COVID-19 Update: More than 1M Michiganders Collect $1.66B in Unemployment Benefits Since March 15, Farmers Get Aid in New PPP Round, GM Fortifies Balance Sheet, 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 April 26

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.

State Government – Unemployment Benefits
The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) says it has provided benefits to 1,018,315 Michigan workers who are unemployed as a result of COVID-19. The agency also disbursed more than $1.66 billion in payments since March 15.

The most recent U.S. Department of Labor report showed 1,178,021 Michiganders filed unemployment claims between March 15 and April 18. Most workers who have not yet received unemployment benefits will be eligible in the coming weeks once they complete the federal requirement to certify their claim.

To speed the pace of application, the UIA says it has extended its call center hours and added hundreds of customer-facing staff. The agency also has built in new tools to its online system connecting more than 100 staff to resolve technical issues like locked accounts.

In the weeks preceding the pandemic, the UIA received around 5,000 new weekly unemployment claims. During the Great Recession, the weekly high was around 77,000 in 2009.

Unemployment claims during COVID-19:

  • Week-Ending March 21: 128,806
  • Week-Ending March 28:         304,335
  • Week-Ending April 4: 388,554
  • Week-Ending April 11: 222,207
  • Week-Ending April 18: 134,119
  • Five Week Total:    1,178,021

The fastest and easiest way to file and certify a claim is online at Michigan.gov/UIA. More than 90 percent of all claims are filed and certified on the 24-hour website. Customers are urged to use the site during off-peak hours between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Anyone having difficulty with their account are advised to call the UIA Call Center at 866-500-0017, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 7 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday. Customers in the call center and online chat queues before closing time will have their calls or chats resolved that day.

Federal Government – Food, Agriculture Assistance
The U.S. Small Business Administration resumed accepting Paycheck Protection Program applications from participating lenders today (April 27) at 10:30 a.m. This is a second round of funding that will provide an additional $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, and it is expected that this round of funding will be exhausted quickly.

“We encourage all Michigan food, agriculture, and forest products companies to work with their SBA lenders and accounting firms to determine if this program can provide assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Gary McDowell, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “In the initial round, thousands of Michigan companies received support, but we know many more companies are in need of financial support, and we hope this additional funding will provide an influx of capital needed at this critical time.”

The PPP was created by the CARES Act and offers forgivable loans for businesses, including farms, which use most of the money to retain or rehire workers. Farms are eligible if the farm has 500 or fewer employees, or it fit within the revenue-based sized standard, which is an average annual receipt of $1 million.

Additionally, farms can qualify for PPP if they meet the SBA’s alternative size standard, which is  currently a maximum net worth of the business not more than $15 million, and the average net income federal income taxes of the business for the two full fiscal years before the date of the application be not more than $5 million. Eligible farms can get a $10,000 grant for temporary loss of revenue and borrow up to $2-10 million under the program.

More information can be found here.

In addition, $60 billion has been added to the Economic Injury Disaster Advance Loan (EIDL) program, with $50 billion in loan authority and $10 billion for grants. For the first time, agricultural enterprises now are eligible for the disaster assistance from EIDL.

City of Detroit Government – Online BSEED Payments
Starting today, the city of Detroit’s Buildings Safety Engineering and Environmental Department (BSEED) is accepting online payments for services such as safety inspections, property inspections, business license and permit fees, plan review, zoning verification fees, and all other outstanding fees.

Payments can be made here. Please note, when making online payments, customers will need the record locater number, applicant’s name, full property address, as well as a valid credit or debit card to complete payment. Electronic checks are also accepted.

Additional temporary department updates due to COVID-19 include:

Zoning – Special land use and site plan reviews now can be submitted online through the BSEED website. Please email Zoning@detroitmi.gov or call 313-268-6690 for any additional questions or concerns. For information on a specific address or parcel, please click here.

DRC/Plan Review – All meetings now will be conducted virtually. Information on online permitting can be found here. Information on online plan review/plan uploads can be found here. Account setup and login is required.

