The Detroit News: As COVID-19 Vaccinations Ramp Up, Skepticism Prevalent Among Michigan’s Black Residents

Dec. 22, 2020

The Detroit News

Sarah Rahal

As doctors and health officials celebrate the long-awaited arrival of the coronavirus vaccine, there’s a divide among Black Americans, especially in the hard-hit city of Detroit, with many saying they are skeptical of a “rushed medical breakthrough.”

Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to die from the virus than their white counterparts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. In Michigan, nearly 3,000 African Americans have died, roughly 25% of the state’s 11,700 deaths although they make up 14.1% of the state’s population.

A recent study conducted by the Detroit Regional Chamber showed that while 58% of those polled who were white said they will get the vaccine, only 33% of Black respondents said they would.

Because of a long history of mistrust caused by past government-sanctioned testing and experimentation on Black citizens, studies suggest Black Americans are less likely to get vaccinated than other ethnic groups.

“There is a higher level of distrust than you would expect,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Tuesday.

Starting Wednesday, the city’s first responders and emergency technicians with the Detroit Fire Department will receive the vaccine, in partnership with Henry Ford Health System. The vaccine will not be mandated, he said. Detroit has had nearly 25,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 1,600 deaths linked to COVID-19.

“We are going to lead by a positive example,” Duggan said. “We can’t have a conversation about whether to take a vaccine from the federal government, without acknowledging the history of racism that we have had in the health care system.”

As the vaccines become more widely available in the coming months, the country’s top doctor and state leaders say they must deploy education and outreach to combat skepticism and prevent additional disproportional impact on Black communities.

Nine months into the pandemic, the state launched the Protect Michigan Commission‘s Racial Disparities task force to create resources and outreach for impacted communities.

Gilchrist, who leads the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, said the state has spent time on targeted information campaigns, building infrastructure around 23 neighborhood testing sites in communities of color, and partnering with local anchor institutions so residents could receive information from someone they trust.

“We’ve also seen during COVID-19 this pandemic that hit Black Michiganders harder than any other group of people in our state,” Gilchrist. “Thanks to the state’s interventions and thanks to people just stepping up and doing the right thing and listening to the public health experts. … We will encourage people to get the vaccine when their phase comes.”

Shortly after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged confidence in coronavirus vaccines during a conversation with leaders of a coalition of Black academics, doctors and faith leaders.

The nation’s top infectious disease doctor said he is “perfectly comfortable taking the vaccine” and will recommend it for his family. Fauci was vaccinated on Tuesday. To address the skepticism, officials must acknowledge and empathize with the reasons of mistrust as opposed to pushing back against it, he said.

“The speed in which this was done has nothing to do with compromising safety, it’s due to the extraordinary advancements which have allowed us to do things in weeks to months that formerly took several years,” Fauci said. “The data first come to a totally independent data and safety monitoring board that are made of experienced clinicians, scientists, vaccinologists, and statisticians.”

FDA scientists have deemed both the government-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines up to 95% effective after two doses. Side effects include fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, and fever up to 10 days after receiving the vaccine.

Approximately 42% of global participants and 30% of U.S. participants in Pfizer’s Phase 3 study have racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, Pfizer said in a statement to The News.

Of the study participants in the U.S., about half were between the ages of 56 and 85, and 10% were Black, Pfizer said.

Should African Americans overwhelmingly opt out of vaccinations, the community could face an irreparable impact, Fauci said.

“The time is now to put skepticism aside. You’ll be saving yourself and your family illness, as well as that of your community,” Fauci said.

‘Fear on both sides’

Dr. Tiffany Sanford of Wellness Plan Medical Centers, a Detroit-based federally qualified health center, said she is already seeing major contention in the Black community, with many residents saying it’s too soon and the long-term effects of the vaccines are unknown.

The wellness center serves low-income and uninsured Detroit residents. Sanford was approached by the state to poll the center’s staff, primarily African Americans, on whether they would receive the Moderna vaccine if it was available to them in January.

“Not only amongst the staff but certainly amongst the patients, there is a huge amount of resistance in regards to the comfort level of getting the vaccine,” Sanford said. “It’s also the push from this administration and the way that they interact and engage with not only the CDC, but with the FDA in making decisions I think also has kind of put a secondary layer of mistrust.”

Black Americans are more vulnerable to the coronavirus as they face increased exposure at essential jobs, higher rates of preexisting conditions and years of health care disparities, she noted.

Sanford said staff members are asking if there will be an opportunity to receive doses later than January. Internally, they have begun strategizing how to improve vaccination rates among the community.

“It’s going to take a lot of marketing, it’s going to require a lot of folks who look like them, other minorities getting the vaccine, having no issues and being able to speak on the experiences they’ve had,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of patients mention they’re thinking the vaccine is a live coronavirus with the same perception as the flu vaccine … feeling like if I get the vaccine, I’ll get the virus.”

Mistrust of the health care system stems in part from the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment when 600 African American men in Alabama participated in a study and were told by researchers that they were receiving free health care for “bad blood” from the federal government. In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness.

The experiment ran until 1972 and was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and the CDC, which deceived the men by not informing them they had syphilis. Skepticism is also rooted in the experimentation at John Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s on Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells became the first immortalized human cell line.

But it’s rooted much deeper, community leaders say. From slavery to Jim Crow, ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black communities, “it’s hard to trust the process with constant misinformation during the pandemic,” said Pastor Barry Randolph, head of Church of the Messiah.

The mixed-race church on Detroit’s east side is prominently made up of African American men. Randolph estimates a majority of his parishioners will not take the vaccine, adding he, too, was skeptical and only recently decided to advocate for it “because the doctors within our clinic at the Church of Messiah have signed off on it.”

“We’re going to have to do education so that people would be more inclined,” said Randolph, who added people fear getting the vaccine but also what might happen if they don’t. “It’s ‘Can I trust the vaccine?’ but it’s also ‘I’m afraid of COVID’ and more people thinking ‘let’s wait and see.'”

Randolph said he can’t ignore history but is optimistic there are two vaccines.

“The vaccine is legitimate and we don’t need to be so fearful, but at the same, you cannot negate history,” Randolph said. “We’ll see. If COVID rates start going down, and there are less cases, and it is actually being attributed to the vaccine, I think more and more people of color will decide to do it.”

Yusef Shakur, who runs the Detroit-focused programs for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, said poor leadership and past history cannot be ignored.

“Absolutely not. Why would I trust it when my every day has not gotten any better? I don’t trust the medical field,” said Shakur, 47. “Building trust is about building relationships. People in charge have to approach it not just from a medical standpoint but also a social standpoint. There has to be a prioritization to show that we won’t just be another modern-day experiment.”

Others are more open. Richard Burden, a paramedic and firefighter for the City of Inkster for 24 years, said getting his first dose of the vaccine Tuesday was “awesome” and he wishes more people would choose to get vaccinated.

“As a full-time firefighter, I know this virus is real. It’s contagious and we need to help stop the spread,” said Burden, 49. “I understand people may be hesitant, but it’s a new day, new era, and we need to be safe. I’ve seen multiple deaths, families destroyed because of this virus.

“All we have is protective gear that we wear and hopefully, this vaccine provides the ultimate protection.”

Education and outreach

Last week, Henry Ford Hospital System received 5,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is slated to receive another 13,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine this week, said its president and CEO, Wright Lassiter.

More than 4,000 health care workers at Henry Ford and 1,500 workers at Detroit Medical Center have been vaccinated, although others are still hesitant.

