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Whitmer continues attack on virus

On Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her Michigan COVID Recovery Plan to help tackle the pandemic and its related impact on Michigan workers, businesses, and our economy. That was the latest in a string of some long-awaited good news and hope on the COVID-19 front as our state and our country fight through this health crisis.

The COVID-19 vaccine continues to be distributed and administered to people across the state. President-elect Joe Biden has announced his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 American Rescue Plan to fund vaccinations, provide immediate relief to families, and support struggling communities.

And, in late December 2020, Congress and the Michigan Legislature passed respective, bipartisan COVID relief packages to help support kids, workers, and businesses during these tough times. Signed into law by Whitmer, the state stimulus package included several grant programs for workers and businesses that are getting underway this month.

Employee Assistance Grants for certain employees impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are available until Jan. 25 at 5 p.m. People can learn more and apply at mrlaef.org/money. And applications for survival grants for small businesses disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus are open now and will close on Friday, Jan. 22 at noon. More information on those grants can be found at michiganbusiness.org.

Those programs will help, but Whitmer recognizes that much more is needed, and outlined a number of other proposals in her Michigan COVID Recovery Plan. The plan includes a number of both longstanding and COVID-related League priorities to better support Michigan workers and their families, including a permanent extension of 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, increased rental, food, and worker assistance, vaccine funding, and more.

Michigan used to provide up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, but that was cut down to 20 weeks in 2011. As an organization that advocates for struggling workers, the Michigan League for Public Policy opposed the shortsighted move to cut state unemployment benefits a decade ago, and we have been advocating for the restoration of those benefits ever since.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need for additional unemployment benefits, and we agree that it should be done permanently, not piecemeal or on a temporary basis. The challenges for unemployed and underemployed workers preceded COVID-19, and will continue even after the pandemic gets under control, and we need to ensure that an additional six weeks of financial support is always there.

The League has also been pushing for a stronger safety net for decades, and even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit. That includes advocating for greater investment in rental assistance and food assistance like those proposed by the governor on Tuesday. For years, too many Michigan families have been one unexpected crisis away from hardship. And, while that used to be a fear on an individual basis, COVID-19 has led to it being experienced globally.

No resident should have to face hunger or homelessness, and this funding will help families weather this storm without losing everything and, in turn, make it easier for them to get back on their feet once the health emergency subsides. Additional pieces of Whitmer’s plan that will help working single parents, small businesses, and schools will all help to get our economy back on track.

Finally, in order for this health emergency and its economic side effects to subside, we need to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Michigan COVID Recovery Plan also includes federal funding to ramp up much-needed vaccination distribution and provide financial support to local health departments for vaccine administration costs, including additional staff, equipment and supplies. The state will also receive $575 million to expand COVID-19 testing, tracing, and lab capacity in Michigan, working comprehensively and concurrently to reduce the spread of COVID-19 before and after exposure.

We are approaching one year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan, and it has impacted all of us in a variety of ways. But the governor and our state leaders are doing what they can to help. Whitmer’s new plan addresses many of the outstanding COVID-related needs that the League has been advocating for since this crisis hit, and we hope the Legislature will work with her to pass these proposals.

Alex Rossman is external affairs director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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