By U.S. Senator Gary Peters
As Coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket in Michigan, there is no disputing that this disease is disproportionately impacting communities of color. The rates of Coronavirus infections and deaths among African American Michiganders are alarming and gut-wrenching.
This pandemic has caused a public health and economic crisis, and it will continue to take all of us working together to address this unprecedented emergency. I am doing everything possible — as U.S. Senator and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — to help families, workers, small businesses and health care professionals on the front lines.
We must confront this serious public health crisis, but we also have to provide relief to families and workers who are not receiving paychecks or have lost their jobs because of the Coronavirus. No one should worry whether they can pay their bills or put food on the table during this emergency. The recently enacted bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, includes legislation I led in the Senate to significantly expand unemployment assistance. My Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act expands support to small business owners, workers in the gig economy, independent contractors and seasonal workers in addition to workers who recently started or were about to begin a new job.
Through the CARES Act, unemployment benefits are extended for 13 weeks, generally meaning this assistance will be available for up to 39 weeks in Michigan. Those who are unemployed can receive an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits between now and the end of July to help make ends meet.
After speaking with small business owners, including minority small business owners, who are facing incredible challenges and uncertainty, I pushed for and helped secure support to help them through this challenging time. Small businesses and non-profits are the backbone and economic engines of our communities. I worked to include significant increases in funding to the Small Business Administration’s 7(a) loan program. The CARES Act also makes nonprofits, including places of worship—if they are established as 501 (c) (3)s — eligible to receive 7(a) loans and increases funding for these loans to $350 billion to help ensure lending. The CARES Act also includes funding for minority small business centers, which provide key technical assistance for minority-owned businesses.
While we work to provide relief and economic support, I have also worked to address the health crisis — helping secure more funding for hospitals and medical professionals and pressing to expand health care coverage and the availability of testing. The CARES Act includes $100 billion in direct payments to health care providers in Michigan to help hospitals continue their operation and make payroll for dedicated doctors, nurses and health care providers. But that is not enough to stop the spread of this disease. We need more testing, more testing and more testing.
After helping lead the charge to make testing free, I am continuing to work with Governor Whitmer, local leaders and Michigan business leaders and manufacturers in an effort to drastically increase testing capacity, which would help protect public health. I am also focused on addressing the shortage of ventilators, N95 masks and other critical equipment desperately needed by our health care professionals.
This pandemic will also require a more comprehensive approach when it comes to health care. That is why I have urged the Trump Administration to establish a special enrollment period to allow Americans who do not have quality health insurance to purchase coverage through the Affordable Care Act. I also will continue to press the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow Michiganders covered under those programs to have access to expanded benefits and to focus on fairness in prescription drug pricing. By expanding the pool of people who can access the health care they and their families need, we can help improve public health and safety.
There is no question that we face tough days ahead, but I will keep working to address the challenges facing all Michiganders.
U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) is Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.