Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., held the first of two telephone town halls on the COVID-19 pandemic open to the public.

On the call, Peters discussed Michigan’s expansion of unemployment benefits, ways residents can help health care workers access personal protective equipment, plans to minimize the pandemic’s impact on the economy and the direction of future legislative efforts. 

“I’d like to, first and foremost, recognize the heroes in our state,” Peters said. “What we have seen from our fellow Michiganders has been nothing short of remarkable.”  

Peters thanked the health care and grocery store workers in their efforts to maintain essential services. The senator addressed COVID-19 as both a public health crisis and an economic crisis. 

Peters elaborated on his efforts through communicating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure as much equipment as possible is coming into the state. Additionally, a large portion of the $2 trillion stimulus package passed in Washington, D.C. is slated to go toward health care systems around the country.

Peters provided information about the state’s expansion of unemployment benefits to keep individuals and families protected while the economy has been put on pause. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, part of the CARES Act, is a part of the stimulus package which Peters worked on. This expands unemployment eligibility generally, including to small business owners who have had to close down during the crisis. 

On the state level, Peters explained the significant changes being made for Michiganders currently receiving unemployment benefits, including the influx of applicants coming in as the pandemic continues. Those currently receiving unemployment assistance will be eligible to receive an additional $600 per week through July 2020 from the federal government. New applicants will receive this bonus as well.

Peters stressed the importance of supporting individuals and small business owners in order to make restarting the economy as painless as possible. 

“We’re taking measures similar to what is done during a natural disaster,” Peters said. “A pandemic is every bit a natural disaster as a hurricane, but this time it is blowing over the whole country, not just one region.” 

The call was later opened to questions from Michigan residents. One man from Clinton Township asked the senator what areas he thinks future bills will focus on. 

Peters said he wants to monitor what has already been passed and evaluate where additional resources would be necessary. However, Peters said some sort of assistance will be necessary for rural hospitals as well as educational institutions in the state as the number of COVID-19 patients rises. 

Another resident from Burton asked if the virus would delay the November election. Peters said every effort would be made to make sure voting continues as planned and he imagines voting would be made possible for all Michiganders from home through absentee ballots. 

The call ended as one resident from Shelby Township asked about communal efforts to help provide personal protective equipment to health care workers. 

“I know a lot of us have sewing machines and 3D printers we are ready to use,” Justin said. “Are there any existing programs out there currently organizing efforts for people to help make and distribute PPE (personal protective equipment)?” 

Peters acknowledged the numerous high school robotics teams using their skills to make masks as well as the role of Michigan auto companies in producing ventilators. He said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is working to organize people who will be able to help supply more personal protective equipment in the short-run. 

“Eventually, the manufacturing muscle of this economy will be able to work faster,” Peters said. “But it takes time.” 

Celene Philip can be reached at celenep@umich.edu. 

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