Lassiter, born in Tuskegee, Alabama, joined Duggan and city health leaders on Tuesday to receive their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine and ask residents to “trust the science.”

Henry Ford Health System participated in two COVID-19 clinical trials, including Moderna’s.

“And we did that very specifically because we wanted to ensure there was access to a broad, diverse community who are participating in the clinical trials, so we’d have as much data available as possible to support decision making going forward,” Lassiter said. “We are confident in the data from these trials, as it relates to both effectiveness and safety. We’re just as confident in the FDA strict approval process.”

Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said it was a privilege to receive her first dose of the vaccine on Thursday at Henry Ford Hospital, where she works as an emergency physician.

“Fighting this pandemic for the past nine months has taken a tremendous toll on the physical and mental health of healthcare workers. And this vaccine means there is hope that this burden can be lessened,” Khaldun said, adding she hopes the vaccine will be available to the general public by late spring.

“We are also working on messaging, having focus groups with communities of color so we can understand their questions and what messages may resonate,” she said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order in December to create a bipartisan commission aimed at raising awareness about the vaccine because she said they are “cognizant of skepticism.”

“We’re seeing confidence grow as people are seeing their colleagues and friends, getting them and that’s something that’s exciting, but we’re not just relying on that we are working really hard to increase that that confidence and educate the public,” Whitmer said Friday.

Veronica White, an ICU nurse at DMC for the past five years, was the first among her peers to receive the vaccine Friday. She said she wanted to set a good example.

“I feel like a selfish person. I have two little kids at home, older parents, and I just wanted to protect my family and my patients,” said White, 29, of Southfield.

“It was important for me to show others because a lot of my colleagues were on the fence of getting it. Some refused to get it while ICU nurses are more positive because we see the impact on people, especially Black people, in our state.”

Nationally, musician Ice-T and Debbie Allen, producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” have partnered with Johnson & Johnson to discuss the importance of diversity in clinical trials, advocate for the vaccine, and explain how the virus has personally impacted their families. Their messages have been streaming across social media and radios as the vaccines begin distribution.

Support is growing for vaccinations. The sharpest differences are by age, with those older than 50 willing to get the vaccine and those under 50 not planning to get the vaccine, said Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“The Chamber is confident that support for the vaccine will continue to rise when it is successfully administered to front-line workers and those most at risk from the virus,” Baruah said.

Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of Detroit’s NAACP, pointed to the work of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black scientist with the National Institute of Health who was at the forefront of Moderna’s vaccine development, and Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith, who is on the advisory board of the coronavirus task force for the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, as reasons to receive the vaccine.

“I think people need to understand the times have changed,” said Anthony, who also leads Fellowship Chapel. “It might have taken 25 years for the vaccine discovery for polio. But those occurred back in the time when we did not have the research and the knowledge. I mean hell, we have got 300,000 people who are dead. What more does it take?”

Despite being victims of disparate health care in the past, Anthony said he’s pleased to see African American communities and disparities being addressed by the state task forces.

“I feel confident going forward, and I’m not afraid,” he said. “I’m just concerned that some people will slow it down and they may not be around. And I just hope that we can use this as an opportunity to advance us and not to diminish.”

View the original article.


Related:

New Survey Reveals Statewide Opinions on COVID-19 Economic Impact, Business Priorities, Vaccine, and Government Action

The Detroit News: As COVID-19 Vaccinations Ramp Up, Skepticism Prevalent Among Michigan’s Black Residents

Dec. 22, 2020

The Detroit News

Sarah Rahal

As doctors and health officials celebrate the long-awaited arrival of the coronavirus vaccine, there’s a divide among Black Americans, especially in the hard-hit city of Detroit, with many saying they are skeptical of a “rushed medical breakthrough.”

Black Americans are nearly three times more likely to die from the virus than their white counterparts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. In Michigan, nearly 3,000 African Americans have died, roughly 25% of the state’s 11,700 deaths although they make up 14.1% of the state’s population.

A recent study conducted by the Detroit Regional Chamber showed that while 58% of those polled who were white said they will get the vaccine, only 33% of Black respondents said they would.

Because of a long history of mistrust caused by past government-sanctioned testing and experimentation on Black citizens, studies suggest Black Americans are less likely to get vaccinated than other ethnic groups.

“There is a higher level of distrust than you would expect,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Tuesday.

Starting Wednesday, the city’s first responders and emergency technicians with the Detroit Fire Department will receive the vaccine, in partnership with Henry Ford Health System. The vaccine will not be mandated, he said. Detroit has had nearly 25,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 1,600 deaths linked to COVID-19.

“We are going to lead by a positive example,” Duggan said. “We can’t have a conversation about whether to take a vaccine from the federal government, without acknowledging the history of racism that we have had in the health care system.”

As the vaccines become more widely available in the coming months, the country’s top doctor and state leaders say they must deploy education and outreach to combat skepticism and prevent additional disproportional impact on Black communities.

Nine months into the pandemic, the state launched the Protect Michigan Commission‘s Racial Disparities task force to create resources and outreach for impacted communities.

Gilchrist, who leads the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, said the state has spent time on targeted information campaigns, building infrastructure around 23 neighborhood testing sites in communities of color, and partnering with local anchor institutions so residents could receive information from someone they trust.

“We’ve also seen during COVID-19 this pandemic that hit Black Michiganders harder than any other group of people in our state,” Gilchrist. “Thanks to the state’s interventions and thanks to people just stepping up and doing the right thing and listening to the public health experts. … We will encourage people to get the vaccine when their phase comes.”

Shortly after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci urged confidence in coronavirus vaccines during a conversation with leaders of a coalition of Black academics, doctors and faith leaders.

The nation’s top infectious disease doctor said he is “perfectly comfortable taking the vaccine” and will recommend it for his family. Fauci was vaccinated on Tuesday. To address the skepticism, officials must acknowledge and empathize with the reasons of mistrust as opposed to pushing back against it, he said.

“The speed in which this was done has nothing to do with compromising safety, it’s due to the extraordinary advancements which have allowed us to do things in weeks to months that formerly took several years,” Fauci said. “The data first come to a totally independent data and safety monitoring board that are made of experienced clinicians, scientists, vaccinologists, and statisticians.”

FDA scientists have deemed both the government-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines up to 95% effective after two doses. Side effects include fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, and fever up to 10 days after receiving the vaccine.

Approximately 42% of global participants and 30% of U.S. participants in Pfizer’s Phase 3 study have racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, Pfizer said in a statement to The News.

Of the study participants in the U.S., about half were between the ages of 56 and 85, and 10% were Black, Pfizer said.

Should African Americans overwhelmingly opt out of vaccinations, the community could face an irreparable impact, Fauci said.

“The time is now to put skepticism aside. You’ll be saving yourself and your family illness, as well as that of your community,” Fauci said.

‘Fear on both sides’

Dr. Tiffany Sanford of Wellness Plan Medical Centers, a Detroit-based federally qualified health center, said she is already seeing major contention in the Black community, with many residents saying it’s too soon and the long-term effects of the vaccines are unknown.

The wellness center serves low-income and uninsured Detroit residents. Sanford was approached by the state to poll the center’s staff, primarily African Americans, on whether they would receive the Moderna vaccine if it was available to them in January.

“Not only amongst the staff but certainly amongst the patients, there is a huge amount of resistance in regards to the comfort level of getting the vaccine,” Sanford said. “It’s also the push from this administration and the way that they interact and engage with not only the CDC, but with the FDA in making decisions I think also has kind of put a secondary layer of mistrust.”

