Opinion: What the coronavirus bill means for Michigan
No matter who you are or where you live, there’s no question the coronavirus pandemic has upended the life for all Michigan residents.
As we face an unthinkable reality with schools and businesses closed, workers forced to stay home, social distancing altering our daily routines, and our hospitals filling to capacity and racing to secure critical supplies, we each can play a role in overcoming this public health and economic crisis.
Recently, I helped pass the Senate bipartisan Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, now law, that will take important steps towards addressing this emergency.
Importantly, the package includes a bill I spearheaded in the Senate to significantly expand unemployment assistance for workers who can’t work right now or those who have lost their jobs.
It significantly expands that support to those who are self-employed and work in the gig economy; small business owners; independent contractors and seasonal workers; as well as workers who recently started or were about to start a new job. Many of these workers previously weren’t eligible for unemployment assistance, and I’m glad we made this necessary change.
The package also extends benefits to last 13 weeks longer than they would have outside of this crisis for a total that is generally up to 39 weeks. And it includes an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits received between now through July — one month longer than what was initially proposed. As our state faces a spike in unemployment and those filing to claim these benefits, this legislation provides incentives for states to eliminate the one-week waiting period between applying for and receiving benefits.
The CARES Act also takes steps to ensure our small businesses can stay afloat. I have spoken with Michigan small business owners about the devastating toll this pandemic is taking on their businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. The package passed includes $350 billion in help and 100% loan guarantees for small businesses — including the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan program, which has been a proven success in Michigan. The funding for our small businesses is a marked improvement from the initial bill, with $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief to small business operating costs. This package also makes rent, mortgage and utility costs eligible for SBA loan forgiveness.
Finally, and critically, the final package includes more funding for hospitals and health care workers.
Throughout this process, I’ve been engaged with Michigan health care providers across our state and in rural communities about what they need, and they have shared the dire financial and safety situations they are facing. That’s why the $100 billion in direct payments to health care providers in Michigan that’s in this package is so urgently needed. It can help make up for lost revenue, allow hospitals continue their operations and make payroll for the dedicated nurses, doctors and health care providers who are on the front lines of pandemic response efforts.
To those health care workers who are working on those front lines: Thank you. We owe you an extraordinary debt of gratitude. Ensuring you have the gloves, masks and personal protective equipment to do your job safely is vital to protecting yourselves and minimizing the spread. As ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I am working closely with FEMA to cut through red tape and ensure that Michigan is getting the supplies and equipment needed.
As this crisis tests us in countless ways, I know that we can overcome the challenges we’re facing.
Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is a U.S. senator from Michigan.