We’ve seen the many ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected and altered our daily lives and business as we know it. The crisis is exposing the weaknesses in our social safety net like never before—and financially vulnerable households that were living paycheck-to-paycheck before the pandemic are especially at risk. There are immediate and long-term policy responses to COVID-19 that can help people and empower communities.
At the end of March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This $2 trillion aid package is aimed at easing the economic troubles for state and local governments, businesses, nonprofits, and households. Congress is also expected to pass another relief package in the coming weeks. Ensuring that these resources get into the hands of those who need it will be a major challenge.
In the immediate term, CEDAM knows it is critical to work with the appropriate state agencies and local partners to focus on:
- Making best use of the influx of federal CARES Act money that will be coming to Michigan. We strongly recommend maximizing flexibility, expediency, and getting money down to the community level. This includes ensuring dollars are distributed equitably to the hardest hit communities, including low income regions and black communities.
- Helping people access their stimulus check payments. CEDAM is concerned about the potentially hundreds of thousands of Michigan households who are unbanked and/or do not have to file a federal tax return. These are the people most in need of this economic support, and the ones most likely to miss out. The stimulus payments will also be an area ripe for scammers and predatory lenders to abuse.
- Insulating people from foreclosure and eviction. While the federal CARES does prevent both evictions and foreclosures in the short-term for federally-backed mortgages, there is a significant percent of residences who are not covered by these protections. CEDAM is especially concerned about renters, who were already cost-burdened prior to the pandemic, and in many cases are not living in a property that is protected by any CARES Act provisions. While Governor Whitmer’s eviction moratorium will protect them for now, it needs to be extended beyond April 17 and more unified, statewide coverage is needed.
- Investing in homeless shelters and supportive housing and ensuring their residents and workers have the resources they need to remain safe. See the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness’ recommendations for more details.
We know that when restrictions on travel and work start to ease, there will be long-lasting effects from the pandemic’s impact on the economy. Once protections start to expire on foreclosures and evictions, there will be a lot of strain throughout the system, from lenders to landlords to renters and homeowners. This is the time we will need to focus on:
- Establishing rental assistance so residents can catch up on payments they missed while being unable to work.
- Increasing housing counseling and programs like Step Forward at MSHDA that served us well in the last housing crisis.
When we are on the other side of this, there will need to be a two-pronged approach to policy making. We will need to continue to focus on financially vulnerable families that were disproportionately impacted by the economic collapse we are currently experiencing so that their recovery is not prolonged. We will also look at what policy improvements are needed to confront a second COVID-19 wave, or similar catastrophe. The pandemic has revealed a number of weaknesses in the existing system, from the shortage of affordable housing to banking and tax services. Long-term needs include:
- Investing in mechanisms to meet the state’s affordable housing needs. We are one of only seven states that does not put state resources into a state housing trust fund. The existing Housing and Community Development Fund is flexible and versatile, and money invested in the fund will help increase affordable housing options in the state.
- Strengthening volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) sites and increasing access to banking to make sure financially vulnerable families get the tax credits (and stimulus) they need.
- Investing in a stronger broadband network to increase access for rural and urban households that do not have regular internet access.
There is no precedent for how to move forward over the next few months. What we can do is learn from effective policies that were put in place in response to the last housing crisis, and proactively collaborate with elected officials, state departments, and nonprofit leaders.
To join CEDAM’s advocacy efforts, contact CEDAM Policy Director Jessica AcMoody at firstname.lastname@example.org or 517.485.3588 ext. 1944. Stay connected to news and resources by subscribing to our newsletter.
Policy Responses to COVID-19