Black Americans are more vulnerable to the coronavirus as they face increased exposure at essential jobs, higher rates of preexisting conditions and years of health care disparities, she noted.

Sanford said staff members are asking if there will be an opportunity to receive doses later than January. Internally, they have begun strategizing how to improve vaccination rates among the community.

“It’s going to take a lot of marketing, it’s going to require a lot of folks who look like them, other minorities getting the vaccine, having no issues and being able to speak on the experiences they’ve had,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of patients mention they’re thinking the vaccine is a live coronavirus with the same perception as the flu vaccine … feeling like if I get the vaccine, I’ll get the virus.”

Mistrust of the health care system stems in part from the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment when 600 African American men in Alabama participated in a study and were told by researchers that they were receiving free health care for “bad blood” from the federal government. In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness.

The experiment ran until 1972 and was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and the CDC, which deceived the men by not informing them they had syphilis. Skepticism is also rooted in the experimentation at John Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s on Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells became the first immortalized human cell line.

But it’s rooted much deeper, community leaders say. From slavery to Jim Crow, ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black communities, “it’s hard to trust the process with constant misinformation during the pandemic,” said Pastor Barry Randolph, head of Church of the Messiah.

The mixed-race church on Detroit’s east side is prominently made up of African American men. Randolph estimates a majority of his parishioners will not take the vaccine, adding he, too, was skeptical and only recently decided to advocate for it “because the doctors within our clinic at the Church of Messiah have signed off on it.”

“We’re going to have to do education so that people would be more inclined,” said Randolph, who added people fear getting the vaccine but also what might happen if they don’t. “It’s ‘Can I trust the vaccine?’ but it’s also ‘I’m afraid of COVID’ and more people thinking ‘let’s wait and see.'”

Randolph said he can’t ignore history but is optimistic there are two vaccines.

“The vaccine is legitimate and we don’t need to be so fearful, but at the same, you cannot negate history,” Randolph said. “We’ll see. If COVID rates start going down, and there are less cases, and it is actually being attributed to the vaccine, I think more and more people of color will decide to do it.”

Yusef Shakur, who runs the Detroit-focused programs for the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, said poor leadership and past history cannot be ignored.

“Absolutely not. Why would I trust it when my every day has not gotten any better? I don’t trust the medical field,” said Shakur, 47. “Building trust is about building relationships. People in charge have to approach it not just from a medical standpoint but also a social standpoint. There has to be a prioritization to show that we won’t just be another modern-day experiment.”

Others are more open. Richard Burden, a paramedic and firefighter for the City of Inkster for 24 years, said getting his first dose of the vaccine Tuesday was “awesome” and he wishes more people would choose to get vaccinated.

“As a full-time firefighter, I know this virus is real. It’s contagious and we need to help stop the spread,” said Burden, 49. “I understand people may be hesitant, but it’s a new day, new era, and we need to be safe. I’ve seen multiple deaths, families destroyed because of this virus.

“All we have is protective gear that we wear and hopefully, this vaccine provides the ultimate protection.”

Education and outreach

Last week, Henry Ford Hospital System received 5,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is slated to receive another 13,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine this week, said its president and CEO, Wright Lassiter.

More than 4,000 health care workers at Henry Ford and 1,500 workers at Detroit Medical Center have been vaccinated, although others are still hesitant.

Lassiter, born in Tuskegee, Alabama, joined Duggan and city health leaders on Tuesday to receive their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine and ask residents to “trust the science.”

Henry Ford Health System participated in two COVID-19 clinical trials, including Moderna’s.

“And we did that very specifically because we wanted to ensure there was access to a broad, diverse community who are participating in the clinical trials, so we’d have as much data available as possible to support decision making going forward,” Lassiter said. “We are confident in the data from these trials, as it relates to both effectiveness and safety. We’re just as confident in the FDA strict approval process.”

Michigan’s Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said it was a privilege to receive her first dose of the vaccine on Thursday at Henry Ford Hospital, where she works as an emergency physician.

“Fighting this pandemic for the past nine months has taken a tremendous toll on the physical and mental health of healthcare workers. And this vaccine means there is hope that this burden can be lessened,” Khaldun said, adding she hopes the vaccine will be available to the general public by late spring.

“We are also working on messaging, having focus groups with communities of color so we can understand their questions and what messages may resonate,” she said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order in December to create a bipartisan commission aimed at raising awareness about the vaccine because she said they are “cognizant of skepticism.”

“We’re seeing confidence grow as people are seeing their colleagues and friends, getting them and that’s something that’s exciting, but we’re not just relying on that we are working really hard to increase that that confidence and educate the public,” Whitmer said Friday.

Veronica White, an ICU nurse at DMC for the past five years, was the first among her peers to receive the vaccine Friday. She said she wanted to set a good example.

“I feel like a selfish person. I have two little kids at home, older parents, and I just wanted to protect my family and my patients,” said White, 29, of Southfield.

“It was important for me to show others because a lot of my colleagues were on the fence of getting it. Some refused to get it while ICU nurses are more positive because we see the impact on people, especially Black people, in our state.”

Nationally, musician Ice-T and Debbie Allen, producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” have partnered with Johnson & Johnson to discuss the importance of diversity in clinical trials, advocate for the vaccine, and explain how the virus has personally impacted their families. Their messages have been streaming across social media and radios as the vaccines begin distribution.

Support is growing for vaccinations. The sharpest differences are by age, with those older than 50 willing to get the vaccine and those under 50 not planning to get the vaccine, said Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“The Chamber is confident that support for the vaccine will continue to rise when it is successfully administered to front-line workers and those most at risk from the virus,” Baruah said.

Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of Detroit’s NAACP, pointed to the work of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black scientist with the National Institute of Health who was at the forefront of Moderna’s vaccine development, and Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith, who is on the advisory board of the coronavirus task force for the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, as reasons to receive the vaccine.

“I think people need to understand the times have changed,” said Anthony, who also leads Fellowship Chapel. “It might have taken 25 years for the vaccine discovery for polio. But those occurred back in the time when we did not have the research and the knowledge. I mean hell, we have got 300,000 people who are dead. What more does it take?”

Despite being victims of disparate health care in the past, Anthony said he’s pleased to see African American communities and disparities being addressed by the state task forces.

“I feel confident going forward, and I’m not afraid,” he said. “I’m just concerned that some people will slow it down and they may not be around. And I just hope that we can use this as an opportunity to advance us and not to diminish.”

View the original article.


Related:

New Survey Reveals Statewide Opinions on COVID-19 Economic Impact, Business Priorities, Vaccine, and Government Action

 

Dec. 23 | This Week in Government: COVID Relief Supplemental Heads to the Governor; New State Budget Director Named

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. COVID Relief Supplemental Heads to Whitmer
  2. Whitmer Turns to Detroit Budget Director to Replace Kolb
  3. Corbin Praises Aid for Unemployment; Talks Managing Fraud
  4. Supplemental Would Allow HazMat Over Ambassador Bridge
  5. Whitmer Questions Reduction in Vaccine Doses; Feds Deny Claim

COVID Relief Supplemental Heads to Whitmer

A $465 million supplemental with funding for coronavirus relief for affected businesses and workers passed the House on Monday during a rare Christmas-week session day and will now go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk for her signature.

The House concurred in the Senate substitute for SB 748 97-5. The bill includes $465.07 million in total spending, with $443.3 million from the General Fund and $21.7 million in federal dollars.

