraries and schools closed). JM-L
9. Concerns about bias in NYC Field Hospitals
New York mayor, Bill De Blasio has said that officials from the mayor’s office will monitor the field hospitals built in Central Park by the evangelical Christian charity, Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse is run by Franklin Graham, who is known for his anti-LGBTQ and anti-Islam views. De Blasio expressed concerns that the organization requires employees to sign statements of faith denouncing both same-sex marriage and abortion and declaring that people who do not follow Christian faith are condemned to hell, according to the Gothamist. The organization has affirmed that they will provide equal treatment to all New Yorkers, but given Graham’s statements and accusations that the group has used previous deployments as “covert conversion schemes,” De Blasio and speaker of the New York City Council, Corey Johnson, have expressed concern that LGBTQ people would not receive equal treatment at the facility. These concerns have drawn backlash from conservative media, which has accused De Blasio of being anti-Christian. The Samaritan’s Purse field hospitals have already accepted more than 30 patients. JM-L
10. Postal service, vote-by-mail in jeopardy
Democrats in the House have launched a new stimulus to keep the Post Office running past June. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations issued a statement that urgent action is needed to stave off bankruptcy. In remote areas, the Postal Service is essential for drug deliveries; it is also crucial for bill payment for those without reliable internet, the upcoming relief checks, and for integrated world-wide mail service. In addition, a shut down would leave hundreds of thousands of people without jobs at a vulnerable time in the economy, MSN reports. Especially urgent is that it would undercut the vote-by-mail system, which will be increasingly essential to cope with COVID-19 risks in the fall. The Brennan Center, a non-partisan non-profit, has mapped out what would be necessary in terms of logistics and funding, to expand vote-by-mail. Trump is, of course, opposed to expanding voting access, claiming that it would ensure that Republicans would never again be elected.
The stresses on the Post Office increased when Congress required it to pre-fund benefits for all current and future employees, as CNBC explained in 2011; the Post Office is required to be entirely self-sustaining and does not receive taxpayer funds. The most recent stimulus bill permitted the Post Office to borrow up to $10 billion, it does not include any debt or emergency support, according to Business Insider. RLS
If you want to ask your members of Congress to keep the U.S. Postal System running both during this pandemic and after, their addresses are here.
11. Navy captain relieved of duty tests positive for COVID-19
Navy Captain Brett Crozier, who brought attention to the coronavirus crisis on the ship he commanded, has been relieved of duty. Simply put, Crozier sacrificed his career to get his sailors off USS Theodore Roosevelt and save as many as possible from the virus. On top of that, he has now tested positve for the coronavirus, according to the New York Times.
The sailors who has been under his command loudly cheered Crozier as he disembarked from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, NBC News reports. In contrast, the ACLU notes, Trump’s pardons of war criminals are undermining the entire military justice system. S-HP
If you want to ask your congressmembers to call for the reinstatement of Captain Crozier, their addresses are here.
12. Trump neglects to order equipment, seizes it from other countries
Trump has forbidden 3M, which produces desperately needed n95 masks for medical use, to export them to Canada and Latin America, according to the CBC. The move could cause retaliatory trade responses and overlooks many reciprocal agreements. As Canadian prime minister Trudeau pointed out, thousands of nurses cross into Detroit from Canada daily to work. German and French officials also accused the Trump administration of diverting medical supplies headed for their countries, NPR reports. Even within the US, states with governors who are allies of the president are more able to get medical supplies from the federal stockpile, the Washington Post notes. Vox points out that the U.S. did not even begin ordering masks and ventilators until mid-March, though Trump received a briefing on the coronavirus on January 3. RLS
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
13. Pregnant women, new mothers of color, impacted by coronavirus
A piece in We•news highlights the negative impact the coronavirus pandemic is having for U.S. women, particularly women of color, who are pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding. Social distancing and hospital restrictions on “visitors” mean more women are giving birth without doulas (medically qualified birthing assistants) or without partners who have prepared to be with them as they give birth. Depending on the situations at birthing centers and hospitals, some women are making plans for c-sections, rather than vaginal births, in hopes of having improved chances of receiving appropriate levels of care; some are trying to arrange last-minute home births; others, who can afford to, are travelling hundreds or thousands of miles in hope of giving birth at a facility that is not already stretched to its limits by coronavirus.
