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News & Press: NASW-Michigan News

COVID-19 Pandemic Response and Economic Recovery Priorities for Social Workers

Tuesday, May 19, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Duane Breijak
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Edward D’Angelo LMSW. NASW-Michigan Vice President of Social Policy

Importance of Evidence-Based Guidance

At virtually all levels of government policy makers are deliberating how they can keep Michigan citizens safe while also easing “lockdown” restrictions and getting businesses and the larger Michigan economy back up and running.  This is a time to seriously consider evidence based guidance from experts in epidemiology and disease prevention, as well as business leaders, as decisions and plans are made regarding how Michigan will conduct itself in the midst of this changing environment and continuing public health threat from COVID-19.  

Ignoring the COVID-19 Problem Will Not Make It Go Away

One thing is certain, ignoring the COVID-19 public health threat will not make it go away.  As a practical matter, a sustainable healthy recovery of the Michigan economy is dependent upon a healthy population that includes consumers, workers and business owners.   A healthy population is dependent upon multiple layers of determinants of health.  

Importance of Testing and COVID-19 Occurrences Indicators Surveillance 

Decisions need to be data dependent, based upon test results and other critical indicators.  We don’t know how healthy we are as a state, nor the prevalence of this very communicable virus in the absence of widespread availability and utilization of appropriate testing and prevalence data analysis.  Policy proposals to move to a regional approach with differential practices in respective regions must incorporate appropriate data-collection to monitor and react to changes in rates of newly identified COVID-19 cases.  This will provide relevant and timely data useful for decisions to relax restrictions or to reinstitute practices to control increased instances of the illness. 

Healthier Population, Healthier State

Widespread COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccinations (when available) should be universally available at no cost to all Michiganders. This virus has disproportionately impacted those who are low-income, disabled, African American and people of color. Some of whom have continued to work as essential employees, and who potentially could be at risk of spreading this virus to others, as well.  To be certain, no socio-economic group is immune from this virus, however some Michiganders are at severe disadvantage given less than adequate access to health related resources, and implicit bias amongst healthcare providers. It is in the interest of all Michiganders for the Healthy Michigan program to be expanded to all those Michiganders who do not have health insurance, and for health equity to be at the forefront of ongoing efforts to reduce not only the spread of COVID-19 but also the reduction of health disparities

 

Supporting Workers’ Return to the Workplace and Recovery from Economic Disruption

To support restoration of a vibrant Michigan economy and to encourage Michiganders to reenter the workplace the Earned Income Tax Credit should be restored to 20% for working people with low to moderate income.  Further, providing short-term funding that gradually reduces unemployment benefits as workers’ wages resume would also support a smooth transition back to working.

Workplace Health and Safety Must be a Priority 

Industry specific guidance on safe workplace practices are essential to the health and safety of employees and consumers alike, and must consider not only health screening, testing and social distancing practices, but appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) and other equipment, supplies and practices most likely to prevent inadvertent transmission of this very communicable disease.  NASW-MI is concerned about the health and safety of social workers throughout the entire state who provide a wide range of services and most frequently on a very inter-personal basis including those in hospitals, Long Term Services and Supports for aging and disabled, Mental Health/Behavioral Health services, Substance Use Disorder treatment services, Criminal Justice settings, Child Welfare agencies, state agency local offices, and a wide array of counseling services.

Safety Net Programs Critical

Given the widespread disruption people’s lives caused by this COVID-19 pandemic and related consequences in Michigan, it is crucial that safety net programs, services and systems be provided the resources to continue to function for an increased volume of vulnerable Michiganders.  A moratorium on foreclosures, utility shutoffs, evictions, and defaults on student loan payments should be mandated.  Food and nutrition assistance program funding must be provided, allowing for Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) purchases and expanding the Double Up Food Bucks program especially at a time when we are witnessing increases in food costs and a spike in families seeking food assistance.

Safe Voting Practices

Michigan citizens spoke clearly in passing by a wide margin the expansion of absentee ballot availability for all elections, and other voting access measures.  Now there is a compelling a public health reason to follow through and make it easier for all Michiganders to vote by mail, with an early voting option.  This would allow for a greater volume of voters to use this option, and adjust for the impact on elections workers who often are seniors, a population group particularly at risk from this COVID-19.

In Summary

This unprecedented pandemic and its impact in Michigan, requires responsible decision-making to avoid far worse consequences that we have experienced already.  We believe the best approach forward requires listening to key experts, making evidence-based informed decisions in this dynamic and changing environment and supporting of multiple systems that are crucial to Michiganders health and well-being.

All Michiganders need to work together and policy-makers need to give serious consideration to what steps are best for the common good as we decide our next courses of action.

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