Editor’s Note: United States Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Joint Economic Committee. In this column written for The PuLSE Institute, Detroit’s anti-poverty think tank, Peters explains how the recent economic stimulus will help Michiganders including those living in poverty combat the coronavirus. For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson, the editor-in-chief of the Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org
By U.S. Senator Gary Peters
The PuLSE Institute
The Coronavirus pandemic is a serious economic and public health crisis. We know that Coronavirus can be transmitted very easily and have very serious health consequences for everyone. That’s why state and local leaders across the country have taken the difficult but necessary steps to temporarily close restaurants, bars, gyms – and more.
As Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee – and as Michigan’s Senator – it’s my top priority to ensure all Michiganders are safe and equipped with the resources needed to combat this pandemic.
The bottom line is this: Michiganders should not be forced to worry about whether they can put food on the table or pay their bills. Some of the stories I’ve heard – from workers, small business owners, families and health care professionals – are absolutely heartbreaking. That’s why I’ve been working to ensure that everyone impacted by this unprecedented public health emergency has the support they need to stay afloat as we get through this tough time.
Congress has passed three large bills to help combat this emergency. Each of those bills includes key support for the middle class, those living in poverty and more.
The first bill – which we passed in early March – was an $8.3 billion package that included $14.5 million directly to Michigan. That bill included a number of priorities I pushed for after hearing from Michigan health care providers about some of their concerns in handling any surge in patients with Coronavirus. It also includes $100 million for Community Health Centers, and $350 million fund for “hot spots” that municipalities can apply for in the event of a local outbreak.
The second bill – which I helped the Senate pass in mid-March – took a number of additional steps as this outbreak continued to grip our nation. Some of the highlights in that bill includes:
- Food Security: This bill takes important efforts to strengthen SNAP, student meals, seniors’ nutrition and more. 22 million children rely on free or reduced-price school meals, and we need to ensure they have food at the table. We know that over 1.2 million Michiganders rely on the SNAP program. With many of them going out of work, this assistance is vital now more than ever.
- Support for Families & Workers: This bill expands paid emergency, sick and family leave while increasing the federal match rate for state Medicaid programs like Michigan’s. Under the bill passed, Michigan will receive an additional $850 million in Medicaid funding.
- Free Testing for Coronavirus: No one should avoid being tested because of the costs. This bill ensures that everyone – with or without insurance – has access to the test at no cost. This provision was based off legislation I introduced to make sure getting a test is free.
I pushed for the third bill to include measures to help workers, families, our small businesses and health care workers. I was able to negotiate key provisions from the initial bill unveiled. Some of the provisions include:
- Expanding Unemployment Insurance and Benefits. The legislation includes my bill expanding unemployment benefits to those who can’t work right now or who have lost their jobs, including the self-employed and gig workers, like rideshare drivers, those who work seasonally, and small business owners. It ensures workers who are quarantined – at home taking care of kids out of school – or working reduced hours –can apply. It takes the unprecedented step of expanding these types of benefits in response to a public health emergency. The final bill also provides an additional $600 in weekly unemployment benefit amounts for up to four months.
- Increasing Funding for Small Businesses. I’ve spoken with small businesses owners across Michigan about how devastating this pandemic has been to them and their employees and steps we can take to keep them afloat. This bill raises funding for 7(a) loans, minority-owned businesses and includes 100% loan guarantees. Some of the changes I pressed for include providing $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief to small business operating costs. This package also makes rent, mortgage and utility costs eligible for SBA loan forgiveness.
- Additional Support for Health Care Providers. I pressed for this bill to include additional funding for hospitals from the initial version of the bill so that our health care providers have the financial resources and medical supplies needed to care for patients and keep themselves safe. I have heard from hospitals across our state about how they are overstretched, facing financial challenges and medical supply shortages. To effectively combat this pandemic we must provide sufficient funding to our hospitals.
Americans have always united in times of uncertainty to overcome countless hardships over the years. Today we are facing significant challenges — and we must all do our part to deal with this crisis. I will keep working on efforts to help Michiganders as we face this health and economic emergency. We remain committed to serving you and doing everything possible to assist Michiganders. In the end, I am confident we will emerge stronger as a nation.
For any additional resources on Coronavirus, visit peters.senate.gov/coronavirus for guidance on how you can prepare and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. You can also call the State of Michigan’s Coronavirus hotline at 1-888-535-6136.