COVID-19 Update: Enbridge Files Federal Court Complaint to Block Michigan’s Actions Against Line 5, Priority Health to Offer Financial Relief to Large Employer Groups, and More

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.
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map of Michigan coronavirus cases
Courtesy of Bridge, as of Nov. 24

Here is a roundup of the latest news concerning the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to announcements from local, state, and federal governments, as well as international channels. To share a business or nonprofit story, please send us a message.

Enbridge Files in Federal Court to Block Michigan’s Actions Against Line 5
Enbridge Inc. filed a federal complaint Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan seeking an injunction to stop the state of Michigan from taking any steps to prevent the operation of Line 5.

The state of Michigan’s attempt to shut down Line 5 interferes with the comprehensive federal regulation of pipeline safety and burdens interstate and foreign commerce in clear violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution, according to the filing. Enbridge also moved the complaint filed by the state against Line 5 on Nov. 13 in Michigan state court to the federal court.

The reason for the move to federal court is that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a federal agency, is Enbridge’s safety regulator, not the state of Michigan.

“In fact, only three months ago the safety of the dual pipelines was reviewed by our regulator and the pipelines were found to be fit for service,” says Vern Yu, executive vice president and president of Liquids Pipelines. “The state’s attempt to assume the role of safety regulator through its notice purporting to ‘terminate and revoke’ the easement is improper and unlawful.”

According to Enbridge, this is the latest attempt by the state “to interfere with the operation of this critical infrastructure by assuming authority it does not possess.” By contrast, Enbridge says it continues to live up to all its obligations under its agreements with the state. Notably, Enbridge says it has undertaken a variety of Line 5 projects requested by the state at substantial expense, including installing a new Line 5 crossing under the St. Clair River earlier this year and diligently pursuing permitting for the Great Lakes tunnel project at no cost to taxpayers.

“In the face of continued roadblocks by this administration it’s time for the state to stop playing politics with the energy needs and anxieties of U.S. and Canadian consumers and businesses that depend on Line 5,” says Yu. “It is concerning to see the current administration is willing to compromise these needs. We remain highly committed to protecting the Great Lakes, the environment, and all the people who use these waters while delivering energy that people rely on daily. Enbridge’s Line 5 has served Michiganders safely without spilling a drop of oil at the Straits crossing for more than 65 years, over nine different state administrations.”

Enbridge says a disruption of Line 5 would create a propane shortage, higher energy prices, and hardship for Michigan families, especially those on fixed incomes or of modest means. It also would result in a daily shortage of more than 14 million gallons of gasoline and other transportation fuels, impacting the entire region, including Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ontario, and Quebec. Ten regional refineries would expect to be “significantly and adversely impacted.” Some of these refineries served by Line 5 also supply a large percentage of the aviation fuel at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport.

Priority Health to Offer Financial Relief to Large Employer Groups in Response to COVID-19
Grand Rapids-based Priority Health, Michigan’s second-largest health system, announced today plans to provide financial support to all large, fully funded active employer groups amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In an effort to help employers navigate recent challenges, the company plans to offer premium credits to employer groups in their February 2021 invoices. Priority Health previously announced in May its plans to return any revenue above the company’s 10 percent administrative rate back to employers and members.

“Priority Health serves as a trusted partner to our large employer groups, and, because of that, we have stayed true to our commitment to always place the welfare of our members ahead of profits,” says Rick V. Morrone, senior vice president of employer solutions at Priority Health. “We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted businesses of all sizes across Michigan, so we are pleased to be able to offer this financial relief during a time when people need it most.”

The credit, available to groups with 51 or more eligible employees, will be based on the analysis of claims experience, generally ranging from 5 percent to 35 percent of one month’s premium. Priority Health will be analyzing 12 months of claims data through September 2020 and will have specific group amounts available prior to February 2021 invoices so groups can plan accordingly.