Gov. Whitmer praised the supplemental – after Friday’s Senate vote, her administration would only say it was reviewing the bill – and noted she asked for a stimulus plan from the Legislature last month. But she also said Congress needs to do more to help states, residents, and businesses weather the pandemic.

“I proposed this stimulus plan to the Legislature in November because I know how much our families, frontline workers, and small businesses need relief as we head into the winter. This bipartisan relief bill will provide families and businesses the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute the safe and effective vaccine and eradicate COVID-19 once and for all,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “There is still more work to do to beat this virus and grow our economy. All Michiganders have a personal responsibility to do their part and mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. And I urge everyone who is still doing last-minute holiday shopping to buy local to support your favorite businesses and restaurants.”

The largest appropriation in the bill is the $220 million to cover the temporary extension of unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks from Jan. 1, 2021, through April 1, 2021.

Another $55 million is for small business grants, targeting businesses most impacted by the pandemic. There’s also funding to provide grants of up to $1,650 to individuals employed in facilities affected by the gathering restrictions if they are currently furloughed or laid off or had hours reduced because of orders from the state.

Direct care workers would see the continuation of the $2 pay increase for an additional two months under the bill and care and recovery centers would see an additional $200 per day payment for two additional months as well.

Also included in the supplemental:

  • $15 million for supplies and equipment supporting coronavirus testing and vaccination efforts, including personal proactive equipment and dry ice;
  • $17.9 million to reimburse hospitals up to $3,100 per five-day treatment to cover the costs of remdesivir for Medicaid patients with COVID-19;
  • $10 million to contract with a nonprofit hospital trade association to distribute grants for temporary hospital staffing assistance;
  • $3.5 million for grants to eligible live music and entertainment venues with individual grants capped at $40,000;
  • $5 million for costs associated with implementing SB 943; and
  • $2.5 million $500 grants to eligible teachers for Great Start Readiness programs, Head Start, special education, and adult education teachers.

It also includes $51.3 million for COVID-19 vaccine strategies and $22.55 million for coronavirus response strategies, including the testing of vulnerable populations. $15 million is set to purchase testing supplies and equipment for COVID testing and vaccination efforts. $10 million is also appropriated for temporary hospital staffing assistance.

While the bill passed overwhelmingly, there were still some concerns. Rep. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) attempted to remove language allowing hazardous materials to be transported across the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit. Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn) called the provision added to the bill in the Senate “shameful.”

Rep. Tommy Brann (R-Wyoming), a restaurant owner, urged Congress to pass more substantial relief for businesses that have had to close or have otherwise been affected during COVID.

Other Democratic lawmakers called for more work in the term starting next month to get funding to help local governments.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) said in a statement the bill provides support to workers and businesses, “who have been left behind by their government and extends a lifeline right when they need it the most.”

“People are worried about the effects of the latest shutdown and what it means for their families. We are listening and looking for ways to help,” he said. “Of course, the best way to help people is to follow the science and safely and securely reopen Michigan’s schools and small businesses. Until that happens, we will continue to fight for the people we represent, support working families with our votes, and ensure everyone can continue to make ends meet.”

Under an order from the Department of Health and Human Services, restaurants remain closed to dine-in service through Jan. 15 (by then they will have been barred from dine-in service for almost two months).

Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association President Justin Winslow called the supplemental good news for the industry.

“As we begin our arc towards more sunlight on this winter solstice, Michigan’s beleaguered restaurants and hotel operators received the first pieces of good news in some time, giving all of us hope that brighter days lie ahead,” Winslow said in a statement. “We are thankful to the Michigan Legislature, which put partisan politics aside to pass a much-needed stimulus package that will provide direct and meaningful relief to those in this industry most impacted by the extended second shutdown.”


Whitmer Turns to Detroit Budget Director to Replace Kolb

One of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s top aides will head up Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget work.

Gov. Whitmer announced Monday that Dave Massaron, the city of Detroit’s chief financial officer for the past two years and a top advisor to Duggan since 2014, will succeed outgoing Budget Director Chris Kolb.

“Throughout his service to the city of Detroit, Dave Massaron has shown a deep commitment to ensuring Detroiters have the support they need. He is uniquely qualified to serve as budget director for the state, where I am confident he will work around the clock to build a balanced budget that supports our recovery from the pandemic by investing in our public schools, public health and safety, and economic opportunity,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with Dave to pass a bipartisan budget and ensure we provide everyone the support and services they need.”

Massaron starts Jan. 4, coming aboard at a critical time as the Whitmer administration finalizes the Governor’s 2021-22 fiscal year budget recommendation, due in February.

Before becoming the city’s CFO in 2019, he was chief operating officer for the Duggan administration, overseeing all city operations. Prior to his work with Duggan, he was an attorney in private practice, first with Dickinson Wright and then with Miller Canfield.

“I am grateful that Gov. Whitmer has entrusted me with the task of building a strong, balanced budget for Michiganders that invests in our shared values,” Massaron said. “It was the greatest honor of my career to work and learn from Mayor Duggan as we restructured the city to better serve its residents. I’m ready and eager to work with the governor’s team and the state Legislature to get a bipartisan budget passed for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.”

The next order of business will be replacing Deputy Budget Director Kyle Jen, who is leaving to become management and budget director in Oakland County.

Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), minority vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, praised Massaron’s hiring.

“David Massaron is one of my oldest and dearest friends,” he said in a statement. “He is also one of the smartest and most loyal people I’ve ever worked with. I can think of no better person to lead the Governor’s budget office.”

Jared Fleisher, vice president of government affairs for the Rock Family of Companies, said based on the organization’s experience with Massaron in Detroit, he will be an exceptional budget director for the state.

And Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, who worked with Massaron when both were in the Duggan administration, said Massaron has “a record of driving consensus and compromise on complex issues. His experience in helping restore fiscal stability in the city of Detroit will be invaluable as the state continues to deal with COVID-19 and works to rebuild our economy.”


Corbin Praises Aid for Unemployment; Talks Managing Fraud

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is anticipated to sign a bill which will allot millions in state aid for unemployment payments – and the federal government stands to do the same – Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Acting Director Susan Corbin said the money is only part of what the agency has its eye on when tackling the effects COVID-19 has had on Michigan.

In an interview with Gongwer News Service Monday, Corbin spoke highly of the Legislature’s recent move to approve a supplemental which would extend unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks and see $220 million in funding be used in covering that temporary extension in benefits, which will run from Jan.1 through April 1, 2021.

The Senate passed the supplemental Friday, with the House giving it a green light early Monday morning (see separate story).

“If we had not extended our benefits to 26 weeks, Michigan citizens would not have been eligible for the federal programs that came in,” Corbin said, speaking of programs such as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. “We absolutely support the extension to 26 weeks.”

Between the pending state aid and the $900 billion federal aid anticipated to be signed before the end of this year, Corbin said the incoming funds will be “certainly be helpful to Michigan families” even with the reduction in additional claimant aid from $600 at the federal level to $300, adding: “It will give a significant boost over what they receive in state unemployment assistance.”

It was initially believed up to 700,000 Michiganders – 487,000 claimants of which filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the other 205,000 filing for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – could have lost benefits should Congress not have approved its own stimulus plan.

Corbin assumed her role at LEO in October after former Director Jeff Donofrio left to helm Business Leaders for Michigan. She has been with LEO since it was first rebranded in 2019, serving as the department’s senior chief deputy; prior to that, Corbin has worked as a senior advisor in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office, director of customer assistance with the Michigan Public Service Commission and in other state departments including the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

One of the several moving pieces Corbin has her eye on in the run up to disbursement of additional unemployment dollars is continuing to manage fraudulent claims made by bad actors. It was discovered in November wrongful claims made to the Unemployment Insurance Agency resulted in “hundreds of millions” of dollars given to scammers rather than legitimate claimants.

