Opinion: Congress, act now to support Michigan families and communities
At a time when intensified partisan rhetoric makes it even more difficult than usual for elected leaders to work together to get things done, people are suffering. If ever there was a moment for members of Congress to put political gamesmanship aside and act in the best interest of those they represent, it’s right now.
Like many other communities in states hard-hit by the pandemic and the resulting economic challenges, households in our region continue to struggle with wage loss, lack of childcare, food insecurity and health challenges. Nationally, unemployment remains above 10%, and in Michigan hundreds of thousands of workers are still missing paychecks more than a month after the increased unemployment benefit under the CARES Act ran out. According to the ALICE report, even before the pandemic, 43% of Michigan households were struggling to afford the cost of a basic household budget. That sad reality has been exacerbated by the current crisis.
United Way and our partners throughout southeastern Michigan are seeing first-hand the increased burden workers and families are dealing with every day. The spike in need is unprecedented. Our 2-1-1 helpline has received a record volume of calls from people seeking food support, mortgage and rent assistance, transportation, and a host of other necessities to get through this difficult time.
In response, United Way, through the generosity of our corporate partners and thousands of individual donors, has raised more than $35 million to help address the immediate crises. But the need is far greater than the philanthropic sector can meet, and Congress must act now by passing a bill to provide much-needed support for Michigan families, communities and service organizations.
The road to recovery may be long, but there are specific policies our leaders can implement right now to provide some immediate relief. Not only are these things that will go a long way toward meeting the most pressing need and prevent families from losing everything, but they are policies that have previously enjoyed bipartisan support.
First, make additional investments in unemployment insurance so people who are out of work due to the pandemic don’t have to worry about losing their homes or falling deep into debt.
Next, ensure all households in Michigan can put food on the table by increasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) maximum benefit by 15% and expanding the pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).
Third, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit so working households can keep more of their hard-earned money during these tight financial times.
Finally, to get through this crisis, we need to help communities respond and recover. A bipartisan proposal in the Senate — the CORPS Act — would expand and strengthen AmeriCorps to provide critical services while giving people purpose-driven work, a living stipend, and assistance with college tuition.
Since the outbreak, AmeriCorps members in our region have helped expand food pantry capacity, tutored students and helped patients receive proper health care and access to social services. But we need more boots on the ground. Congress can help by including provisions for the CORPS Act in the next pandemic response package. It’s a bipartisan solution to an urgent problem.
These are incredibly challenging times and we all need to pull together to get through this — Congress included. Let’s tell our leaders to transcend partisanship and act now. Join us at StandWithUnitedWay.org to send a message to your members of Congress today.
Tonya Adair is chief impact officer at United Way for Southeastern Michigan.