Rep. Andy Levin: Here’s the missing link to school reopenings 

August 5, 2020 5:32 am

Schools prepare for the transition to online learning due to COVID-19 | Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

I just hosted a Zoom call with suburban Detroit educators. It was heart-wrenching. 

They spoke of teachers asking about life insurance and legal services to ensure their wills are in order. They talked about administrators doing their best to prepare for fall, but unable — because of inaction from the Senate on additional federal relief—to budget or plan. And because the Trump administration has so politicized Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidance to schools, folks don’t know how reliable it is. 

Amidst a pandemic, 90% of what we’re fighting is not disease, but denial of reality and science. 

We’re also fighting against time. There is so much we needed to do differently at the start of the pandemic — chief among them, ramping up a national contact tracing and testing program. Countries like Germany and South Korea offer a view of what could be, contained infection rates and children back in the classroom. 

Despite the months lost, though, we can still get ahead of COVID-19.

The state of Michigan and the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer administration are doing an excellent job containing this virus  – despite not having the resources needed from the Trump administration. However, we also have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 14.8%, similar to the worst months of the Great Recession. 

We find ourselves with a workforce to engage and case count low enough to test and trace successfully. We could stop the chain of infection before Michigan case counts spike again – and put people back to work while doing it – but the moment to act is now, before we join the states facing a major resurgence, and before in-person learning is definitively on hold once again. 

I served as Michigan’s chief workforce officer at the height of the recession. I know it’s possible to stand up a program to train workers and get them back on the job, despite seemingly endless obstacles. That’s why U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and I introduced the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act, or CCC. 

And in May, the House-passed HEROES Act included key provisions of the CCC, with $75 billion for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing and $500 million to help hire and train new contact tracers — focusing specifically on Americans who are out of work and drawing from the diverse communities they’ll work in, fluent in the languages spoken there, ensuring workers can build essential trust.

The Senate never acted on the HEROES Act, and in the intervening months before they released a plan, over 60,000 more American died. Last week, the Senate finally offered the HEALS Act with only $16 billion for testing and contact tracing, nowhere near what is needed to ramp up an effective national program, and without language directing the CDC to ensure the program is set up properly. The Republican strategy is to pass this burden to the states, but the HEALS Act also fails to offer any new funding to state and local governments. 

Pressuring schools to reopen with no clear plan or resources to ensure that can happen safely achieves nothing. If we’re to offer any solace to educators like the ones with whom I spoke, the administration must stop passing the buck and sign measures like the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act into law. 

Let us learn from other countries’ examples and our own history to get through this crisis. CCC pays homage to FDR’s own CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work during the Great Depression. It is past time to meet this moment with the urgency it demands, as we did nearly a century ago. 

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Andy Levin
Andy Levin

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) represents Michigan’s 9th Congressional District in Macomb and Oakland Counties. He serves as Vice Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee.