‘It will help end the survival mode’: Michiganders say federal COVID relief plan comes at a critical time

By: - March 15, 2021 4:38 am

Maiden House Ministries in Highland Park food distribution during the COVID-19 crisis | Ken Coleman

Desiree Byrd has a vision for her stimulus check coming from the new COVID-19 relief plan. The 35-year-old Detroit is a mother of four and an essential worker, so she has a lot on her plate. And she plans to invest half of her $1,400 check into creating and distributing care packages for seniors.

Desiree Byrd photo

“It’s more so about being able to give back to the community,” said Byrd. “I like putting things together for those who are less fortunate.”

Lou Johnson, a 61-year-old Detroit resident, active volunteer and foster care mother, said the latest round of checks will help everyday people.

“It will help out because so many jobs have been lost,” Johnson said.

Congress this week passed Democratic President Joe Biden’s ambitious $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, but it did not receive a single Republican vote in either chamber. Michigan’s entire Democratic delegation supported the plan; the entire Republican delegation rejected it, with U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.) summing up the GOP’s position that the package was “nothing more than a partisan Democrat wish list that will continue funding liberal pet projects.”

Biden signed the legislation on Thursday.

Included in the plan is a new round of payments to Americans of $1,400 per person. Individual taxpayers earning less than $80,000 annually and couples making less than $160,000 qualify for the infusion of cash designed to help people survive the pandemic.

Michigan governments are set to receive $10.3 billion in total, which includes $5.65 billion for state government; $1.7 billion for cities; $1.93 billion for counties; and $250 million for state capital projects. Local governments receiving funds, include, but are not limited to: Detroit, which stands to receive $879 million; Flint, $99 million; Grand Rapids, $94 million; Lansing, $50 million; Kalamazoo, $40 million; Jackson, $32 million; Warren, $28 million; Muskegon, $24 million.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week described the legislation “bold” and “historic.”

“President Biden and Michigan’s Congressional Democrats have delivered critical aid to the people of Michigan and Americans nationwide with this investment in our families, communities, small businesses, and children,” said Whitmer in a statement. 

Key highlights of the plan

  • Direct payment individuals and families: $400 billion
  • Aid to state and local governments: $350 billion
  • Schools: $170 billion
  • Unemployment insurance: $163 billion
  • Public health: $109 billion
  • Childcare: $56 billion
  • Small business aid: $48 billion
  • Housing assistance: $45 billion
  • Food aid: $12 billion

Gilda Z. Jacobs, Michigan League for Public Policy president and CEO, said the American Rescue Plan “overall provides much-needed but temporary relief.”

“As we approach the one-year mark of the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis, it has become increasingly clear that economic recovery isn’t going to happen overnight, particularly for people of color, who have waited longest in past recessions to see the gains from a rebounding job market,” said Jacobs, a Democratic former Michigan House and Senate member. “We have more work to do to build a more equitable economy that works for everyone.”

Progressives lamented that one key provision was missing — a federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour that passed in the House, but not the Senate. In Michigan, the minimum wage is $9.65 an hour, but it did not go up this year, because any increase is tied to the unemployment rate — which was too high due to the pandemic. 

U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Angus King (I-Maine) joined Republicans in opposition to the measure. Most of the opposition argued centered on a desire to gradually increase wage so as to not hurt small business.

In Michigan, 1.2 million workers — about 25% of the workforce — would see a pay bump with a $15 minimum wage, per the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) said she was “disappointed” the Senate axed the measure.

“Moving forward, our residents cannot afford for Democrats to negotiate against themselves. We were sent here to work on behalf of and for the people – they deserve us doing everything we can to deliver for them,” she said.


Childcare, business aid and school reopenings

Children, education and the safety net are a focal point of the relief plan.

There is $55 billion to fund childcare programs and $1 billion is slated for the early learning Head Start program. In addition, a child care tax credit is expanded. It provides $130 billion for K-12 education and expanded student loan forgiveness and emergency grants for college students.

The effort aims to help to reopen elementary and high school buildings safely and provide aid to colleges and universities that have suffered major revenue losses during the pandemic.

Jobless Americans will get a new round of federal payments amounting to $300 per week through Sept. 6. The first $10,200 in benefits would not be taxed. 

Households will get help paying rent, mortgages and utilities and homeless people will be placed into housing. Through the Treasury Department, $21.6 billion will be allocated through grants to states and to local government with at least 200,000 people. Each state and the District of Columbia will receive at least $152 million.

Increased benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be extended through Sept. 30. It will amount to a 15% increase in benefits for all participants, or about $27 per month per person. Another $1.15 billion has been allocated for the cost of state administrative expenses. Research from the Poverty Solutions program at the University of Michigan shows 12% of Michiganders are on food stamps. 

The Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children will see an $880 million investment to expand access to fruits and vegetables for mothers and their children. 


The child tax credit could have a big impact on children living in poverty, which Poverty Solutions pegs to be roughly 19% in the state — higher than the 14% statewide average. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington, D.C., think tank, found that 117,000 Michigan children would be lifted out of poverty and almost 2 million would benefit — 92% of those under 18 statewide.

CBPP Senior Research Analyst Claire Zippel notes U.S. census data shows millions are still “struggling to meet their basic needs a full year into the public health and economic crisis. The relief package will help reduce this hardship and begin to restore children’s well-being and prospects for success, which the crisis has placed at risk of long-term damage.”

On the health care front, there is $49 million for expanded COVID-19 testing, tracing and genomic sequencing; $35 billion to expand the Affordable Care Act; $11 billion for community health centers and related facilities; $8 billion to hire more public health workers; and $6 billion for the Indian Health Service.

Businesses would see more relief, as well. The package includes targeted small-business grants worth $15 billion; $25 billion in a new grant program for restaurants; $7 billion for Paycheck Protection Program aid for nonprofits and digital news services; as well as $1 billion for theaters, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions.

Portia Roberson, Focus: HOPE president and CEO, believes that the stimulus plan will have a “significant impact” on the families that her Detroit-based human service and job-training nonprofit that provides food for seniors, community advocacy and youth development. 

“It will help to end the survival mode that people have been in for the last year,” said Roberson who is also a member of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “This funding will bolster the overall economy by giving people the dollars they need to pay bills and provide for their children. And It will provide funding for additional workforce training as we know that there are many that will need new training for new jobs.”


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.