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For Michigan, Biden's first 100 days brought much-needed relief

For Michigan, Biden's first 100 days brought much-needed relief
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As 2020 ended, Michigan, like many states across the country, teetered on the brink of financial crisis. One hundred thirty-nine thousand families were at risk of eviction.

A whopping 2.6 million adults had fallen behind on basic household expenses, over a third of the state population. On top of growing economic instability, the pandemic loomed, and leaders in Washington showed no interest in passing much-needed legislation or in quelling stateside threats from “militias,” who threatened our governor, Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerWhitmer vetoes bill exempting graduations from crowd limits Whitmer proposes using 0M of virus aid to boost minimum wage Women are saving our democracy — and being attacked for it MORE. Michigan was in dire straits and, on the heels of unspeakable tragedy on Jan. 6 and record COVID-19 cases, the new Biden Administration proposed sweeping new changes to be enacted within his first 100 days — a deadline we reached on April 29. With over 40 executive orders, sweeping legislative success and a robust vaccination program, the president’s promises have — in the words of our own Stevie Wonder — been signed, sealed and delivered.

Michiganders are tough, no-nonsense and want things to get done. We are a state of industry, of a pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit that has carried us through the worst of times. Following his many visits to Michigan on the campaign trail and conversations with our own governor, Biden has brought this hard-working and humble spirit to the White House, and on March 11 Michigan was given a lifeline. It was no easy feat — with a tight majority in the Senate and House, the president had to lean on his keen sense of bipartisanship — and the Senate rules when necessary — to get things done. The American Rescue Plan, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by Biden, invests $1.9 trillion into America’s economic recovery effort, $5.9 billion of which has been allocated to Michigan.

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In marked contrast to the federal government’s handling of the 2008 recession, working class Americans are the direct beneficiaries of the government’s relief program. The thousands of Michiganders reliant on unemployment insurance will see their benefits increase by $300. Tenants at risk of eviction and homelessness will receive rent assistance. Families struggling to feed their children now qualify for up to $3,600 in tax credits. This all comes on top of the bill’s $1,400 direct payments, which has already put cash into the pockets of those who need it most.  

The infusion of funds the state is set to receive will flush cities and towns across Michigan with the financial resources they have desperately needed for years. Flint mayor, Sheldon Neeley, called the $99.3 million allocated to the city a “game changer.” The city stands to benefit for years to come, with experts anticipating that new jobs and commercial development will generate long-term economic growth. 

The money allocated to cities like Flint will go a long way in closing the state’s gap in broadband internet access. The internet had already become an essential part of modern life well before 2020, but with the coronavirus shifting schools, businesses and leisure almost entirely online, internet access is no longer a service anyone can afford to opt-out of. And yet, in the state, one out of every four residents lack a permanent fixed broadband internet connection. Seventy of Michigan’s 83 counties show broadband internet access rates that fall below the national average. The disparities are most acute in poorer communities, where shoddy infrastructure and high costs make internet access highly inaccessible. In Detroit, for example, 35 percent of students lacked an internet connection. In Flint, the percentage is even higher, at 37. Poor internet access means children falling behind in school, and adults boxed out of a job market that is more online than ever before.

Recognizing the necessity of broadband internet access, the Biden administration included a $7.171 billion fund in the American Rescue Plan meant to help schools subsidize the cost of providing internet access and tech equipment to their students. It represents a substantial expansion of the Federal Communication E-Rate Program, an initiative that provides schools with telecommunication services. Formerly the program only serviced schools themselves, but now, thanks to Biden’s plan, students lacking broadband can receive help from the program directly.

In the first 100 days, a bold vision has emerged from the White House, one that signals a turning of the page in American history, away from Gilded Age inequality to a new era of blue-collar politics. Already, there is good reason to believe that one of the most popular and most radical provisions of the plan — the expanded child tax credit — will become permanent. Lifting millions of children out of poverty isn’t just a lofty 100-day goal — thanks to the American Rescue Plan, help is on the way.

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As the American Rescue Plan made its way through Congress, the Biden administration concurrently oversaw the most ambitious vaccine distribution plan in American history. After the disorganized and improvisational approach of the Trump administration left cities and states scrambling for resources, many experts anticipated a slow crawl to herd immunity, and balked at Biden’s stated target of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days. On April 21, Biden announced that not only had the nation reached this target, but had doubled it. 200 million Americans have received at least one dose. In Michigan, almost 50 percent of the state population is partially or fully vaccinated, and 73 percent of seniors have received at least one dose. 

Think of where we were just over 100 days ago: no vaccination plan from our leaders; rising COVID-19 cases and record deaths; and no end in sight. Today, the picture could not be more different. The Biden administration has given us hope. Hope for real results for Michiganders, and hope that we can get on with our lives and back with our families soon. If this is what we can accomplish in the first 100 days, imagine the next 1,000.

Garlin Gilchrist is the lieutenant governor of Michigan.