‘COVID-19 is a virus that does not discriminate’: Advocates want help for marginalized people

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A coalition of 49 community-based groups sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asking that she take immediate action to protect marginalized Michiganders during the COVID-19 outbreak in the state. 

At the time of publication, the state has 65 positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, but health officials believe the number is actually higher. 

A statewide coronavirus hotline will be open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

“COVID-19 is a virus that does not discriminate by ZIP code, race, creed or economic situation but we know all too well that in times of crisis, many who were already living on the edge are either allowed to fall or are pushed further to the brink,” said Nik Cole, a chef from Detroit. “We are not only calling for the passing of legislation and new policies to protect people – although they are needed. Our intention is to remind our elected officials of the total need in this crisis.”

The list of policy demands from the coalition cover topics of health care, local businesses, income, housing, water, food, utilities, education, childcare, immigration, climate change and more.

Maria Ibarra, the deputy director of the We The People Michigan coalition, says that among the many at-risk groups during the pandemic are immigrants and undocumented residents. 

Michigan almost had robust sick leave in 2018. Republicans killed it.

“Right now, it’s really scary trying to figure out exactly how to support each other when all of the resources that are being put out for the community do not apply to people like us,” said Ibarra, who is an immigrant. “So for example, we’re hearing things about being able to access unemployment or being able to go and get tested [for COVID-19]. And we know that when we go and get tested we may be asked for something as simple as an ID, and that’s something that we can’t provide.”

Ibarra called for policy that would ensure that no matter immigration status people are able to receive treatments or get testing.

Another concern of the coalition is for working people who will be going without paychecks due to statewide measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

As of Monday, all bars and restaurants are closed to dine-in services under an executive order from the governor. 

“It is a public health crisis to be sure, but it is also an economic crisis that hits home for so many people like me,” Cole said. “We need just action to ensure we are able to make ends meet. Many people like me who were working and enjoying life as usual just two weeks ago are going to be faced with severe economic reality. We need cash and we need policies that keep people living in their homes.”

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Times are also difficult for the people who are still working but need to take sick time, says Danielle Atkinson, founder of Mothering Justice. 

In 2018, the MI Time to Care group led a ballot proposal to ensure workers could earn 72 hours of paid sick time per year. However, the Legislature adopted the proposal in September 2018 and later passed a new watered-down version that was signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder.

“This pandemic is proof that we were right to call for earned sick time,” Atkinson said. “Right now we are again calling for the immediate action of earned sick time, and we are willing to work for it until it is law.”

On Monday, Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-10 to temporarily expand eligibility for unemployment benefits due to the appearance of COVID-19, which would extend benefits for the following:

  • People who have childcare responsibilities due to school closures or are forced to care for loved ones who become ill.
  • People who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and don’t have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.
  • First responders or those who work in health care and become ill or are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.

Whitmer, Duggan reverse course on water shutoffs amid coronavirus concern

Earlier this month, Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced a plan to restore water service in Detroit at “no initial cost to customers” for the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. 

But We The People Michigan Executive Director Art Reyes says that this needs to be expanded to all Michiganders. 

“The restoration of all disconnected households, and that we are  prohibiting future shut offs in Detroit, but also across the entire state, is really critical right now,” Reyes said. “It’s disingenuous for public officials to call for people to wash their hands while many still do not have running water.”

Atkinson said that these issues are crucial now during the outbreak, but the issues are not new.

“We need to respond to this crisis,” Atkinson said. “But when we get on the other side, we need to reflect on these existing laws and policies and make the necessary changes.”