GM Fortifies Balance Sheet
General Motors Co. in Detroit today announced it has extended $3.6 billion under its three-year revolving credit agreement to April 2022 to further strengthen its liquidity position. The automaker said the move complements the extension of the $2 billion 364-day revolving credit agreement to April 2021 that GM and GM Financial renewed earlier this month. In addition, the company has suspended the quarterly cash dividend on its common stock, suspended its share repurchase program, and has taken other significant austerity measures to preserve near-term available cash.

“We continue to enhance our liquidity to help navigate the uncertainties in the global market created by this pandemic,” says Dhivya Suryadevara, chief financial officer at GM. “Fortifying our cash position and strengthening our balance sheet will position the company to create value for all our stakeholders through this cycle.”

GM says it remains committed to its capital allocation framework, which is focused on reinvesting in the business at pretax returns equal to or greater than 20 percent; maintaining a strong investment-grade balance sheet; and returning capital to shareholders after the first two objectives have been met.

State Government – Pure Michigan
Pure Michigan is sharing a new campaign titled “Two Peninsulas, One Pure Michigan” to spread a message of strength and unity as residents throughout the state stay home and stay safe to combat the continued spread of COVID-19.

The #OnePureMichigan initiative is intended to serve as a reminder to residents of the value of unity, connectedness, and hope even as we are socially distancing.

“As we continue to make every effort to flatten the curve in the face of the COVID-19 virus, we want to remind people that no one is in this alone – we are all one Pure Michigan,” says Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “The Pure Michigan campaign has served as a unifying force during other hard times, and through our ‘Two Peninsulas, One Pure Michigan’ message, we hope to instill the value of staying united at a time when it is needed most.”

The michigan.org website now offers a downloadable worksheet with Michigan history facts for parents to print and use as a resource while homeschooling their kids, as well as digital postcard templates for people to add their own photos from home and share on social media.

Videos that connect favorite outdoor activities that have now become indoor activities will play on Pure Michigan’s social media channels as well as on select TV stations, which have offered free airings. The Pure Michigan social channels also will encourage residents to showcase their Michigan pride on social media with Facebook profile overlays and Instagram stickers.

The following companies — Adams, Digital Outdoor Advertising, International Outdoor, and OUTFRONT Media — have donated 55 free digital billboards so that essential workers and others required to travel will see the “Two Peninsulas, One Pure Michigan” messages. The billboards will be displayed in select markets around the state.

Michigan.org and the Pure Michigan’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter channels continue to be a resource for future trip planning, featuring unique destinations throughout the state, road trip and itinerary suggestions, and the ability to order the free Pure Michigan Summer Travel Guide – also available digitally. Additionally, michigan.org continues to feature new ways to Travel Michigan Virtually While Planning Your Vacation.

“Two Peninsulas, One Pure Michigan” T-shirts are available, with $5 of each purchase going to the Michigan Hospitality Industry Employee Relief Fund. T-shirts are available for $28 here. People also are encouraged to share photos of themselves in their T-shirts on social media using the hashtag #OnePureMichigan.

In addition, in partnership with MLive, “Under the Radar Michigan,” and the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, Pure Michigan is planning an upcoming virtual concert series featuring Michigan musicians. Donations collected online during the event will go to the

MRLA fund that is assisting those in the tourism industry who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. More details on the event will be announced soon.

U-M Detroit Financial Survey
About half of Detroiters say they are more likely than not to run out of money in the next three months due to the COVID-19 crisis, and one in five say they definitely will — assuming the economic shutdown continues for that long without families receiving additional support, according to the results of a survey from the University of Michigan’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study.

“The DMACS survey results show Detroiters are not only concerned for their health but also their economic well-being during this pandemic,” says Jeffrey Morenoff, one of the faculty research leads for DMACS and director of the Population Studies Center at U-M’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor. “We hope early insights into how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting Detroiters can help inform policy responses that directly address the community’s needs.”

The survey found Detroiters are most concerned about being able to care for family and friends and getting the health care they need during the coronavirus pandemic, even more so than having a place to live and access to transportation.

