Welcome to our March e-newsletter!
Included in this edition are some important COVID-19 updates, legislative updates, and other resources I hope will prove helpful. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office by phone at (517) 373-1792 or email at FeliciaBrabec@house.mi.gov for questions about these or any other state-level issues.
Upcoming Virtual Event
Please join me for our monthly Virtual Coffee Hour. This is an opportunity to chat, ask me questions and share how I can best represent you in Lansing. I will be hosting my March Coffee Hour on Saturday, March 20, from 10 – 11 a.m. on Zoom or ‘Like’ my Facebook page and tune in for the live stream. Hope to see you there!
March’s Essential Worker of the Month: Sheldon Alexander
We are delighted to recognize Sheldon Alexander as March’s Essential Worker of the Month!
Throughout the pandemic, many of our residents have been faced with unemployment and have had to grapple with food insecurity. Sheldon saw a need in our community and selflessly stepped up. Through his local catering company, Foodies, Sheldon worked to pass out thousands of free meals to first responders, workers in the service industry, and other residents impacted financially by COVID-19.
On March 27 of last year, Foodies served its first meal for free with the intent to run only until mid-April. However, when the stay-at-home orders were extended, Sheldon and his team decided to continue providing meals throughout 2020 with the help of donations.
Sheldon is a caring, kind and hardworking individual who enjoys giving to a community that also loves him. He spent eight years serving at a restaurant in Ann Arbor before venturing out with his catering business. Shortly after opening up, the pandemic hit, causing many cancellations. Instead of worrying about himself, he thought first of his dedicated staff, his community and how he could help those who were in need. His generosity and work ethic are contagious, and he continues to be an inspiration to us all. We are so grateful to have such an extraordinary figure living here. Many thanks are due to Sheldon for the impact he has had serving our community!
Resolution to Declare March as National Social Work Month
I am excited to share that a resolution I introduced to declare March 2021 as National Social Work Month was adopted by the Michigan Legislature. Social workers have always played an integral role in advocating for children and families, and they have stepped up significantly over the past year to help Michiganders cope with the challenges brought on by the pandemic. That’s why this month’s theme is “Social Workers are Essential.” I am hopeful that National Social Work Month will bring awareness to the strength and courage of every social worker here in Michigan.
Introduction of H.O.P.E Act: Removing Barriers for Organ Transplants
I recently introduced legislation that would empower individuals who are HIV-positive with the option to consent to receive an organ from an HIV-positive donor who meets appropriate screening requirements, in alignment with the federal HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act. The HOPE Act was enacted nationally in 2015, but Michigan has yet to amend the state Public Health Code to align with the federal standard. If HIV-positive recipients are able to receive organs from HIV-positive donors in Michigan, they might receive a transplant sooner. HIV-negative Michiganders would also benefit as the total pool of available organs would increase. I am so excited to continue advocating for this bill and I am so grateful for the many medical organizations in Michigan that have expressed their support for this legislation!
Introduction of Hardworking Michigan Recovery Plan
Last month, I introduced House Bill 4336 as part of the House Democrats’ Hardworking Michigan Recovery Plan. This package will provide much-needed support for Michigan workers and would, among other things, restore the number of unemployment benefit weeks from 20 weeks to 26 weeks, reversing the reduction to 20 weeks passed by legislative Republicans in 2012. My bill specifically would increase the weekly unemployment benefit from 4.1% of a worker’s highest quarter earnings to 6.1%. Michigan’s current weekly unemployment benefit amount is among the lowest in the country and leaves countless families to struggle paying their bills or putting food on the table. We must do better, and this package is a monumental step in the right direction.
Last week, the Legislature passed a $4.5 billion supplemental package that allocated a portion of the $5.6 billion in federal aid that was made available to Michigan back in December. Gov. Whitmer signed at least $2.5 billion in supplemental funding into law but vetoed a bill that barred the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) from closing in-person learning or canceling high school sports.
House Bill 4047 appropriates $2.3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds for vaccination, testing, food assistance, emergency rental assistance and support for businesses that have been hit the hardest by this pandemic. I was especially pleased to see the funding include an extended $2.25/hr. wage increase for direct-care workers through September 30. Increasing wages for our direct-care workers has long been one of my top priorities, and I have continuously advocated for this funding throughout supplemental negotiations. While I hoped this bill would include a larger amount of federal relief funding for Michigan, I voted YES because our workers and families have waited too long for this much-deserved relief funding and assistance.
House Bill 4048 allocates roughly $840 million of state and federal funds for schools to return to in-person learning, prepare summer school programs, and develop other programs to help students catch up on their academic losses from the pandemic. I was disappointed to see my Republican colleagues add provisions that would make funding contingent upon limiting MDHHS’ epidemic authority. Public health protections instituted by MDHHS helped to reduce the spread of COVID-19, led to decreased case counts and fewer hospitalizations, and ultimately saved the lives of Michiganders across the state. I voted NO on this legislation because it is important for MDHHS to continue to have the authority to issue public health orders that could ultimately save lives.
House Bills 4047 and 4048 were signed into law. However, Gov. Whitmer line-item vetoed certain provisions — including a bill to take away state pandemic powers — that ultimately represent more than $1 billion in federal dollars. The vetoes target roughly $405 million in property and other tax relief for businesses, $150 million intended for the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, nearly $87 million intended for nonpublic schools, and $10 million designated for a grant program aimed at helping parents offset the cost of summer school.
