Michiganders need more coronavirus aid from D.C., advocates say 

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As COVID-19 crisis enters its fourth month, many Michiganders are still hurting financially.

The state’s unemployment rate was 22.7% in April. Many advocates and Democrats are urging the GOP-led U.S. Senate to pass legislation that will help some of Michigan’s most underserved residents. The U.S. House passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act in May, but it hasn’t moved in the Senate. 

Eric Hufnagel, Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, executive director, said that the HEROES Act is necessary.

“We know that there is a substantial population of the state of Michigan who are not able to sustain the loss of wages,” he said. “So, now we have COVID-19 and that just exacerbates the problem.” 

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The HEROES Act, which is designed to follow up on the stimulus funding provided by the CARES Act, appropriates about $3 trillion of federal spending, with almost $1 trillion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments.

The bill also would provide individuals with another $1,200 stimulus check and extend the federal enhanced unemployment benefits through January. It also provides about $200 billion for affordable housing needs during the pandemic and includes a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.

Ruth Johnson, Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD), public policy director, agrees with Hufnagel.

“Each federal stimulus package has helped address the health and economic impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic,” Johnson said. “… We must continue to work together to solve the structural and systemic problems we faced before the COVID-19 pandemic that has plagued the Detroit community. 

“These solutions must address the pandemic of poverty, the virus of violence, the disease of disinvestment and the sickness of housing instability. Those who are most impacted and those organizations, like CDAD members, that work on the neighborhood level must be involved in developing and implementing these solutions.”

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About 56% of Detroit residents live in rental housing, according to Detroit Renter City, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday provided some help at the state level, extending a moratorium on residential evictions for nonpayment of rent through June 30.

“By extending the protection against eviction for non-payment we can ensure that COVID-19-infected individuals and vulnerable populations can isolate in the safety of their homes while continuing to protect incarcerated persons in our prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers,” Whitmer said. “These orders will ensure that we can continue to flatten the curve, avoid a second wave of infection, and protect the heroes serving on the front lines of this crisis.”

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the federal legislation would help to provide long-term solutions needed to address the underlying causes of homelessness and housing instability that also increase the risk of future outbreaks.

“Housing security is a matter of justice, as structural racism puts communities of color unfairly at risk of being rent burdened or homeless,” Pelosi said during a webinar last week hosted by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

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The measure passed on a 208-199 vote. Michigan’s delegation was largely divided along partisan lines, voting 7-6, with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (L-Cascade Twp.), voting with Republicans. U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) didn’t vote.

Only one Republican, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), supported the measure.

“I can be as much a red-state person as anyone,” King told Fox News. “But now we’re talking about survival. And this is no place for politics. There’s a lot in the bill that I disagree with, but [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses to bring up aid to state and local governments. New York will absolutely collapse if that aid money is not there.”  

Pelosi has called on McConnell to move the legislation. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) argues that the Act is vital but needs to go even further.

“I want to be clear that despite all the good that the HEROES Act does, the lack of recurring, direct payments to our constituents will continue to produce the disparate impacts we are seeing in our communities, especially for many of our residents experiencing poverty and lacking access to bank accounts or credit cards,” Tlaib said. 

“I will continue fighting to include monthly, direct payments to everyone in this country in any final agreement and in the next piece of coronavirus legislation, because the most important thing we can do right now is put money in our neighbors’ pockets. Now it is time for Senate Republicans to find the urgency they had for bailing out rich corporations for the American people and pass the Heroes Act. I know my residents cannot afford to wait for additional relief, and I’m going to continue raising hell until they get what they deserve.”

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NLIHC also called for the passage of the HEROES Act, and wants Congress and President Donald Trump to do the following:

  • Increase investments in the national Housing Trust Fund. An estimated $45 billion in funding would help address the market failure which has resulted in the severe shortage of rental homes affordable to people with the lowest incomes, including people experiencing homelessness.
  • Public housing capital funds. Communities would be able to quickly deploy these funds to make critical infrastructure repairs, such as fixing leaky roofs, replacing outdated heating systems, and remediating mold to improve the health and living conditions of millions of residents, and protect a key piece of America’s affordable rental housing stock.
  • Expand rental assistance. A major expansion of Housing Choice Vouchers and/or the creation of a targeted renters’ tax credit would help families keep more of their incomes for other essentials like food, medicine, education and transportation.
  • Prevent evictions by creating a new emergency assistance fund. This would help prevent evictions in the future.
  • Expand and reform the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit. This could be paired with reforms to allow the program to better reach people with the greatest needs.
Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.