Why fewer people are facing hunger even though we’re still in a pandemic

The Biden administration approved a major increase in SNAP recipients, which should continue to reduce childhood poverty. Plus: The non-alcoholic spirit that’s changed the game for me going forward.

President Joe Biden is embroiled in what could be the defining international crisis of his presidency after the Afghanistan government surrendered to the Taliban leaving thousands of Americans and Afghan refugees in harm’s way. But on the domestic front, his administration made another move to reduce poverty and increase the quality of life for our nation’s kids.

Starting in October, families who receive food stamps through the federal SNAP program will see their benefits indefinitely rise more than 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels, benefitting all 42 million SNAP beneficiaries. The average monthly per-person benefits will rise from $121 to $157, according to The Associated Press.

Annie Nova at CNBC reported that a June US Department of Agriculture study discovered nine out of 10 SNAP recipients struggled to eat healthily. The new amount is designed to offset the rising cost of food and align with our understanding of what constitutes a modern nutritious diet. Jason DeParle at The New York Times reports that critics of the increase say SNAP is supposed to only supply part, not all, of a household’s diet and that if recipients spent the benefits better they would last longer, pointing to research that shows nearly 10 percent go to sweetened drinks. And while the increased SNAP benefits are a meaningful step forward, they still leave much to be desired. They’re not adjusted or scaled for geographic price differences and experts say they’re inadequate for families with teenagers who tend to drive up family food costs.

The SNAP expansion is part of Biden’s focus on strengthening the social safety net. Last month, families started receiving the Child Tax Credit, a provision included in the American Rescue Plan, that sends automatic monthly payments of $250 or $300 per child without having to take any action. (Around 35 million families received the payment last month, according to the IRS.) The Census Bureau found that July’s payment coincided with a 3 percent drop in households with children experiencing food insufficiency, even though there was no drop reported in adult households without children. Nearly half of households who received the CTC reported that they spent some of the extra money on food. And the share of families with kids earning less than $50,000 who didn’t have enough to eat fell from 26 percent to 18.5 percent. The payments will continue through December. But if Democrats pass their budget proposal later this year, the CTC will go beyond the end of the year.

This is good news because new research shows that children in poverty are more likely to have cognitive and behavioral difficulties through early adulthood. “We think poverty and all of the things associated with it” —such as stress, inadequate nutrition, less access to health care — ”impact brain development,” Deanna Barch, chair and professor in the psychological and brain sciences department at Washington University in St. Louis, said. “If we can prevent poverty, we can help circumvent some of these negative outcomes.”


Coronavirus

US experts are expected to recommend a third dose of the vaccine. The guidance will call for Americans, regardless of age, to get an additional shot eight months after they received their second dose to boost their protection against the coronavirus as the Delta variant spreads across the country. [Zeke Miller / AP News]

More than 121,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported among kids last week. While severe illness remains uncommon, pediatric COVID-19-related hospital admissions have now equaled the most seen at any point of the pandemic. [Emily Shapiro, Julia Jacobo, and Morgan Winsor / ABC News]

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending five mortuary trailers to Texas in anticipation of Covid deaths. The state’s seven-day average of coronavirus deaths is at its highest since March 2021. [Jonathan Allen / NBC News]

Politics

The rescue and recovery efforts in Haiti are being snarled up due to Tropical Storm Grace. As the country attempts to rebound from the assassination of its president and another devastating earthquake, relief efforts have been hampered as Grace strengthened from a tropical depression to a storm and was expected to drench neighborhoods in up to 10 inches of snow. [Widlore Merancourt, Mary Beth Sheridan and Anthony Faiola / WaPo]

The US spends more health care dollars on White Americans than Black, Asian and Hispanic people. According to a new study, White people made up 61 percent of the population yet accounted for 72 percent of healthcare spending; Hispanic patients, who made up 18 percent of the population, accounted for only 11 percent of healthcare spending. [Katie Jennings / Forbes]

At least 384 workers have died from environmental heat exposure in the US. And since there’s no federal heat standard, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration relies on a 50-year-old regulation guaranteeing workers a “hazard-free workplace” that requires companies to provide adequate water but not other heat-safety measures. [Cheryl W. Thompson / NPR]

Business

Retail sales dropped by 1.1% in July, up from the 0.3% Wall Street analysts expected. Spending at stores that sell clothing, furniture and sporting goods as American cut back amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. [Joseph Pisani / Associated Press]

Childcare is becoming critical in hiring and retaining talent. Managers are learning that providing it not only addresses one of some employees’ most pressing needs but also increases their performance due to the lift in peace of mind. [Tony Case / Digiday]

Technology

Facebook and TikTok will keep bans in place on Taliban propaganda. The social apps consider the militant group, which completed its takeover of Afghanistan last weekend, to be a terrorist organization. [Sam Shead / CNBC]

YouTube will show video chapters in search results now. These time-stamped image thumbnails are designed to give you more insight into the content inside each video help you quickly find exactly the info you're looking for. [Nathan Ingraham / Engadget]

Culture

Almost half of American adults have tried weed. Younger Americans are much more likely to say they currently smoke marijuana but discontinue as they get older, according to Gallup polling and research. [Robert Hart / Forbes]


Read All About It

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Asia Milia Ware at The Cut on why nail art is more than a style statement:

Today, intricate manicures are all over the pages of leading fashion and beauty magazines, and a host of celebrities have made complex nail designs part of their trademark style. Google “Who started the long nail trend?” and Kylie Jenner is often the first result — a fact that would be laughable if it weren’t so insulting. For years, long nails were deemed “ghetto” by many outside of the Black community, and the nail styles born in the Black community aren’t a trend — they’re a part of our history and culture.

