At the top of the last month of 2020, Michigan stands in a precarious position regarding the spread and impacts of COVID-19, along with the rest of the country. Michigan has had up to 404,386 confirmed cases, with 9,947 deaths. In comparison, the United States as a whole has had roughly 14,462,527 confirmed cases of the virus, with 280,135 deaths so far. Further, many Michigan residents are on unemployment insurance because of the pandemic, with up to 3 million unemployment claims since March. But over half a million residents are set to lose that stream of unemployment income under either the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) or the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Since these are both provided through the CARES Act, those benefits end when the legislation expires, which in this case is set for Dec. 26.
As of Dec. 3, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has called on the Michigan Legislature to pass a new COVID-19 relief bill amidst a lack of federal help during the pandemic. The relief bill would call for $400 million to go to healthcare, wage increases for care workers, expanded childcare, and expanded testing. Whitmer also asked for the Legislature to extend the unemployment insurance benefits for COVID-19, to keep millions of Michiganders from losing their income at the turn of the year. The Michigan Legislature needs to pass a substantive relief bill, or they will not be putting front and center the lives and wellbeing of the citizens of Michigan.
The federal government has not been of much help. The CARES Act was passed in March, with a one time $1,200 payment to those who qualified and an additional $600 to unemployment to sustain folks during the shutdown—that extra $600 lasted until the end of the summer, though the pandemic did not stop with it. COVID-19 cases are just as bad as the spring at the moment, yet the federal government has failed to pass legislation to give more relief to the people. The HEROES Act passed the House of Representatives in May, but has been left sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk who has refused to bring any other stimulus legislation to the Senate floor.
COVID-19 cases continue to grow in number as the days get shorter and colder. Hospitals are beginning to get overwhelmed, with some reaching near full capacity. The colder weather means the outdoors is no longer a viable option for distanced events, forcing people indoors for their activities where the risk for contagion is higher. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services put the state on three weeks of restricted gathering, which health care workers are urging be extended to attempt to contain the spread even a bit.
The economic impact on the people cannot be denied. Some have been on and off unemployment over the last 9 months, while others have had to risk their health to work for the paycheck that keeps a roof over their head. Not to mention the small businesses that have had to permanently shut down. Since the federal government has simultaneously ceased funding unemployment programs and made it clear they still expect people to work amidst unsafe conditions, we cannot say the people have been taken care of during this pandemic. If unemployment is not extended, millions of people in Michigan will be without an income as 2021 rolls in. Making people go in to work instead of paying them to stay home promotes the spread of the virus and causes unnecessary sickness and death.
The impacts of no relief cannot be overstated. With no stable income from unemployment but rent and other bills are still expected to be paid, paying the bills could be a priority over buying groceries. There also needs to be protections for renters and homeowners that bar them from being kicked out of their home for not paying rent or the mortgage. We should not be throwing people out of their homes ever, but especially not in the middle of winter in the midwest during the peak of a respiratory virus.
Without a relief bill for 2021, Michigan will be heading into murky waters. Risk factors are high regarding the virus itself, and the lack of substantive action has left many people unstable financially. Will action come only after the problems have come to fruition and become tangible, or will those who have the power step up now for the people of Michigan? For now, we cannot know for sure, but what can be assured is the need for relief if the state wants to have a relatively smooth path through the winter.