The complications continue after birth. Breastfeeding is the most reliable way of feeding infants in an emergency and the World Health Organization recommends that women continue to breastfeed with protections. However, the lack of access to lactation consultants and per-based breastfeeding support programs mean women are choosing not to breastfeed—and this at a time when infant formula is already scarce, due to panic buying. The anxieties surrounding the coronavirus pandemic are also likely to trigger increased premature births and rising rates of post-partem depression. These problems aren’t just unavoidable byproducts of the pandemic; they are the direct results of the failed federal coronavirus response. Kimberly Seals Allers, the author of the We•news piece calls for:
- providing immediate access to video conferencing with doulas and lactation consultants;
- decriminalizing home-birth midwives in states that have not yet done this;
- establishing birthing centers in appropriate alternate facilities;
- requiring that emergency planning include those who are pregnant or birthing.
Seals Allers also recommends donating to several organizations that support birthing women of color:the Black Mammas Matter Alliance, the National Association of Peer Lactation Supporters of Color, and the National Association to Advance Black Birth.
In addition, the California Association of Licensed Midwives–CALM–is calling on Governor Newsom to provide greater access to midwives and require that insurance companies cover the cost of their services in order to permit birthing women with low-risk pregnancies to stay out of hospitals during the pandemic. You can email the Governor here. S-HP
You may want to ask that the federal coronavirus response include planning for individuals who are pregnant, giving birth, and breastfeeding. Key addresses are here.
14. US testing rate has stalled
It’s not news that the US has lagged behind other countries in testing for COVID-19 and because widespread testing is increasingly looking like an important facet to keeping fatalities low, this failure is going to cost lives. Throughout March, the number of tests done by US labs rose steadily from a few hundred to 100,000 a day; unfortunately, the number of tests has stalled at that rate for the past week. In comparison, while Germany tests 50,000 a day, that is about twice the U.S. per capita testing rate, and their case fatality rate is also much lower, according to Ars Technica. The tests that are being performed are increasing in one key, if troubling, metric: The percentage of positive results. The week of March 15, 13% of tests returned positive results, while last week it was 17% and this week was 22%. It’s not necessarily the case that the actual rate of positive numbers are increasing accordingly; it could be that medical professionals are getting better at screening candidates for testing. JC
15. Economic effects of COVID-19 may last decades
Economists at the University of California, Davis have written a paper published by the Federal Reserve bank of San Francisco, drawing on historical data from previous pandemics that claimed at least 100,000 lives. They found the economic aftershocks can last for decades. From the Black Death of the 14th century to the Hong Kong flu epidemic of the 1950’s, researchers found that real interest returns decreased after the diseases had passed. This pattern suggests that investments will earn less as people shy away from risk and attempt to rebuild wealth and save, a phenomenon actually opposite of the after-effects of war. Wage growth, however, stands to grow modestly as labor asserts itself in the wake of these events. According to Phys.org, the researchers caution that this pandemic may depart from previous ones because of the disproportionate death rate among elderly populations that were a far less numerous demographic historically than is the case today. JC
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist has ways to advocate for people coping with gun violence at home during shelter-in-place orders, speak up for Indigenous communities, urge protection for immigrant healthcare workers–and more.
- If you postcard, you can work through Sarah-Hope’s list. Most of the items are with the pertinent news summaries above.
- Martha has identified various important items on which to register a public comment. If you can comment on April 6, there is a proposal to dredge San Francisco Bay. In addition, there is a chance to comment on the Trump administration’s proposal to grow GMO crops in wildlife refugees. Also take a look at the Community Reinvestment Act.
- Rogan’s list has ways to object to the rollback of environmental protections, donate for food relief, find solutions to Zoom attacks, along with many good news links.