Stephanie Chang: We must protect our most vulnerable during this crisis

Maiden House Ministries in Highland Park food distribution | Ken Coleman

To say this is a challenging time would be a massive understatement.

As a social worker turned public servant, I look at issues through a social justice lens and consider what more we can do to support the underserved or marginalized. It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic lays bare the economic and social divides in our nation — people working at grocery stores or on the line at a steel mill are living very different lives right now from those working safely from home with kids (like me) or others who don’t have access to quality health care.

For people with disabilities, limited English proficiency, lower incomes or lacking health insurance, this is a crisis upon a crisis. The good news is that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has shown bold leadership in combatting the pandemic, supporting our heroic health professionals on the front lines, and in addressing important social and economic justice concerns.

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Her administration is working to ensure that the state’s coronavirus website includes information in languages other than English so that immigrant community members have access to information so they can stay safe. At the federal level, we need to do more to make sure all immigrants have access to stimulus funds, not just some.

Michigan water warriors were pleased to see Whitmer’s executive order mandating the restoration of water services to those who had experienced shutoffs and requiring data reporting. During this time where access to running water is necessary for handwashing and slowing the spread of COVID-19, this is necessary action. Water is a human right — and we’ll work hard after the pandemic to maintain this momentum.

We are making sure that our unemployment system helps Michigan’s now unemployed workers most affected by this pandemic — including, most recently, those who are self-employed, 1099-independent contractors, gig and low-wage workers.

Some who are uninsured or most at-risk residents are having harder time accessing COVID-19 tests. Forty percent of the Michigan COVID-19 deaths are African Americans. This alarming disproportionate impact requires urgent action.

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Many people with disabilities are facing challenges, too. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights in Action recently reminded us that discrimination on the basis of disability is prohibited: “[P]ersons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth.’”

I am concerned that when our health care system becomes overwhelmed, our friends with chronic health conditions or disabilities diagnosed with COVID-19 will not get care they deserve — unless our state and hospital systems put in place clear policies that ensure everyone has a chance.

We need to always respect the humanity and dignity of people in prison and jail. Low-risk offenders with upcoming release dates, the frail, or those who are serving time for technical violations should be considered for release. Our governor now allows for early release options in our jails during the emergency, and I’m hopeful that action will happen soon to ensure that people in prison have similar opportunities.

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Our work is just beginning.

As a community, we have to continue to check in on one another and help while also protecting ourselves. I am proud that our governor has listened to advocates on the ground and made tremendous strides in protecting vulnerable communities. I will continue to fight for the resources that all Michiganders need to get through this crisis.

During this emergency, the way we serve should be guided by principles of fairness, equity, and compassion — because this virus affects all of our communities. There is still work to be done to ensure equity and justice during this pandemic but I know that, together, we can do it.