Jerusalem Demsas and Ranjani Chakraborty at Vox on how the US made affordable homes illegal:

Zoning laws are the rules and regulations that decide what types of homes can be built where. While this can be innocuous, exclusionary zoning is anything but. These rules have a dark history in the United States as a tool of racial and economic segregation, used explicitly to keep certain races, religions, and nationalities out of certain neighborhoods. And while the explicit racism has been wiped from the legal text, the effect of many of these rules remains the same: to keep affordable housing, and the people who need it, away from the wealthiest Americans. In the majority of the country, and particularly in cities with good jobs, it’s illegal to build more affordable types of housing, and that’s created a widespread affordability crisis. Watch the video above for more.

Rachel M. Cohen at The New Republic on why the new school year could look a lot like the last:

Given the uncertainty around the delta threat, a growing number of families have called for assurance that their children can learn virtually this fall. Even with experts warning that children risk falling behind academically if they continue to learn remotely, some families believe the harms do not outweigh the benefits in a pandemic, especially when many districts plan to be even more lax about testing and contact tracing than they were in 2020.

According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, 80 percent of the nation’s 100 largest school districts will now be offering a virtual option; that share doubled in the first two weeks of August alone. However, New York City, the nation’s largest public school district, has not yet agreed to make remote learning available.

Getting kids back into the classroom and easing the burden on working families (especially mothers who still shoulder most of the child-rearing duties) remain top policy goals, and leaders hope that the new vaccine mandates, the pressure to ramp up mitigation measures, and forthcoming FDA full approval for Covid-19 shots will help limit the spread of the highly contagious strain and ease lingering concerns.

But for those hoping we were finally at the end of the tunnel and could now enjoy calm and relaxed in-person school, the coronavirus has wrought yet another rude awakening.

Vedika Jawa at The Atlantic on school shootings:

From a strictly statistical standpoint, COVID-19 poses a greater threat to young people than school shootings do. According to the CDC, since January 2020, 354 children have died from COVID-19, and thousands more have gotten sick. In 2019, the last year when schools were fully in person, there were 25 school shootings and five students died, according to Education Week. But fear isn’t driven by statistics. It’s an emotion driven by control. We can control, to a significant degree, our exposure to the coronavirus. We can wear masks; we can social distance; we can get vaccinated. But there is nothing students can do to protect ourselves from a school shooting. The responsibility for this danger lies solely in the hands of our government.

When the pandemic started, politicians and public-health officials immediately sprang into action: mandating shutdowns, preaching the benefits of mask wearing, and, when vaccines became available, urging and incentivizing constituents to get their shots. We have seen what our government is capable of doing to protect lives during this global health crisis. So the question remains: Why is coming together to take action on gun control so difficult? Why can we not act on this nationwide epidemic that has been affecting populations of all ages, not just for one or two years, but for more than a decade? The United States is one of the world’s most developed countries, yet we continuously fail to address one of our most urgent and life-threatening problems. More than 50 percent of eligible young people voted in 2020, many of them because they saw Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as leaders who could make a genuine change regarding issues that were important to them. One of those issues is gun violence, including school shootings. It’s time that our leaders are held accountable for the promises they made to keep us safe.

Sheena Butler-Young at Business of Fashion on the road ahead for Black fashion designers:

Dozens of retailers joined Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge — Nordstrom became one of the largest retailers to sign in July — but there are countless other corporate initiatives aimed at leveling the playing field for people of color, ranging from financial support to mentoring programs. Meanwhile, entertainers, from Beyoncé to Cardi B, are going out of their way to include Black-owned products in photoshoots and performances, sometimes thrusting previously obscure designers into the public eye with a single Instagram post.

For many Black entrepreneurs, all of that support has amounted to everything and, on some days, not much at all. They find themselves grateful for new opportunities birthed out of a year of heightened focus on supporting people of color yet immersed in the sobering reality that even on a more level playing field, the odds are stacked against small fashion businesses.

Tyler R. Tynes at GQ on LaMelo Ball, the 19-year-old NBA superstar and reigning Rookie of the Year:

Take the way he explains one of his current favorites while we're talking on a balcony in his apartment building in Charlotte. “Everybody always asks me what's my slogan—kids, old people, adults. Two words, breh: Be you. Because if you ain’t you, you being somebody else and you already fucked up from the jump. So now whatever you trying to do, it ain’t never you. Either you gonna be unhappy or something is fucked up,” he says, wistfully gazing out across the city. “Say you building something and you got all the instructions and you fuck up from the beginning? Nigga, you ain't never gonna build that shit. Ever. You just gotta be you from the jump, and whatever supposed to happen gonna happen. But if you ain't you, you already lost.” He’s rolling now, occasionally turning and staring for a second as if I’m supposed to know his punch line before he delivers it, offering a tiny grin between his words, motioning and winking like I’m in the front row of his comedy special. LaMelo congratulates himself on his homily. “That’s a fact. That’s a big fact!”


Michael’s Pick

Seedlip Grove 42 ($45): I quit drinking in 2018 and usually just order water when I meet with friends or sources. But a bartender recently recommended the citrus flavor from this brand of distilled non-alcoholic spirits with ginger ale and it changed the game for me going forward.