I am hoping that as negotiations continue, we can fully allocate the $5 billion in federal funds. Washington didn’t send us this money to sit on it. They sent it to us because people need it.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently expanded vaccine eligibility to those 50 years and older with medical conditions or disabilities and caregivers and guardians of children with special care needs. Washtenaw County educators are also eligible to schedule a vaccine appointment. On March 22, vaccine eligibility is expected to extend to everyone 50 years and older and those 16 and older with disabilities or medical conditions putting them at high risk of negative outcomes from COVID-19. You must still make an appointment request with the Washtenaw County Health Department, as vaccine supplies have been increasing but are still limited all over the state of Michigan. Starting April 5, vaccine eligibility will be open to all residents 16 and older.
The MDHHS and the Protect Michigan Commission awarded thousands of vaccine doses to the Washtenaw County Health Department through the pilot program in response to a joint application with WCHD, Washtenaw County’s Racial Equity Office, Michigan Medicine, and St. Joe. This program is attempting to remove barriers to vaccine access for residents 60 years and older in our communities that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. The state of Michigan hopes to vaccinate 70% of Michiganders ages 16 and up as soon as possible, and I’m thankful that the pilot program is also working towards that goal.
Thank you to the Department of Health and Human Services for answering the call for help to our community and all hit hard by this devastating pandemic.
You can read more about it here.
Additional Weeks of EB and PUA End
Michigan has worked hard to get people back to work, and I’m proud to announce that our state is no longer in a high unemployment period. However, this means that claimants receiving Extended Benefits (EB) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will no longer receive an additional 7 weeks of benefits. Because the state is no longer in a high unemployment period, the additional weeks of benefits cannot be paid. Affected claimants have been notified about the change.
For individuals receiving EB:
For individuals receiving PUA:
New IRS Fraud Guidance
Millions of Americans lost their jobs in 2020 and received unemployment benefits through state agencies, but in some cases, fraudulent unemployment claims were filed using stolen identities. Because unemployment benefits are taxable income, the state issues Form 1099-G to benefit recipients and the IRS. If you received Form 1099-G for unemployment compensation but did not file for any benefits, you should contact the issuing state agency to report the fraud, ask the state agency to issue a corrected 1099-G, file an accurate federal tax return reporting only income received, follow Federal Trade Commission recommendations for identity theft, and file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud.
COVID-19 Restrictions Update
Over these past few months, Michiganders masked-up and brought our state’s coronavirus cases down 86%. Because of this, Michigan bars and restaurants may now increase their capacity from 25% to 50%, with a maximum of 100 people. There is still a limit of six people per table, and all tables must remain six feet apart. Nonetheless, our state is starting to return to normal, and I am hopeful that we will continue to mask-up and social distance to finally end this pandemic in every way.
Residential Care Facilities
Gov. Whitmer recently announced that residential care facilities, such as assisted living and rehabilitation facilities, may resume indoor and outdoor visitation with precautions. All visitors must receive a COVID-19 test and wear a mask during their visit, and all residents are limited to two visitors at a time. The majority of those living in long-term care facilities in Michigan have now been vaccinated, and I’m so thrilled that our state made it possible for in-person visitation to resume safely.
Gatherings and Face Masks
The MDHHS released a new order for gatherings and face masks that is in effect through April 19. Indoor gatherings at residential venues are limited to 15 persons from no more than three households. Indoor gatherings at non-residential venues are limited to 25 persons. Outdoor gatherings at residential venues are limited to 50 persons; outdoor gatherings at non-residential venues are limited to 300 persons.
Retail stores, libraries and museums may now operate at 50% capacity, and exercise facilities may operate at 30% capacity. As always, mask requirements and social distancing precautions will remain in place at all gatherings until further notice.
Treasury: Working Families, Individuals Eligible for Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit
Working families and individuals with low- to moderate-income may be able to receive Michigan’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
To qualify, individuals must meet certain requirements and file a federal income tax return, even if no tax is owed or there is no requirement to file a return. If a federal EITC is granted, the state of Michigan will provide a 6% supplemental EITC when the taxpayer files his or her state income tax return.
The amount of the federal EITC depends on income, filing status and number of qualifying children claimed as dependents on the taxpayer’s federal income tax return. The EITC reduces the amount of tax owed and may provide a refund.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a very important tax credit that all eligible Michiganders should seek out. The extra income this tax credit provides can be helpful to working families with low to moderate incomes. Please don’t hesitate to seek out assistance so you can claim it on both your federal and state individual income tax returns. The state Treasury Department estimates there are thousands of Michiganders who are eligible for both the federal and state EITCs and do not claim them each year.
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently adopted rules for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB) that was created by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The EBB eases the financial struggle for eligible households by offering a discount on the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices, as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. This nation-wide program is available until the congressional funding of $3.2 billion is depleted. An official start date for the EBB has not been established, but we expect the program to begin in the next few weeks.
Who qualifies for the EBB?
A household is eligible to participate in the EBB if one member of the household:
What is the EBB benefit?
Eligible participants in the EBB receive the following discounts off the cost of broadband service and certain connected devices:
More Information is available at https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit.
City of Ypsilanti: Free Recycling Drop-Off
Every month, the City of Ypsilanti hosts a free recycling drop-off event for Ypsilanti residents. They will accept clean glass, styrofoam and aseptic containers (e.g., milk cartons), as well as items typically accepted in curbside recycling. The event will take place on Saturday, March 27, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at 14 W Forest Ave. in Ypsilanti. To learn more about the free recycling drop-off, click here.
If you have a community event you would like featured in our E-Newsletter, please email FeliciaBrabec@house.mi.gov. We would love to help spread the word!