Other notable findings from the survey include:

  • On average, Detroit residents put the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 in the next three months at 29 percent.
  • Black residents and less educated residents, on average, report a lower perceived likelihood of contracting COVID-19 in the next three months than other residents.
  • Some 97 percent of Detroiters say they have made at least one behavioral change in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and the most prevalent changes are adopting handwashing and engaging in social isolation.
  • Roughly half of Detroiters (46 percent) reported decreasing their spending in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Higher-income residents — who have greater flexibility in how they spend their resources — were more likely to have decreased their spending than lower-income residents.
  • 35 percent of Detroiters employed full-time or part-time before March 1 lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Job losses were most prevalent among parents of young children, people with less education, people with lower incomes, people of color (black and Hispanic), and people under 30.
  • Ordering people to stay home, sending cash assistance to families, and ensuring access to health care for all were among the top priorities for policy responses Detroiters wanted to see during the pandemic.

“The survey results show racial disparities in who has the financial means to weather this crisis as well as who is able to socially isolate and alter their work activities to help prevent the coronavirus spread,” says Lydia Wileden, a doctoral candidate at U-M who analyzed the DMACS COVID-19 survey data. “Responses to the pandemic in Detroit need to take into account those disparities and include all residents in the recovery from this economic disruption.”

Click here to view the full results of the survey.

Reopening Michigan’s Economy Safely
The Michigan State Medical Society and Small Business Association of Michigan issued a joint statement today stressing that reopening Michigan’s economy cannot be about lives versus the economy, it must be about both.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating human and economic effect in Michigan and though we seem to be headed in a more positive direction, it’s clear that we will have to get used to a new normal,” says Dr. S. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society. “We need to remember that now more than ever, we’re in this together and need each other to get through this.”

Michigan physicians and small businesses say they are standing together because public health and economic health are both essential and must be approached that way to move the state forward. The organizations, which represent 15,000 physicians and 28,000 small businesses in Michigan, respectively, believe a thoughtful and careful approach must be taken that prioritizes both public health and workers’ opportunity to feed their families.

“Reopening Michigan won’t and can’t be like flipping on a light switch,” says Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan. “Public health and the economy must be considered together for us to truly recover from this crisis. Doing so will help restart our economy and protect the health of Michiganders, which will benefit us all.”

According to the organizations, the “new normal” will require:

  • Continuing social distancing and other mitigation strategies for the foreseeable future.
  • Work that can be performed at home should still be performed at home for the time being.
  • Wearing masks in public, in addition to proper use of personal protection equipment, especially for those in roles that require public interface.
  • A routine of daily health screenings for employees and regular sanitation and hygiene schedules for washing of hands, tools, and surfaces.
  • Physicians and small businesses support reopening the economy in a phased-in, regional approach that allows the state to evaluate and health providers to address any negative public health outcomes that may result. Using a regional, risk-based approach will help the economy while limiting the risks to the health of Michigan residents.

MSMS and SBAM are encouraging the state to make sure plans for reopening Michigan always pair public health and economic needs together.

Virus Screening
Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, today announced they have developed a method that can identify future COVID-19-like viruses within minutes, which could allow for quicker development and deployment of vaccines and treatments.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Waterloo used a machine learning-based alignment-free approach to accurately and rapidly identify and classify COVID-19 virus genome’s relationship with other viruses.

Unlike alignment-based approaches, the novel method requires no specialized biological knowledge of the organism being assessed or specific genetic annotation, and it can be used to both identify and classify any new organism, including synthetic ones with a high degree of accuracy.

“With this method, when there is a new virus like COVID-19, we will be able to identify what it is more quickly, enabling us to start working towards vaccines and treatments,” said Lila Kari, a professor at the Waterloo’s David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science. “Now that we have this technique, if another virus like COVID-19 was to affect the human population, we will be better prepared. In a few hours or even minutes, we will be able to figure out what the virus is related to and, therefore, how alarmed we should be.”

Researchers trained machine learning algorithms on around 5,300 available viral genomes from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) database, and used a decision-tree approach for successive rounds of training and refinements of classification. Rather than aligning and comparing a particular COVID-19 viral gene with that same gene in other viruses, as done in classical alignment-based methods, an alignment-free approach was used.