The UIA has disbursed roughly $26 billion in benefits to 2.2 million residents, having processed as many claims since March 15, 2020 – the unofficial onset of the pandemic in Michigan – to now as it has in the last seven years combined.

Since the release of a report outlining the extent of fraudulent claims, Corbin said LEO has been working with the Department of Attorney General and the Department of State Police to create a task force meant to look at how fraud was committed and what the UIA can do to stop it. She said the department has also hired a former secret service agent “as a fraud advisor,” and is working with a number of other partners at the state and federal level to rectify the issue.

Corbin added there are “some active investigations” regarding unemployment fraud currently ongoing but could not speak more to where the agency is seeing faux claims being lodged from.

“The $600 that we received through the CARES Act just made Michigan, and states all across the country, vulnerable to this imposter fraud. There were sophisticated criminal rings and criminals who used previously stolen personally identifiable information to file these fraudulent claims … our investigators have had to become very sophisticated in identifying imposter claims,” Corbin said. “We’re really trying to combine efforts so that we can all stay on top of what is the latest trick that these fraudsters are using.”

FUTURES FOR FRONTLINERS: As the application deadline for LEO’s Futures for Frontliners program draws nearer, the last day being Dec. 31, Corbin also said it was a priority of the department to make sure frontline workers are aware the program was still available to them as the state takes its first steps in restarting an eventual post-pandemic economy.

More than 100,000 frontline workers have already applied, Corbin said, adding that LEO is now urging those applicants to complete their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) forms so that, once approved, they can be moved quickly through the program.

The program comes as part of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 60 by 30 program, which seeks to equip 60% of the state’s working-age residents with some sort of certificate or college degree by 2030. That initiative has somewhat been affected by the pandemic, Corbin acknowledged, though she did feel the metric was still attainable for the state despite minor setbacks.

“We know from the interest in Futures for Frontliners that people are interested in pursuing their degrees, pursuing advanced certifications or certifications that are in-demand careers – or for certifications that will help them expand a career they might currently be in,” Corbin said. “I think that the Futures for Frontliners and the MI Reconnect program, those will be solutions to getting us back on track in terms of increasing or restoring enrollment in our four-year institutions and community colleges.”

Corbin said the MI Reconnect program was sidelined in 2020 but that LEO anticipates “rolling the program out early in 2021.” The program – which offers adults aged 25 and older financial support in obtaining some sort of postsecondary degree or certification – saw its funding restored in LEO’s 2020-21 budget in September.


Supplemental Would Allow HazMat Over Ambassador Bridge

A surprise addition to the supplemental appropriations bill whose main purpose was to deal with COVID-19 was language that would authorize trucks to haul hazardous materials, principally gasoline, over the Ambassador Bridge as the bridge owners have been seeking for years.

Boilerplate language was added in SB 748 to achieve the change, but it was unclear Friday night after the Senate passed the bill if it was part of the negotiations on the spending aspects of the bill. The Department of Transportation has opposed the change.

Starting in early 2019, not long after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer succeeded Gov. Rick Snyder, the Detroit International Bridge Company began inquiring about what it would take to allow nonradioactive hazardous materials over the Ambassador like gasoline, paint, industrial cleaners, and other flammable items. The Snyder administration had opposed the change for years.

DIBC officials had said the issue was about safety and fairness. Safety, because trucks now make the trip 60 miles farther to the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, and fairness because the Blue Water Bridge, International Bridge in Sault Ste. Marie and the eventual Gordie Howe International Bridge all will be allowed to have hazardous materials transported over them.

However, southwest Detroit residents and legislators remained ardently opposed because of longtime resentment at the bridge owners’ treatment of the region where the bridge lands on the Detroit side of the Detroit River. Legislators from other parts of the city, however, support the change.

Department of Transportation spokesperson Jeff Cranson said the Whitmer administration is reviewing the language added to the bill.

Gov. Whitmer cannot veto the language out of the bill because there is no money attached to it. She could try to declare it unenforceable but would have to cite a sound legal rationale for doing so.

Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said she voted against the supplemental because of the bridge language.

The boilerplate language directs MDOT to adopt and transit to the federal government changes to the nonradioactive hazardous material routing designation for the Ambassador Bridge expressed in a December 2012 report entitled “Hazardous Materials Routing Synopsis Report Wayne County: Proposed Recommendations.”

Chang said the boilerplate was harmful and the cited report was a rejected traffic study that ignores the health and safety of the residents of her district. She said it would allow for certain hazardous materials to be able to cross the aging bridge despite community opposition and it being found the study had not followed federal standards.

“Over 400 residents in and near my district signed a community petition opposing this request for hazmat on the bridge,” Chang said. “The Detroit city council members, Wayne County commissioner, members of Congress, Canadian member of Parliament, entire Windsor city council and yes me, the state senator all representing these neighborhoods directly impacted have all written our opposition to this request because it would jeopardize the health and safety of our residents.”

She also cited drinking water concerns and that the bridge is 90 years old.


Whitmer Questions Reduction in Vaccine Doses; Feds Deny Claim

A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that their counterpart in Michigan did not have its next allotment of coronavirus vaccine doses reduced by nearly a third though the state’s health agency and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer say differently.

Michigan health officials and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ranged from frustrated to outraged at the thought of the federal government delaying or withholding vital COVID-19 vaccine doses.

On Thursday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services revealed that next week’s vaccine shipment would contain significantly fewer doses than expected, a bomb of sorts that was dropped on the department during a phone call Wednesday with federal health officials.

MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said in an email Friday that officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Operation Warp Speed noted then that the state would be receiving just 60,000 doses next week of the Pfizer-manufactured vaccine.

While Sutfin did not say by how much fewer the shipment would be, The Detroit News on Thursday reported that it was 24,000 fewer doses (or a third less) than the expected 84,000.

Department officials were not provided a reason for the decrease in expected doses, Sutfin said.

In response, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer slammed the federal government for what she called either corruption or ineptitude leading to the state getting a fraction of the doses it was slated to receive.

She discussed the situation as she opened her press conference Friday talking about her friend Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who died of coronavirus complications on Thursday. Gov. Whitmer, who was choking up as she spoke about him, said he took the virus seriously after his brother spent 70 days in the hospital this spring.

“He was very careful. And he followed the protocols. And despite that, somehow even he contracted COVID. And in a matter of three weeks went from, he went from testing positive to being hospitalized, to being put on a ventilator, and passing away,” Gov. Whitmer said. “And my heart hurts. So, while I’ve stood here for approximately 80 press conferences over the last 10 months, stoic and resolved and focused. Today, I’m very sad and I’m pretty angry, too.

“And I’ll tell you why. I’m angry because people like Benny are losing this battle every single day. And I still cannot get a straight answer out of the Trump administration about why Michigan, like many other states, is receiving a fraction of the vaccines that we were slated to receive,” she said.

Gov. Whitmer said the state has hospitals and nursing homes ready to administer the vaccine and the bottleneck “appears to be the White House.”

“I have put a call into Secretary Azar’s office,” she said, referring to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. “And here’s what I want to ask if I could get them on the phone: Where are our doses? What is holding them up? When can we expect them? I’m angry because this virus is raging on in this country, and there is either corruption or ineptitude that is keeping us from saving lives and protecting people.”

