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Congress must continue virus aid

It is clear that the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on workers, families and businesses in Northeast Michigan. Our community is hurting, and, without immediate action from Congress, even more people will lose the federal supports that are keeping them from economic collapse.

United Way of Northeast Michigan has responded by creating an Emergency Response Relief Fund that has distributed $42,000 to more than 30 agencies assisting our residents with meeting their basic needs. The Payroll Protection Program and Emergency Food and Shelter Program have ushered in many thousands of additional dollars supporting our community. We still have people who are experiencing food insecurity, homelessness, and the inability to pay for utilities, rents and medical care.

Thanks to bipartisan effort from Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, Congress has passed legislation to help families stay in their homes, keep food on the table, and make ends meet.

But now Congress must act quickly and in a bipartisan manner to pass another bill to address long-lasting impact of this pandemic.

Her are six ways Congress can act to provide support to everyone across Michigan.

1.) Expand universal charitable giving incentives.

Demand for nonprofit services in Northeast Michigan has skyrocketed because of COVID-19. Yet charitable donations across the U.S. dropped 6% in the first quarter of 2020 due to job loss and economic uncertainty.

The temporary $300 charitable deduction included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a step in the right direction. Congress needs to do more and expand this deduction.

2.) Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) for working individuals and families.

EITC and CTC are some of the best tools we have to fight poverty. When the economy weakens, many workers lose their earned income and thus no longer qualify for the EITC , which helps to stabilize income. Filers should be able to use their income from 2019 or 2020 when calculating their 2020 EITC and CTC similar to what lawmakers have done for families affected by hurricanes and natural disasters in the past.

An expansion of the CTC and EITC is an effective policy for stimulating a weak economy.

3.) Increase funding for Medicaid.

States need increased Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) funding that will last through COVID-19 until the economy has recovered. Every dollar spent on increasing FMAP adds to two dollars to our GDP. Increased FMAP funding reaches states quickly and frees up dollars that now can be reallocated to areas of greatest need.

Increasing the federal Medicaid match rate by at least 12% for the duration of this pandemic is one of the most effective economic boosts Congress can offer during this unprecedented crisis.

4.) Provide supplemental emergency funding for programs that support the financial stability of families and communities.

Congress should invest in programs that are supporting our community response including $150 million to 211, $17 million for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), $200 million for Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) and $50 billion to stabilize childcare sector. Each of those programs are vital and meet the ever growing needs in our community.

5.) Increase Monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Since COVID-19, there has been a spike in families experiencing food insecurity and 14 million children are still not getting enough to eat. Feed the Need has expanded their once-a-month pop-up food pantries to once-a-week! Local food pantries are being depleted at alarming rates.

In wake of the 2008 recession, Congress increased monthly SNAP benefits by 15%. Congress can certainly make the same commitment today.

6.) Investm more in Enhanced Unemployment Insurance and Economic Impact Payments.

Previous economic relief packages have provided much-needed relief for workers, children and families and the need still exists to help people make ends meet. Unemployment insurance benefits need further extension to respond to continuing job losses and furloughs. We also must provide additional cash support for individuals and families, including seniors and very-low income Americans, so they have access to this critical support.

United Way of Northeast Michigan has been on the frontlines of this pandemic. We know our families cannot wait.

Sen. Stabenow, Sen. Peters, and Rep. Bergman, Michiganians are counting on you to act for America’s recovery now.

Joseph Gentry is executive director of the United Way of Northeast Michigan.

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