By: Setu Mehta
Downtown Detroit (Source)
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on millions around the world. In the United States, various states have adopted a plethora of different initiatives to combat the effects of COVID-19 on American citizens. As of May 21st, the government of Michigan has supported unique policies intended to help Michigan residents in their battle against COVID-19. I have highlighted a few initiatives that have particularly stood out.
Michigan is taking extensive efforts to protect vulnerable homeowners during the COVID-19 crisis. With $35 million in additional federal funding, the State will help households struggling to afford utility bills during the COVID-19 pandemic (Source). My time working with Health Leads, an organization committed to addressing the social determinants of health, has shown me that lack of access to water, electricity, and stable housing, among other factors, impede proper measures to keep ourselves healthy. This initiative demonstrates that the Michigan government understands that the fight against COVID-19 is more effective when people have stable housing and access to essential utilities.
The Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) has deployed 14 response programs in the past three months to support small businesses, communities, entrepreneurs, and workers affected by COVID-19. Among these 14 programs include Metro Community Development, Inc., MI State Trade Expansion Program (MI-STEP), and Match on Main–COVID-19 Response (Source). These programs assist businesses in multiple ways. For example, the Metro Community Development program increases the availability of microloans, emphasizing businesses in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. MI-STEP supports Michigan companies with global export activities. Other programs provide financial relief through specially created loans. These programs have helped 2,700 companies retain more than 11,000 jobs for Michigan workers, and serve all 83 counties in the state, assisting businesses across various industries, including food service, retail, healthcare, construction, and professional services (Source).
The COVID-19 pandemic has also revealed stark inequalities that exist in our society (Source). Executive Order 2020-89 attempts to level the playing field for all Michigan residents, eliminating further barriers to access of necessary goods, materials, emergency supplies, and consumer food items. This Executive Order restricts vendors from charging excessive prices for products, materials, emergency supplies, and consumer food items, which remains in effect until June 12th, 2020. More specifically, this Executive Order prohibits a person from selling any product more than 20% higher than what the person offered or charged for that product before the governor’s first state of emergency order on March 9th, 2020 (Source).
To assist with filling open and necessary agricultural jobs, the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development and Labor and Economic Opportunity is teaming up with organizations such as Pure Michigan Talent Connect and Michigan Works. They hope to increase access to the 800,000 active job-seekers on the platform and boast an average of 50,000 job opportunities posted daily during the pandemic (Source).
Michigan is offering 24/7 confidential emotional support counseling to all citizens who call the State’s COVID-19 hotline, an initiative implemented in other states such as Minnesota and New York. This service is funded by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration (BHDDA) in partnership with the Michigan State Police (Source).
The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) within the Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) created a hotline, 855-SAFEC19, to answer questions from employers and employees regarding returning to work. MIOSHA has also clarified the measures that construction and manufacturing sectors must take to protect workers returning to work. According to these measures, employers must create a written exposure control plan that outlines measures to prevent employee exposure to COVID-19. These measures also offer instructions that employees need to follow to stay safe during COVID-19 (Source).
As of June 1st, Michigan has begun to re-open. In Executive Order 2020-110, Governor Whitmer announced that retailers will be allowed to resume operations on June 4th. On June 8th, restaurants and bars may also open. However, these businesses will need to follow the specific guidelines detailed in Executive Order 2020-97. This Executive Order also lays out guidelines for the re-opening of other facilities, rules for gatherings, and required attire in public spaces. Similar to plans laid out in New York, the MI Safe Start Plan divides Michigan into various regions to address diverse populations and geographies (Source).
As Michigan re-opens, it is crucial to address the racial and income-related effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. An analysis conducted by Brookings demonstrated that as of May 15th in Detroit, the epicenter of Michigans’ COVID-19 pandemic, “90% of the city’s zip codes with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases have populations that are at least 80% Black.” The Brookings study suggested that these communities are disproportionately affected because they cannot enforce social distancing due to structural barriers such as “work demands, transportation needs, [and] housing settings.” COVID-19 clusters disproportionally observed in Black and low-income communities have been reported all over the United States. A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Health reveals that 83.2% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Georgia were Black patients (Source).
In conclusion, these highlighted policies target various facets of daily life that have been impacted by COVID-19. The comprehensive nature of these policies, covering everything from protecting mental health to supporting job growth, demonstrates a commitment by the Michigan government to address the needs of Michigan residents creatively. However, as Michigan re-opens, it will be essential to develop policies that address the differential impact COVID-19 has had on Michigan's low-income and Black communities.