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Michigan's senators say more coronavirus aid needed

The Detroit News

Michigan's two U.S. senators said Thursday that Congress will need to provide more emergency aid for individuals, businesses and health care providers to get the state and country through the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, front center, and Debbie Stabenow, right, discussed the coronavirus crisis during a virtual town hall Thursday evening.

Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, spoke from their homes during a virtual town hall moderated by Detroit TV reporters Carolyn Clifford (Ch. 7), Devin Scillian (Ch. 4) and Huel Perkins (Ch. 2). 

Both said Michigan and the country at large need to ramp up testing for the virus and gradually reopen businesses to prevent a resurgence of the disease, which reached 29,263 cases with 2,093 deaths in Michigan on Thursday. 

Peters said a follow-up to the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which provided emergency aid for businesses and expanded unemployment aid, should include extra pay for front-line workers, including health-care, postal, law enforcement and grocery employees.

He said he is proposing that such workers receive $13 an hour over their regular pay, up to $25,000, retroactive to when the pandemic began.

"To me, these folks deserve more than our thanks," Peters said. "They deserve hazard pay."

Stabenow agreed, saying she supports a "heroes fund" to compensate front-facing workers for the added infection risk to themselves and their families. "It's wonderful to say think you, it's wonderful to say prayers, but we need to make them whole."

She also called for a second stimulus package to include aid for small businesses and farmers.

Stabenow also explained her vote against the initial version of the CARES Act, saying the measure lacked enough funding for health care needs and workers facing income losses. "From my standpoint, I knew we could do better and we did do better in a matter of only a couple of days."

Peters said small businesses need Congress to expand a $349 million loan fund that has reached its limit, but Democrats and Republicans have not agreed on how big the next pool of money should be. 

Republican legislative leaders have accused Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of holding hostage an extra $250 billion that the Trump administration has requested to replenish the small business relief program.

"Because Gary Peters refused to stand up to Chuck Schumer, small business owners in Michigan can no longer apply for relief. Michiganders deserve better than do nothing politicians like Gary Peters," said Chris Gustafson, a Michigan spokesman for the Trump Victory fund, a joint fundraising effort of President Donald Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Both senators said a massive expansion of coronavirus testing is needed to allow businesses to reopen, and that the process must be slow and deliberate to ensure worker and customer safety. Peters said he envisions limits on the number of visitors allowed in stores and restaurants.

"I'm hopeful that the president and others will all work together," Stabenow said. "We have Republican colleagues who are talking about testing as well."