The Guardian reports on spiking COVID-19 cases among migrant farmworkers and their communities in California’s Central Valley. “Across California’s Central Valley, hundreds of thousands of workers wash the vegetables, debone the meat, sort the nuts and package the produce that finds its way into kitchens throughout the United States. When the coronavirus hit, their work was ruled essential, so they kept working in the often cramped facilities that fuel a state industry that exports $21bn in agricultural products each year. Workers told the Guardian that in the past months, as much of California sheltered at home, they took their places at the production lines and sorting tables, against all social distancing guidelines, as their companies made excuses for why coworker after coworker stopped showing up for their shifts. Some workers said they had to learn from news reports that they had been exposed to Covid-19. Others said they felt obligated to work even when showing virus symptoms. Then they returned to their homes in cities across the region, unknowingly exposing their parents, their spouses, their children, aunts, uncles and cousins to the virus. “We felt like they would tell us. They would take precautions. But they didn’t,” said Marielos Cisneros of her former employer, the nut producer Primex Farms, when the pandemic began. “In a sense, we felt secure.” Now the virus is surging in the Central Valley, with several reported deaths among essential workers. In 10 counties, state authorities list workplaces and businesses as likely drivers for increased transmission. In at least two more counties, outbreaks in several food processing facilities have led to hundreds of infections. Workers and workers’ rights organizations say these outbreaks and the subsequent swell of infections in the Central Valley point to a devastating truth: that we are each only as protected as our least protected; as vulnerable as our most vulnerable. “You can appear to contain the spread among middle-class workers but when it reaches those workers who are furthest on the margins, who are most disadvantaged, the virus is going to spread,” said Edward Flores, a sociology professor at the University of California, Merced.”
The Chicago Tribune reports on the potential for the pandemic to shift Americans’ attitudes toward social safety net protections. “As the pandemic presses into its six month and an expanding cohort of Americans personally benefit from their slice of the government’s $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, some political scientists, historians and experts believe that the COVID-19-era could shift the national discourse about the role Americans want the government to play in their lives and ultimately lead to an expanded social safety net that more closely resembles those in other affluent nations. "COVID is such a potentially transformational experience," said Martin Gilens, chair of the Department of Public Policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. "If there is a broader reckoning with the failures of our government, then maybe that will extend to how we deal with inequality and poverty, and we'll be entertaining something that looks a little more like a European welfare state." … "Discrimination has always permeated social welfare in the United States," said retired NYU associate professor Alma Carten, who has written extensively about how racism toward Black people shaped the framework of the American social safety net and still shapes perceptions of it today. Public assistance in the U.S. is broken into two tiers, Carten said. There are the social-insurance programs, such as unemployment and Social Security, which workers or their employers pay into, and means-tested programs, such as food stamps. And the latter category, Carten said, is more stigmatized and “considered the dole,” a distinction rooted, she says, in racism and in our nation’s work-hard-achieve-anything capitalist ethos… "American social welfare policy is complicated," Carten said. "We make a distinction between people who are 'worthy' and who are 'unworthy.'"
The New York Federal Reserve warns that families with children face more severe economic strain than households without children, and are at “greater risk of needing to dip into savings, missing a rent payment or not having enough food to eat during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Guardian reports on looming water shutoffs facing households in the US. “Millions of families in America risk losing running water over unpaid bills as moratoriums on shutoffs expire across the country, despite record levels of unemployment and mounting fatalities from the coronavirus pandemic. Running water had been guaranteed to about two-thirds of Americans as hundreds of utilities suspended disconnections amid warnings from public health experts that good hygiene, particularly hand-washing, was crucial to curtailing the spread of the virus. But now at least 115 local moratoriums on water disconnections, including the statewide orders in Indiana and Ohio, have expired. That leaves 46 million or so people at risk of having their taps turned off even as the pandemic rages.”