In addition to premium credits, Priority Health also has worked to provide relief for fully funded employer groups and members to help offset the effects of the pandemic in the following ways:

  • Allowed employers to continue to offer health benefits to employee who are temporarily laid off or reduced hours below full-time status.
  • Waived member cost share for the testing and treatment of COVID-19.
  • Waived member cost share for virtual visits as well as expanding the $0 cost share to all telehealth delivered by Primary Care/Specialists including behavioral health through December 31, 2021.
  • Offered no cost added benefits to members like prescription drug home delivery and the myStrength behavioral health online tool​.

COVID-19 caused widespread disruption to the way consumers accessed health care. Priority Health set premium rates for 2020 based on expected health care costs. With many health procedures scheduled for earlier this year either being delayed or canceled, and consumers overall accessing less health care services, the company’s expected costs were reduced. In addition to the upcoming premium credits for large, fully funded employer groups, Priority Health returned excess funds to members and employers through:

  • A 15 percent premium credit for June and July 2020 for MyPriority Individual plan members.
  • A 15 percent premium credit issued in June and July 2020 for small group employers (2-50 employees).
  • Waive cost sharing for all Medicare Advantage members for in-person and telehealth primary care services May 1 through Dec. 31, 2020.

Along with reduced utilization, Priority Health’s nonprofit status and focus on efficiency also helped make it possible for the company to provide this financial relief.

J.D. Power: November Vehicle Retail Sales Decline Due to Quirky Sales Calendar
New-vehicle retail sales for the month of November are expected to decline marginally from November 2019, according to a joint forecast from Troy data analytics and consumer intelligence company J.D. Power and LMC Automotive.

Retail sales for new vehicles are projected to reach 1,040,000 units, a 0.7 percent decrease compared with November 2019 when adjusted for selling days. November 2020 contains three fewer selling days and one less selling weekend than November 2019. Comparing the same sales volume without adjusting for the number of selling days translates to a decrease of 12.2 percent year over year.

“November 2020 is a prime example of why accounting for selling day differences is important in measuring comparable sales performance,” says Thomas King, president of the data and analytics division at J.D. Power. “After two consecutive months of year-over-year retail sales gains, a quirk in the November sales calendar will result in new-vehicle retail sales appearing to fall 12 percent. When these calendar quirks are accounted for, new-vehicle retail sales are expected to almost match 2019 levels. While the sales results illustrate the continued strength of consumer demand, that strength is further reinforced by transaction prices hitting another record high, even as manufacturers and retailers continue to remain disciplined on new-vehicle incentives and discounts.”

Total new-vehicle sales for the month of November, including retail and non-retail transactions, are projected to reach 1,208,100 units, a 3.5 percent decrease from November 2019 when adjusted for selling days. Reporting the same numbers without controlling for the number of selling days translates to a decrease of 14.6 percent from November 2019. The seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) for total new-vehicle sales is expected to be 15.8 million units, down 1.3 million units from 2019.

“The average number of days a new vehicle sits on a dealer lot before being sold is on pace to fall to 48 days, remaining below post-recession lows of 50 days for the second consecutive month,” King reports.

The average incentive from manufacturers on new vehicles is on pace to be $3,866 per vehicle, a decrease of $657 from a year ago and the third consecutive month below $4,000. Expressed as a percentage of the average vehicle MSRP, incentives for November are 9 percent, down two percentage points from a year ago, and the fourth consecutive month below 10 percent.

“For context, incentive spending per unit is 22 percent lower than when it peaked at $4,953 per unit in April 2020,” says King. “Retailers also continue to offer smaller discounts on new-vehicle sales. Total grosses per unit, inclusive of finance and insurance income, are on pace to reach $2,144, an increase of $776 from a year ago. This marks the fifth consecutive month above $2,000.”

Average transaction prices are expected to reach another all-time high, rising 8.3 percent to $37,099. Disciplined incentives and discounting, along with the shift towards more expensive trucks and SUVs, remains the key drivers. SUVs and trucks are on pace to account for a combined 78 percent of retail sales compared with 74 percent a year ago. The average transaction prices are 18 percent higher in November 2020 than they were in November 2015 at $31,397.

