The Michigan Daily spoke with Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist about the federal eviction moratorium, the presence of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Ann Arbor’s water supply and the possibility of requiring vaccines for public school staff as part of Gilchrist’s Thriving Cities tour.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
TMD: On Aug. 26, the Supreme Court struck down the federal eviction moratorium, leaving Americans without protection against eviction for non-payment of rent. With Ann Arbor residents still struggling financially from the pandemic, how is the Whitmer administration aiding residents with affordable housing?
GG: So, there are a few key elements to this. In following with the original eviction moratorium from the CDC, we had a number of things to prevent eviction and also to prevent utility shutoffs — particularly electric, gas, water shutoffs. We’ve got the most aggressive water shutoff program that’s ever happened in Michigan to prevent that.
And so, first of all, we think what the Supreme Court did is really unfortunate. We recognize that that was tenuous on the legal ground but, nevertheless, the principle here is to keep people in their homes. And so we still have more resources that we’re working to mobilize quickly at the state level, and are continuing to do so. There have been local jurisdictions that have also stepped up, we have court systems that have stepped up, to continue to advocate for people who may be facing eviction. There’s a lot of programs that are there for us. And this is also why we propose using $100 billion in rescue plan dollars to build more affordable housing in Michigan.
I’m here for my Thriving Cities stop in Ann Arbor and when I came to do the Thriving Cities Tour stop here in Ann Arbor in 2019, the number one issue that I heard about here was the lack of access to affordable housing being a problem for improving quality of life in Ann Arbor. And so that’s why we made the proposal for that investment, and we think that’ll make a difference. And in the meantime, we’re going to keep people in their homes.
TMD: PFAS levels in Ann Arbor’s water supply have continued to increase, reaching 33.8 parts per million last fall, which is the highest level on record. Are you and the Whitmer administration monitoring the situation, and what is being done to remedy it?
GG: Yes, we are monitoring this and continue to be concerned about PFAS contamination here and across the state. There’s no federal standard for what the dangerous level of PFAS is … Our congressional delegation, and particularly folks like Congressman Dan Kildee and Senator Gary Peters, have been really aggressive in terms of trying to make sure that we can get federal dollars for PFAS mitigation. And then for our Michigan Clean Water Plan that we introduced last year, and for every water infrastructure initiative that we put forward, it has included cleanup and PFAS mitigation efforts. We need the legislature to vote, to go ahead and enact those quickly, because the longer we wait, the more PFAS we get. And that’s something that is wholly preventable when the legislature steps up and implements our plan.
TMD: President Biden yesterday called on all governors to require vaccinations for teachers and school staff. Does the Whitmer administration have any plans to do so?
GG: Yeah, we’re looking at that, certainly. We watch closely for the President’s statements that he made. I think we need to look at what the important intention was of his announcement, and it’s that people need to make the choice to get vaccinated.
We have been aggressive in our efforts to make the vaccines available, convenient, free and we know they’re safe and effective. And so there are very few barriers to people getting vaccinated now. But we just need people to make that choice. For folks who have been sitting on the fence, you probably waited long enough. And that decision now is clear and is present and is necessary for our communities.
As the parent of two school-aged children who started third grade this week, I want to make sure that my kids, who are not eligible to be vaccinated, that they can be surrounded by adults who are vaccinated. It’s really important and the truth is that is how we will stop the spread of this virus. That has always been true since we got vaccines in December. The easiest way to prevent a child from contracting COVID-19 is for the adults around them to be vaccinated. So, this is about making a decision to protect yourself and to protect others. That’s why I got vaccinated, why the Governor got vaccinated, that’s why my wife got vaccinated, why anybody is getting vaccinated, because we need to keep people safe.