Also discouraged by the news were Michigan Health and Hospital Association CEO Brian Peters and Ruthanne Sudderth, the group’s senior vice president of public affairs and communication.

In a statement, Peters said he found the lack of communication and clarity about the allocation of the vaccine “disappointing and frustrating.”

“Hospitals have gone to great lengths to ensure that frontline caregivers are available to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which pulls vital staff away from treating patients when Michigan is in the middle of a second COVID-19 surge,” Peters said. “Any delay in receipt of vaccine prolongs the vaccination process and puts health care workers at increased risk for contracting this deadly disease. Hospitals need consistent and accurate communication and allocation estimates to ensure quality of care is not interrupted.”

In a series of tweets, Sudderth said she too was disappointed, adding that they had caregivers ready to be vaccinated and fewer doses would affect how swiftly they could provide those vaccines.

“The logistics of planning roughly 1,000, if not more, employee vaccines in one hospital each week is greatly helped by consistent and accurate allocation estimates,” Sudderth said. “These workers have to be taken off the floor, come in on an off day, or otherwise, all while the hospital keeps providing patient care.”

Sudderth was also clear that the burden for timely and effective deployment of the vaccine program rests with the federal agency.

“Officials at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are simply given the number each week of what Michigan can expect the following week, and has to communicate that information back to providers,” she said. “Then providers have to adjust, all within hours. I think and hope this process will smooth out over time.”

However, a U.S. DHHS spokesperson in a statement provided to Gongwer News Service said Friday that Operation Warp Speed allocation numbers locked in with states have not been changed or adjusted.

The spokesperson said that only three official allocations have been provided to states, including a week one Pfizer deployment on Nov. 20, a week one Moderna allocation on Nov. 27, and a week two Pfizer allocation on Tuesday.

Those are currently the only official allocation numbers provided to states, the spokesperson said.

“Jurisdictions are allocated doses pro rata by population over 18 years old. Allocations will depend on the amount of vaccine available,” the spokesperson said. “Each week, OWS will let states know how many doses are available to order against for the coming week. Shipments to a jurisdiction may arrive over several days.”

Michigan is not the only state announcing that the CDC and Operation Warp Speed reduced their incoming vaccine supplies. Illinois, Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Indiana have all reported that they’ve been told the same.

To that, the federal agency said reports of reductions are incorrect.

“As was done with the initial shipments of Pfizer vaccine, jurisdictions will receive vaccine at different sites over several days. This eases the burden on the jurisdictions and spreads the workload across multiple days,” a spokesperson said. “This same process was successfully used for the initial distribution of Pfizer’s vaccine, and we are simply applying lessons learned. Operation Warp Speed is committed to delivering jurisdictions’ allocated vaccines according to their plans safely, quickly, and efficiently.”

Sutfin did not respond when asked about the federal agency’s statement or if the Michigan department was sure that it would be receiving fewer doses in the week to come.

In his statement, Peters also said that he was hopeful the issue would be addressed quickly so hospitals around the country “can focus on caring for our communities.”


 

Detroit Regional Chamber Statement on Congress Passing a Coronavirus Relief

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah issued the following statement regarding Congress passing a Coronavirus relief package Monday, Dec. 21:

“The Chamber commends Congress for putting Americans first and passing a bipartisan COVID-19 Relief Package. The renewal of the Paycheck Protection Program combined with the enhanced federal unemployment assistance will put financial resources into the hands of the businesses and individuals facing the greatest hardship from the pandemic.

Compromise is hard work. While the Chamber’s open letter to Michigan’s Congressional delegation on December 8 called for legal protection for business, the letter also stressed the need for bipartisanship. We recognize that neither side got every element they wanted in this outcome, reflecting a true compromise.

This is only a first step in addressing the ongoing economic crisis created by COVID-19. More relief will be needed. Democrats and Republicans must continue working together to find common ground and do more to support businesses, individuals, and states during this time of unprecedented disruption.”

The Detroit News: Business Must Back Massive Vaccination Campaign

Dec. 19, 2020

The Detroit News

A COVID-19 vaccine will only lead us out of this devastating pandemic if a broad majority of Americans get vaccinated. That’s an obvious observation, but also cause for serious alarm.

The miracle of the fast-track development of what now appears to be multiple vaccines will be squandered if public acceptance doesn’t rapidly increase.

A Detroit Regional Chamber poll released last week should be a large red flag — just 52% of Michigan residents say they will get inoculated.

That’s a shockingly low percentage considering how much COVID-19 has impacted our lives these past 10 months, and how many lives it has cost.

More: Michigan voters back virus vaccinations, Whitmer pandemic measures, poll finds

Apparently, developing the vaccines was just half the battle. Now, an equally herculean effort must be launched to convince Americans to take it.

Government certainly should make a big push to convince its citizens to set aside their fears and superstitions and line up to be vaccinated when their time comes.

But this is also a mission for the business community. Few industries have been untouched by the pandemic. Many businesses have endured costly shutdowns, seen their workers infected and their supply chains interrupted.

Restoring a normal business environment will depend on stopping the spread of the virus among workforces and customers.

What’s needed now is a massive, multi-level campaign to assure the vaccination rate meets the 70% level health experts say is necessary to achieve herd immunity, and gets to that point as quickly as vaccine production allows.

Public service announcements are just the start. The more skeptical will need personal contact. Others will need transportation and other assistance in getting the vaccine. Paying hold-outs to be vaccinated shouldn’t be off the table.

The mission should be to make getting vaccinated an act of civic duty.

Help people see this is not just about protecting themselves. It’s also about protecting family friends and neighbors. And about restoring jobs and economic prosperity for everyone.

Too much has been sacrificed already to this pandemic to allow it to escape defeat because of ignorance and irrational fears.

View the original article.

Data from Detroit Downtown Partnership

The DDP launched the Downtown Engagement Survey 3.0 Report to find out peoples’ comfort levels in relation to Downtown activities and to determine the needs of Downtown businesses going into the winter months.

 

 

 

 

 

The Downtown Detroit Datascape is a strategic initiative of the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) to provide metrics, actionable information and analysis that will help stakeholders benchmark progress, make informed decisions and drive investment throughout the urban core of the city.


Watch: Flashpoint with Eric Larson of DDP, Carolyn Cassin of Michigan Women’s Foundation, and Kevin Johnson from the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation

Detroit Regional Chamber Statement On Latest ‘Pause To Save Lives’ Update

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah issued the following statement regarding updates to the Pause to Save Lives provided by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a press conference Friday, Dec. 28:

“The Chamber applauds the Governor and our legislative leadership in agreeing to move forward financial relief for Michigan businesses and individuals. Today’s announcement is the type of bipartisan cooperation the Chamber, and Michigan voters, according to our latest poll, have been anxious to see.

We are also gratified that movie theaters, casinos, and other businesses are able to open up for the holiday season. The remaining restrictions do, however, continue to threaten the vitality of indoor dining establishments that are critical to communities across the state.

Today’s action in Michigan can serve as an example to our leaders in Washington who have still not fulfilled their responsibilities to enact bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation that the nation still awaits.”

View the full announcement of the updates to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services epidemic order.

