Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I want to thank our members again for the work you are doing to provide meals to families and engage students with learning. This work is important during ordinary times, but even more so with the crisis we’re experiencing now. We’re all feeling uncertain about what the weeks and months ahead will hold, so we’re working to keep you as up-to-date as possible with what we do know and what might lie ahead.
We know Gov. Whitmer made the right decision when she closed schools to protect the health of students, educators and staff. During this challenging time, we’ve seen school workers step up in big ways by providing at-home learning opportunities and ensuring kids have the meals they’d normally get at school.
However, these closures have left districts, parents and staff across the state in the lurch. Districts, teachers, parents and students are uncertain about how at-home learning will be used to meet state and local requirements.
We appreciate that most districts are already doing the right thing by paying staff fairly and many are ensuring essential staff who are called in to work get overtime pay. Where employees are currently not receiving pay, AFT Michigan is working with districts to encourage the use of existing funds to provide compensation to employees. School employees should not need to rely on unemployment to make ends meet when state funds have already been allocated to districts for this purpose.
We need state action to guarantee schools can provide at-home learning engagement for all students and will have the funding to pay all staff into the future. We are grateful to the thousands of education professionals, parents, and community members who have contacted their elected officials asking for a legislative solution. If you have not already done so, please click here to contact your legislators and urge them to help find a solution to the challenges faced by our schools, students, parents, and staff.
Our legislative leaders have expressed a commitment to ensuring teachers and support staff receive the pay they need and deserve—but we need more than words. Legislators need to follow the lead of school employees and take action. We trust Gov. Whitmer’s leadership and trust that legislators want to do the right thing, and we hope state government officials will continue to work with her to provide schools and staff across the state with the support and information they need during these difficult times.
Some of you have understandably asked what will happen if state government does not take action. However, I have every confidence that the commitments made by our elected officials to provide solutions will be honored. Part of that confidence comes because of you, as educators across the state continue to make it crystal clear to legislators that they must act with urgency, and that failing our students, our schools, and our educators is not an option.
Below you will find updates on the federal coronavirus relief legislation and other topics.
US Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Signed Into Law
This $2 trillion bipartisan agreement was signed earlier this evening, and addresses the current public health emergency, supports local communities, and puts America’s workers first.
Among the funding provisions in the CARES Act:
- $150 billion to assist states and local governments with COVID-19 expenses. Michigan’s grant allotment from the relief fund is $3.9 billion.
- $260 billion for expansion and reform of the unemployment insurance program, including an additional $600 per week for anyone receiving state unemployment insurance.
- $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education for formula grants to states.
- $14.25 billion for higher education emergency relief to defray expenses for institutions of higher education, such as lost revenue; technology costs associated with a transition to distance education; and grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, healthcare and child care.
- $350 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses that retain workers, and $27 billion in other small business supports.
- $400 million for states to help prepare for the 2020 elections.
- $100 billion to ensure healthcare providers receive support for COVID-19-related expenses.
- $425 million to address mental health and substance use disorders as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
- $275 million to expand services and capacity for rural hospitals, tele-health, poison control centers and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.
- $500 million to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s global health efforts.
Help for student loan borrowers:
- Codifies Trump administration’s initiative to suspend interest from accruing on student loan debts (for Direct Loans and federally held Federal Family Education Loans).
- Suspends student loan payments for six months (for Direct Loans and federally held FFELs), while still counting those months toward public service loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment.
- Halts involuntary collections of wages, tax refunds and Social Security benefits to pay back student loans.
- Provides flexibility in timelines required for qualifying service for Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant recipients.
- Provides a tax incentive for employers to help pay their employees’ student loans, through the end of the year.
Payments to individuals:
One-time $1,200 check for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, or $2,400 for couples earning less than $150,000. Payments are scaled down for individuals earning between $75,000 and $99,000 and couples earning between $150,000 and $198,000, and are phased out altogether for those above the income thresholds. Also provides an additional $500 per child.
Worker and transparency protections on government loans:
- No stock buybacks or dividends for the length of any loan provided by the Treasury plus one year.
- Restrictions on any increases to executive compensation.
- Protects collective bargaining agreements.
- Real-time public reporting of Treasury transactions under the CARES Act, including terms of loans, investments and other assistance to corporations.
- Prohibition on businesses controlled by the president, vice president, members of Congress, and heads of executive departments getting loans or investments from Treasury programs.
- Creates a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery to provide oversight of Treasury loans and investments, and a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to protect taxpayer dollars.
- Creates a Congressional Oversight Commission to enhance legislative oversight of pandemic response.
AFT has created summary documents of the bills, which are accessible at the links below:
- Summary of S.3548 the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act
- Summary of Unemployment Provisions in the CARES Act
We will keep you updated as details regarding implementation of the CARES Act become available.
AFT Guidance on Supporting Students with Disabilities
Educators who work with students with disabilities have unique challenges and needs in providing at-home learning engagement. AFT has prepared a guidance document with information and resources of meeting unique student needs, which can be downloaded here.
Support for Taking Care of Yourself in Difficult Times
We know these are trying times. We also know that there will be a psychological impact on many members as a result. Feeling anxious in response to a threat is a normal human reaction, but sustained high anxiety can undermine a constructive response to the crisis. People who already suffer from anxiety and related disorders are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis.
AFT has produced a document with recommended steps and advice for taking care of your mental health during this time. Click here to download the full document.
AFT Michigan Coronavirus Resource Center
AFT Michigan is in constant communication with the Governor’s Office, the Michigan Department of Education, and lawmakers about unfolding crisis response efforts. Additionally, the national AFT is working very hard with federal officials and lawmakers. Our union is working hard to support efforts to protect public health and advocate for our education workers, students, families, and communities.
We are updating AFTMichigan.org/covid19, our Coronavirus Resource Center, on a regular basis.
Thank you for all you’re doing to support your families, students, and communities. Please let us know if there are additional ways we can support you or ideas you have for the website by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.