Low interest rates and higher trade-in values are supporting higher transaction prices, according to the report. The average interest rate for loans in October is expected to fall 91 basis points from a year ago to 4.4 percent. Over the same time, the average monthly finance payment is up only $19 to $602. Concurrently, the average trade-in value has risen to $5,175, an increase of $772, or 17.5 percent, from a year ago. Loan terms are relatively stable with the average term up only one month, to 70 months, compared with a year ago.

“Looking ahead to December, a healthy sales pace is expected to continue thanks to manufacturers’ progress in relieving inventory constraints, continued strong consumer demand, and the year-end sales season,” King says.

T​ech Elevator Partners NCWIT to Provide Tuition Support for Women in Michigan
Tech Elevator, a Detroit-based 14-week coding and career prep bootcamp, has partnered with the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) to cover 100 percent of tuition costs for qualified women.

The program is designed to support women who are ​re-entering the workforce, changing into a computing/technology career, or advancing their current career with additional digital skills.

“Detroit is a clear choice for our second regional effort — possessing the educational infrastructure, technical ecosystem, community support and demand, and city leadership needed for success,” says Lucy Sanders, co-founder and CEO of NCWIT. “By collaborating with local stakeholders in Detroit and throughout Michigan, we establish a community-driven model for sustained change that will truly create meaningful experiences for girls and women in technology.”

Tech Elevator currently is conducting its classes in a live remote format, so women can participate across the state safely from the comfort of their homes.

“​Tech Elevator was founded as a mission-driven company, striving to ‘Elevate people, companies and communities,” says Anthony Hughes, co-founder and CEO of Tech Elevator. “Our mission has never felt more important than at this moment. We firmly believe that​ ​cognitive ability is evenly distributed in our communities, yet opportunity is not​. Tech Elevator is extremely excited about this partnership with NCWIT as it will provide that opportunity for women in Detroit and across the state.”

For more information, visit here.

Restaurant and Lodging Association Launches ‘Thanksgiving To-Go’
The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association is introducing “Thanksgiving To-Go: A Takeout Tradition” in response to new restrictions limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery options to serve guests.

The MRLA is promoting Thanksgiving takeout offerings as a public convenience while increasing revenue opportunities for restaurants and hotels.

“The holiday season is usually the busiest time of the year for the hospitality industry, and Thanksgiving plays a big role,” says Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the MRLA. “This year, dining rooms and banquet halls remain empty — a sad site for employees who look forward to serving guests and count on their paychecks, and for operators who depend upon revenue from holiday dining to sustain their businesses after the new year.”

Restaurants and hotels around the state have created special Thanksgiving To-Go menus for groups of two or more, ranging from prepared meals and meal kits, to build-your-own-meal options.

“We implore everyone to show gratitude for their favorite restaurants this holiday season by getting Thanksgiving to-go. Ordering take-out could make the difference between a restaurant keeping their doors open or closing their doors permanently,” adds Winslow.

The public can view Thanksgiving To-Go: A Takeout Tradition options around the state here. The MRLA is continuing to add participating hotels and restaurants to its website. MRLA hotel and restaurant members can sign up to participate here.

Detroit Food Academy Launches Holiday Gift Boxes
Small Batch Detroit, a social enterprise powered by the Detroit Food Academy, is offering a selection of snack bars called Mitten Bites, locally sourced Michigan jams and jellies called Slow Jams, and Holiday Gift Boxes combining the two.

Each purchase supports employment and career opportunities for DFA high school students and alumni starting at $15 per hour. These young leaders participate in workshops, obtain certifications, and assume new responsibilities to earn increased roles and wages up to $18 per hour.

“In these uncertain times, community support is more important than ever to build financial resilience and ensure DFA’s lasting presence and impact on the lives of young Detroiters,” says Jen Rusciano, executive director of Detroit Food Academy. “Each purchase directly supports youth programming and employment while building a critical component of our pathway, supporting Detroit youth with hands-on experience and training to launch their careers.”