News Coverage: Chamber COVID-19 Priorities Poll

The Detroit News: Michigan voters back virus vaccinations, Whitmer pandemic measures, poll finds

Crain’s Detroit Business: Detroit Chamber poll: Voters support mask mandate, want action on saving small businesses

Click on Detroit: Survey: Michigan voters favor Whitmer while many believe COVID threat is being downplayed

Dbusiness: Poll: Michigan Voters Say State Economy Has Gotten Worse Since Spring

MetroTimes: Most Michigan voters wear masks, plan to get vaccinated, and support Whitmer’s restrictions

FOX 2: Only a third of Black voters in Michigan say they’ll take the COVID-19 vaccine

WXYZ: Majority of Michigan voters think legislature should pass statewide mask mandate

WXYZ: Poll shows support for Whitmer’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic, increasing confidence in vaccine

 

 

Dec. 18 | This Week in Government: Poll Data Shows Support for Mask Mandate, Small Business

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. Poll: Most Voters Support Indoor Mask Mandate, Help For Biz
  2. Negotiations on Supplemental Spending Bill Move to Friday
  3. Candice Miller For Governor? She’s Thinking About It
  4. State: Minimum Wage Increase Unlikely to Happen For ’21
  5. Justice for All Task Force Releases Service Assessment Report

Poll: Most Voters Support Indoor Mask Mandate, Help For Biz

More than half of voters surveyed in a recent Detroit Regional Chamber poll released Tuesday said they will get vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as they are able while 68% indicated support for a legislative indoor mask mandate to help combat the virus.

But even with attempts to stop the virus, 84% of all respondents believe the state – specifically its economy – is in a worse situation now than it was in April. Almost half of respondents, 46%, said that was specifically because elected officials continued to shut down businesses.

One in four signaled that their household finances had seen a major to catastrophic change, with the greatest impact being on those under 40-years-old.

“We all know that the COVID crisis will last a year, if not longer, and it’s going to have long-lasting impacts on our businesses, society, politics, etc.,” said Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Since day one, the Chamber has looked at the public health crisis and the economic crisis as one. These challenges must be addressed together and solving for one without factoring in the other is, frankly, not realistic and never has been.”

The survey data, gathered between Nov. 30 and Dec. 4, comes from 600 responses. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%, with a 95% confidence level. Pollsters asked participants a wide array of questions dealing with their perceptions on how the pandemic has not just affected their own lives but how lawmakers have responded, and what the priorities should be for the state moving forward.

Data collected also broke down responses by political leanings – from strongly Democrat, leaning Democrat, independent, leaning Republican, and strongly Republican – illustrating that the more center, center-left, and deeply left a person was, the more likely they were to not only approve of things like required mask use and vaccinations, but the more apt they were to say Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was doing everything she could to bring the pandemic under control.

More than 90% of people who identified as a Democrat in some capacity said they would support a mask mandate, 72% of independents said they would, and exactly 50% of people who said they lean Republican supported a mask mandate. Only 33% of voters who identified as strongly Republican said they would support a mask mandate.

Those numbers stayed roughly the same when asked how well a job Gov. Whitmer has done during the pandemic, with more than 89% of all Democratic-leaning persons and 63% independent persons indicating she is doing everything she can. More than half of all Republicans believed she was not, although one-third of both strongly identifying and moderately identifying Republicans believed that she was.

For those who indicated Gov. Whitmer was not doing everything she could to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, when asked what more she could or should be doing, 27% indicated she should reopen businesses or do nothing to impede the spread of the virus.

When turning to the Legislature’s response, however, only 29% of all respondents believed lawmakers were doing enough to combat the virus. The highest levels of approval from any group, 38.9%, came from moderate Republicans. Roughly 40% of all responders indicated the Legislature should be working toward a compromise with Gov. Whitmer on handling the pandemic.

There was also cohesiveness in wanting to help small businesses recover from the pandemic. More than half, 58%, said that in particular should be the state’s primary focus, followed by improving access to health care and job training for those hurt by the pandemic.

About that same amount, 52% overall, also indicated they will get a vaccine as soon as they can. The older a person was, the more likely they were to say they will get the vaccine, with 64% of those aged 50-64 and 71% of 65 and older saying they would get the vaccine. That number significantly dropped off under the age of 50.

Race, too, was a factor in saying yes to a vaccine. While 58% of white responders said they would get the vaccine, only 33% of Black responders indicated they would as well. Another 27% of Black responders said it would depend on if they got a vaccine or not, with data not indicating what, exactly, was the deciding factor.

Nearly half of individuals who identified as strongly Republican, 48%, said they would not get the vaccine at all.

“There’s nuances in these numbers,” said Glengariff Group President Richard Czuba, whose company issued the survey on the chamber’s behalf. “(Voters) recognize the health threat. They recognize the Governor is doing what she can to mitigate that health threat. They also recognize this is a tremendous hit to the economy … And I think what voters overall in the state are saying is: balance these two issues out.”

Related: New Survey Reveals Statewide Opinions on COVID-19 Economic Impact, Business Priorities, Vaccine, and Government Action


Negotiations on Supplemental Spending Bill Move to Friday

Legislative Republicans and the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will continue negotiating on a spending bill related to the coronavirus with the Senate coming back to session at 10 a.m. Friday.

The House is meeting at 8 a.m. Monday and can concur in any legislation that is potentially passed.

Senate Republicans on Thursday announced a spending plan related to the coronavirus without revealing exact dollar figures. House Speaker Lee Chatfield said in a statement he expected more details from the administration tonight.

Yesterday, sources familiar with the situation said the House and Senate Republicans agreed to a less than $300 million spending bill to provide COVID-19 relief and Gov. Whitmer’s office was reviewing. A statement from Senate Republicans Thursday evening announced a “supplemental relief package,” though didn’t include specific funding amounts. It also was worded as a Senate plan as opposed to a House-Senate plan.

Chatfield (R-Levering) said in a statement that providing COVID relief has long been a priority for the Legislature.

After session – a long day for the House, which began at 10 a.m. and didn’t adjourn until after midnight – Gideon D’Assandro, spokesperson for Chatfield, said a few final details will be worked out Friday.

“The House previously added Monday as a session day in case more time was needed to finish needed legislation, and now that is the case,” he said. “Talks are still ongoing between the House, Senate, and administration. COVID relief is a shared priority, and House Republicans are working hard to get it done and get it done right for the people who need it most.”

The House sent SB 604, which extends the duration of unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks until March 31, 2021, back to the Senate so the chamber can send back a final version for the House to concur in if and when there is an agreement. The bill passed 95-6.

The Senate statement said the spending would go toward expanding testing and vaccine distribution and helping hospitals and nursing homes address their shortage of nurses, including an extension of the pay increase for direct care workers.

It would also provide assistance to businesses and furloughed or laid-off workers, the statement said.

“Gov. Whitmer continues to go it alone on COVID-19, closing down businesses and laying off workers in the middle of the holiday season,” said Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland). “But Senate Republicans are stepping up to help the thousands of Michiganders struggling financially and to ramp up testing and vaccine distribution to a point where we can safely reopen our state once and for all.”

The tone of that statement suggested a deal was not close. Gov. Whitmer has called for $100 million to aid businesses affected by the pandemic and another $300 million General Fund for state response to the pandemic.


Candice Miller For Governor? She’s Thinking About It

If it is gubernatorial candidate speculation season, there’s always one name reliably on the shortlist of potential A-listers, and that is Candice Miller.

For the better part of two decades, Miller’s name will come up as a possible Republican candidate for Governor given her two terms as secretary of state, seven terms in the U.S. House, and powerhouse performance at the polls with voters, but she has always passed. Now the Macomb County public works commissioner, Miller’s name again is circulating among Republicans as an ideal challenger to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2022.

Miller would represent a major threat to Gov. Whitmer because of her strength in Macomb County. She knocked out a Democratic incumbent in 2016 with 55% of the vote and then boosted that to 62% in her reelection win this year.