The novel method essentially extracts characteristics from the entire COVID-19 virus genome and compresses them into what the authors call a numerical “genomic signature.” The COVID-19 viral genomic signature is then compared with the genomic signatures of all known existing viruses, to determine their relatedness.

This alignment-free approach, combined with machine learning, classified the COVID-19 virus as belonging to the family Coronaviridae, genus Betacoronavirus, with 100 percent accuracy, and concluded that its genome is most closely related to three other bat virus genomes.

A study detailing the new method, titled “Machine learning using intrinsic genomic signatures for rapid classification of novel pathogens: COVID-19 case study,” authored by Kari and University of Western Ontario researchers Gurjit Randhawa, Maximillian Soltysiak, Hadi El Roz, Camila de Souza, and Kathleen Hill, was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Manufacturing
Southfield’s Lear Corp., a global automotive technology leader in seating and e-systems, has released the second edition of its Safe Work Playbook, which provides new content for integrating health and safety protocols into day-to-day operations to help protect employees and limit the spread of COVID-19.

The second edition offers insights from teams of subject matter experts across Lear for employee outreach and education, employee training, facility audits, employee surveys and feedback, and potential application in non-manufacturing sites, such as engineering and administrative centers.

Lear states the first edition of Safe Work Playbook, published April 6, has been downloaded 18,000 times by companies from multiple industries, civic organizations, and non-governmental groups. The second edition of the 80-plus page Safe Work Playbook, with 30 new pages of health and safety information that may be pertinent to other businesses, can be downloaded here.

Testing Site Directory
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Ford Motor Co., and other organizations are using Castlight Health Inc.’s national COVID-19 test site finder, which currently includes 3,683 sites across all 50 states and is updated daily.

To date, more than 310,000 unique visitors have used Castlight’s testing location information, which now is also accessible via Google search.

“We created a comprehensive testing site directory because we heard from our users a clear need for a trusted, national source of truth about where to find COVID-19 tests,” says Maeve O’Meara, CEO of Castlight, which is headquartered in San Francisco. “We are excited to make this critical health care knowledge available to more people through ongoing collaborations with technology leaders, health plans, state governments, and Fortune 500 companies, further informing the national testing effort and helping get Americans back to work.”

The COVID-19 test site finder includes a self-assessment tool to help users understand when they might need to seek a test or other medical care. Castlight created the testing registry with data from public health departments across the country, provider systems, and third-party sources. It provides a list of testing sites by state and county, with each site identified as being either a one-stop-shop where patients can be screened and tested, or a facility where patients must come with a requisition or test sample performed by their doctor.

Organizations interested in embedding Castlight’s testing site directory or in accessing Castlight’s COVID-19 data should contact Matt Moran at mmoran@castlighthealth.com.

Hospital Support
Royal Oak-based Käter Wingman, which produces electrolyte-infused sparkling water, has launched online ordering and curbside delivery of its products with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting Beaumont Health’s COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“Everyone’s trying to help in some way right now,” says Tom Chinonis, co-founder of Käter Wingman. “We’re just trying to do our small part and help our neighbor, Beaumont, and their incredible staff and volunteers fighting the front-end of this battle. And if we can help our fans with one less trip to the grocery store at the same time, we figured that’s a no-brainer.”

For more information, visit here.

Education
Troy’s Walsh will continue to deliver all courses remotely for its summer semester from June 22-Sept. 5. Students will have access to academic and admissions advisors, faculty, career advisors, financial aid, free tutoring, events, and other support services via phone or virtual appointments. Walsh’s Student Emergency Assistance Fund as well as funds provided through the CARES Act are available for students financially affected by the pandemic. All Walsh locations have been closed since mid-March.

“The health and safety of our students is our top priority, and we are committed to supporting them during what may be an incredibly stressful time in their lives,” says Marsha Kelliher, president and CEO of Walsh. “It is so important for students to continue their education right now, and our faculty and staff are working to remove barriers wherever we can to help make that possible.”

For more information, visit here.

In Related Education News: GameAbove, a group of Eastern Michigan University alumni, has created a $2-million Alumni Pay-it-Forward fund to provide immediate financial support to the 2,270 EMU students who graduated over the weekend, as well as similar gifts to all freshmen enrolling in the fall.