Each Small Batch Big Change Gourmet Gift Box includes:

  • Five Mitten Bites.
  • One jar of Slow Jams.
  • Option for a personalized note.

For larger groups of clients, co-workers, employees, family, or friends, Small Batch offers custom gift box combinations for any budget.  To order, please visit here. For custom orders, email smallbatch@detroitfoodacademy.org.

Southwest Detroit Business Association Announces Program to Help Small Business Owners
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southwest Detroit Business Association has announced a program to help small business owners bridge the digital divide by shifting to an e-commerce platform. The new “Shop Southwest Detroit” E-Commerce Initiative, which is supported by Bank of America, will help local small businesses maintain a digital presence to reach current and new customers via an online megastore.

“This new, exciting initiative will accelerate the evolution of small business models in our community to offer a more effective online marketing and customer experience,” says Robert Dewaelsche, president of the SDBA. “When successful, participating businesses will be able to rebuild lost connections with their customers while attracting new patrons to purchase their products and services online. Thanks to the generous support by Bank of America, we will help local businesses be more profitable despite being faced with the ongoing economic challenges caused by the pandemic.”

Participants in the first cohort, which includes up to 25 local businesses, will each receive their own dedicated online page(s) that feature products and/or services on the “Shop Southwest Detroit” e-commerce platform.

Customers will be able to make purchases online that will integrate directly into an existing or new Point of Sale (POS) system for each participating business. The initiative also will be supported by retargeting integration and social media campaigns to help build awareness and drive customers to the platform. “Shop Southwest Detroit” will officially launch to customers on Friday via www.southwestdetroit.com/shopsouthwestdetroit.

“Bank of America is committed to assisting small business owners address economic challenges and help fuel growth,” says Matt Elliott, Michigan market president, Bank of America. “Our support of the Southwest Detroit Business Association and its Shop Southwest Detroit E-Commerce Initiative will generate new opportunities to advance local businesses by helping them cross the digital divide and creating new, online destinations for their customers. This program is a win-win for the community and for our work at Bank of America.”

The list of participating businesses includes: All About Technology; Alvarez Designs; Antojitos El Catracho Restaurant; El ArteSano Juice & Café Bar; Detroit Forever 313; ESI Hardware Store; Hacienda Mexican Foods; Joyeria Panchos; La Jaliciense Supermercado & Taqueria; La Palapa del Parian; La Posada; La Terraza; London Consulting; Los Altos Restaurant; Lotus Essences; Neveria Guadalajara; Quince Primaveras; SDBA Gift Shop; Sicily’s Pizzeria & Subs; TS Designs; and Xochi’s Gift Shop.

The SDBA annually serves more than 300 businesses and entrepreneurs representing restaurants and other food service providers, retailers, health care, manufacturing and human services industries. The businesses in the Southwest Detroit service area are often immigrant-owned as well as minority- and women-owned enterprises.

Emagine Entertainment Offers Gift Cards with Fathead
Emagine Entertainment in Troy, which with its affiliates operates luxury theatres in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin encompassing a combined 12,600 seats and 128 screens, has announced a partnership with Detroit-based Fathead, which produces a variety of products from wall decals to outdoor graphics from hundreds of officially licensed sports, movies and entertainment designs, or customized options.

This holiday season Emagine and Fathead will be offering gift card incentives with a purchase of a $40 gift card or more, for Emagine, which will include a $10 bonus gift card valid at Fathead. In addition, Fathead has created a customed Fathead of Emagine Entertainment’s Co-Founder and Chairman, Paul Glantz, with net proceeds being donated to Wish Upon A Teen for Design My Room Takeover, where hospitalized children are surprised with a complete room makeover to provide an atmosphere that supports their recovery and makes the room feel more like home.

Emagine gift cards are available for purchase by calling (248) 794-7447 or emailing giftcards@emagine-entertainment.com.  The Paul Glantz charity Fathead will be available on Fathead’s website, at www.Fathead.com.

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