Gov. Whitmer narrowly won Macomb in 2018 and, while losing it, even by a lot, would not be fatal, Miller would likely do much better than the 2018 Republican nominee, Bill Schuette, did in Oakland and suburban Wayne counties.

Miller also has had an everyday approach that has long proven successful with voters.

Jamie Roe, a longtime top aide to Ms. Miller when she was at the Department of State and then Congress, told WILS-AM on Thursday that Ms. Miller has had several people ask her to consider running for governor and she is looking at it.

Roe said Miller is unique among the potential Republican candidates in her ability to win votes in the Detroit suburbs.

Contacted after the program on whether Miller would be interviewed about a possible run, Roe said not just yet.

“Right now, she is sort of sticking to her knitting as she likes to say,” he said.

At this point, no Republicans have begun laying the groundwork for a challenge and as of a couple weeks ago, Republican operatives said no one had really started making the rounds just yet.


State: Minimum Wage Increase Unlikely to Happen For ’21

The Michigan Bureau of Employment Relations, Wage and Hour Division announced today the state’s scheduled minimum wage increase is not expected to go into effect on Jan.1, 2021.

The state’s Improved Workforce Opportunity Wage Act of 2018 prohibits scheduled minimum wage increases if the state’s annual unemployment rate for the preceding calendar year is above 8.5%. The annual unemployment average from January through October is 10.2% and is unlikely to dip below the 8.5% threshold when the final 2020 unemployment numbers are released.

If the annual unemployment rate does not fall below 8.5%, then Michigan’s minimum wage will remain at $9.65 per hour. Tipped employees rates of pay will remain $3.67 an hour and the training wage for newly hired employees aged 16 and 17 will remain at $4.65 an hour for their first 90 days.

The next minimum wage will increase to $9.87 following the next calendar year when the annual unemployment rate is less than 8.5%.


Justice for All Task Force Releases Service Assessment Report

Michigan’s Justice For All Task Force on Tuesday released its strategic plan and service inventory report, which took a critical look at 15 civil justice areas and barriers for residents within those areas.

The report found that several of those areas were lacking and were rated as having only partial, minimal, or no progress toward 100% access, with none of the areas presented in the report reaching sufficient or advanced progress ratings.

However, members of the task force and its liaisons in Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Justice Brian Zahra said Tuesday during a news conference with reporters that the stark evaluation was important if Michigan was to truly transform its civil justice system and meet its access goals.

“Unlike in criminal cases where the Sixth Amendment guarantees everyone charged with a crime a lawyer, civil cases have no corollary,” McCormack said. “But of course, many civil proceedings can have very serious consequences for people and the lack of access to justice also costs the rest of us. The rule of law is, after all, only a set of ideas that require our collective buy-in, and when access to justice is unequal, that buy-in is threatened.”

Created by the high court in 2019, the task force set its sights over 18 months to produce the inventory assessment and plan released on Tuesday, which is also the national day of remembrance for the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The task force also announced that it would be forming a new commission, which will be active starting next year to implement recommendations.

Much of the assessment and strategic planning work was spearheaded by Zahra, who said the report makes it apparent that the processes and procedure of the state’s legal system make it difficult, if not impossible, for those without robust financial or educational resources to get a fair shot.

To that, Zahra said the recommendations would help to level the playing field.

“For example, to a small business owner, justice for all might mean the expeditious resolution of a contract dispute and getting paid so that the frontline employees can get paid,” he said. “To a battered spouse, justice for all might mean quick and effective access to a personal protection order. … The list of possibilities goes on and on. Regardless of the specific factual scenario, however, it’s fair to say that justice for all is the process of making our civil justice system accessible and understandable to our neighbors throughout our communities and to the people in every corner of Michigan.”

Per the report, the 15 civil justice areas were partitioned into five categories, including governance and innovation; consumer needs and community integration; assistance without a lawyer; representation by a lawyer; and court services and education.

Of 15 total services areas, the only ones rated as making partial progress were jurisdiction infrastructure, stakeholder capacity, community integration and prevention, self-help centers, triage and referral, alternative dispute resolution, full representation, judicial and court staff education, and compliance assistance services.

Some of the gaps and barriers identified in these areas are the fact that localized funding of courts makes system change difficult to implement. Decentralized court technology or a lack of online court records and a uniform case management system also makes data-oriented change in the courts difficult overall.

There are also too many work groups and committees that address overlapping justice access issues, with a lack of clarity and roles and responsibilities, and a lack of coordination among groups, among several other identified gaps.

Areas making minimal progress include emerging practices and innovations, consumer needs and experiences, limited scope representation, plain language forms, and courtroom assistance services.

Identified barriers include overly complicated court processes that are not easily navigable and the fact that disparate rules and procedures among the courts make it difficult for legal aid attorneys to do their jobs, recruit volunteers to take pro bono cases, among others.

The lone “no progress” rating was given to navigator services, as no such service exists in Michigan’s civil justice system – the biggest barrier to its success. There is also not a clear and consistent definition of what “navigator services” are and may be confusing to stakeholders.

To address each access area and move it toward sufficient or advance progress, Mr. Zahra said the strategic plan will focus on creating a civil justice system that is not only welcoming and understanding, but collaborative, adaptive, and trusted by its end users: the people of the state of Michigan.

Strategic goals outlined in the plan include creating a service culture that is pervasive across the Michigan civil justice system, where stakeholders are focused on serving and strengthening their communities. That also entails simplifying and streamlining the system’s processes, rules, and laws so it is easier to navigate, understand, and use.

If those pillars are met, people can get what they need when they need it to address their legal issues, the report says, with a spectrum of affordable services available to everyone. An inclusive collaborative network of diverse partners should also be established by working together to integrate resources.

That last part is where the new commission will come into play, as task force members hope its presence will ensure court infrastructure is in place to achieve recommended goals.

While none of the 15 civil justice components in the inventory report were rated as sufficient or advanced, that doesn’t mean every service currently available throughout the state’s judiciary is flawed, said Angela Tripp of the Michigan Legal Help Program.

Rather, it was an admission of what it can do better and sets a high bar for new standards.

“The overarching goal of this work is 100 percent access, and that does not mean that 100 percent of people get an attorney to represent them. That is not practical, and I’d argue not necessary,” Tripp said. “Instead, we need to build a strong continuum of resources so people can get what they need when they need it to resolve their problems. We need different kinds of help for different people in different situations. The strategic plan sets out tactics to achieve this simplified processes, increased resources, new and innovative models of service delivery, and a shared framework for collaboration.”

McCormack also added Michigan courts have already engaged in the kind of collaboration and multi-pronged problem-solving tactics floated in the report, as evidence by its eviction diversion program which became a huge lifeline for residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The data shows that tenants provided an attorney achieved positive results in 94% of cases,” she said. “Keeping families in their homes, of course keeps them in their jobs, keeps them providing for their families, paying their taxes, supporting their communities. And preventing evictions helps stabilize neighborhoods and promotes economic development. That’s a win-win for Michigan. Now imagine if we could duplicate the creative thinking of the eviction diversion program dozens of times over tackling every civil justice issue from family law to elder abuse?”

Detroit Regional Chamber Statement on the Passing of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon

Dec. 18, 2020 – Chamber President and CEO, Sandy K. Baruah, shared the following statement on the passing of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

“The loss of Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon to COVID-19 is yet another painful reminder of the power of the global pandemic to take the lives regardless of a person’s status of power. The Chamber extends our sympathy to family and friends of Sheriff Napoleon.”