This includes an immediate gift of nearly $600 for each EMU April 2020 graduate, without obligations or restrictions regarding eligibility or use. The donation also includes a $400 gift that will be made in the fall to each incoming freshman student to help them get started in a year filled with uncertainly and anxiety over COVID-19.

“GameAbove’s gift to the graduates comes at a great time, helping provide additional financial resources to further their education with the university,” says James M. Smith, president of EMU.

EMU Spring 2020 graduates can click here for additional details on how to receive their gift. Details for how incoming freshmen for the fall semester will receive this grant will be posted soon.

In Addition: The Wayne State University College of Education in Detroit will host a virtual job fair from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday, May 1. The event is open to anyone interested in pursuing a job in education.

“Even though we are working remotely, the college still wants to bring employers and potential employees together,” says Anita G. Welch, dean of the WSU College of Education. “Offering the job fair in a virtual format makes that possible. Districts in our area need talented individuals at all levels and for a variety of roles. We hope organizations and candidates take advantage of this opportunity to meet and network.”

Recruiters from the Midwest region, including out-of-state school districts, will interview candidates for a variety of positions in teaching, administration, counseling, psychology, social work, special education, and more. More than 30 employers are expected to attend.

Attendees can use the Career Fair Plus app to access job fair information — including a current list of recruiters — and resources from their mobile devices. They can also search for positions, star favorite organizations, take notes, and review tips for preparing cover letters and resumes and interviewing online.

The job fair is free, but interested individuals must register by Tuesday, April 28, to reserve a spot with a recruiter. To register, click here.

Employment
A Detroit Popeyes franchise group is providing its staff with essential worker bonus pay and plans to hire additional staff, who will receive the bonus pay during their first day of work.

Every current Popeyes employee at the franchise group’s 20 restaurant locations throughout the Detroit metro area is receiving an additional $5 an hour on top of their current hourly wages.

“Our goal is to ensure our company’s employees are being taken care of while they continue to show up and make sure our community has hot, fresh food when they need it,” says Tanathan Nelson, vice president of Detroit metro operations for Popeyes.

The brand has also partnered with No Kid Hungry to help feed the children of America during these trying times and beyond. Guests can simply add a $1 donation to their contactless delivery order when checking out on the Popeyes app, and the brand will match the donation.

Contact the individual Popeyes outlets to inquire about employment opportunities.

Winter Sports Update
Colorado-based Vail Resorts Inc., which operates Mt. Brighton, today announced updates to its season pass program for the 2020-2021 North American ski season.

The company is offering the following credit to 2019-2020 pass holders for next season:

  • A minimum of 20 percent credit to 2019-2020 season pass holders to apply toward the purchase of a 2020-2021 season pass.
  • Season pass holders who used their pass fewer than five days will be eligible for higher credits up to a maximum of 80 percent for season pass holders who did not use their season pass at all.
  • Credits for each unused day up to a maximum of an 80 percent credit for Epic Day Pass, Edge Card, and other frequency-based products with unused days remaining.

“Following the difficult decision to close our North American mountain resorts as a result of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding COVID-19, we have been developing a comprehensive plan to address our pass holders’ concerns about the early closure this past season and provide improved coverage for the future,” says Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts. “We are committed to providing the best passes in the ski industry and are focused on both honoring the loyalty of our guests and providing peace of mind for next season.”

Entertainment
Last week, the leadership of the National Independent Venue Association, which represents 800 music venues and promoters across the U.S. including the Crofoot Ballroom in downtown Pontiac, sent a letter to Washington, D.C. leadership proposing solutions to address the unique and dire situation facing the entertainment industry in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our passionate and fiercely independent operators are not ones to ask for handouts,” says Dayna Frank, president of the NIVA board. “But because of our unprecedented, tenuous position – for the first time in history – there is legitimate fear for our collective existence.”

Dan McGowan, managing partner of the Crofoot Ballroom, says, “At a time when the only safe-guard against COVID-19 that individuals have is self-quarantine, entertainment venues are among those businesses on indefinite hold with an uncertain future. We are facing an extinction-level event.”

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