Gleaners Community Food Bank site lead Nate Mills helps a woman load food items into her car during the Gleaners Community Food Bank emergency mobile distribution at Detroit Leadership Academy in Detroit on Wednesday, November 25, 2020. (Detroit Free Press photo by Ryan Garza)

Several protections meant to cushion the economic blow of the pandemic are expected to end in December, as the pandemic surges across the country. Without further intervention, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders could be left vulnerable, experts say.  

This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

Some of those protections include housing safeguards, federal food programs, paid leave, pandemic unemployment benefits and a pause on paying down student loans. 

Help on some of these issues could be on the way. The Associated Press reports that congressional leaders, after months of a stalemate on a second COVID-19 relief package, resumed negotiations Tuesday and vowed not to leave for the holiday without a deal. On Wednesday morning, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, Susan Collins and other senators and members of the House announced significant progress on bipartisan legislation amounting to $908 billion that address unemployment, food and shelter assistance, an extension of the federal Paycheck Protection Program as well as student loan forbearance with deadlines of April 1. The legislation includes liability protections for business as well as help for local governments, two sticking points in the negotiations.

Last month, about 731,000 Michiganders said they didn’t have enough food to eat, according to the most recent data from Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. Nearly 284,000 said they are not up to date on their rent or mortgage payments or aren’t sure if they can make next month’s bills. Overall, about 2.4 million Michiganders said they expect a loss of income going into December. 

“I think there is a looming crisis … people are going to have to make choices about what they pay,” said Kristin Seefeldt, associate director of Poverty Solutions and an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan. “They’re already making choices about what bills to pay. It becomes this heat or eat choice that is really devastating for families.”

According to Michigan’s 2-1-1 central dashboard, rent payment assistance and food pantries are among the top COVID-19 service related needs. 

“The trends that we’re seeing right now is that we’re experiencing people who’ve never been in a situation where they needed this type of support — food insecurity support, utilities energy support, housing support, homeless support, even health,” said Tamara Bolden, senior director of 2-1-1 operations for the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. 

Here is a rundown of some protections expected to end and ways to get help. 

Housing help expected to end 

Between 2.4 and 5 million households across the country are at risk of losing their homes in January if a federal moratorium on some residential evictions expires, according to Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction ban, issued Sept. 1, temporarily halts evictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for  tenants who meet certain criteria and submit a declaration. It is set to end Dec. 31.

Michigan’s $50 million Eviction Diversion Program, which began in July after a state moratorium on residential evictions lifted, and was created to help landlords and tenants with back rent, has a Dec. 30 deadline to allocate money. As of October, about $17 million in financial assistance has been dispersed and the remainder is expected to be distributed by the end of the year, according to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which is administering the program.

Tenant advocates and landlord attorneys have said financial assistance is crucial for tenants and landlords to stay afloat during the pandemic. 

More than 50 organizations this week signed a letter, led by the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, urging state leaders to add $20 million to the EDP. 

Housing agencies like United Community Housing Coalition in Detroit and Community Housing Network in Oakland County, anticipate more eviction cases as protections expire. 

“It will be more difficult in January … because we know there’s going to be a lot more cases at that point in time,” said Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition, during a City of Detroit press briefing Dec. 8, about eviction filings at the 36th District Court. The court is temporarily closed, but is expected to reopen next month. 

Kirsten Elliot, vice president of development for Community Housing Network, said in a news release last week that the organization is “preparing for a tsunami of individuals facing eviction and out on the streets” if “we don’t see additional support enacted quickly.” 

How to get housing help: 

  • For eviction prevention help in Detroit, call Detroit Eviction Prevention at 866-313-2520 or go to 
  • If you live in Detroit, Highland Park or Hamtramck and need emergency shelter, call the Coordinated Assessment Model Detroit at 313-305-0311. For those who need help in other parts of Wayne County, call Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency at 734-284-6999. 
  • For housing help in Oakland County, call the Community Housing Network at 248-269-1335.
  • For housing help in Macomb County, call the Macomb Homeless Coalition at 586-213-5757

Federal food programs helped Michiganders 

Since March, 2-1-1 in Michigan made about 10,000 referrals to food pantries. The Census survey finds that food scarcity is rising in the state, too, with about 11% of households reporting that they “either sometimes or often” did not have enough to eat in the last seven days. 

“We know that in families with children, typically, the first step is that adults will cut back on food and try to feed their children,” Seefeldt said. “But if that’s already happening — and we know that it is — we could see increased rates of childhood food insecurity and that has real repercussions for kids’ development, their ability to concentrate in school, their growth, their health. I think it’s very serious.” 

Starting the week before Thanksgiving, Gleaners Community Food Bank started seeing an increase in the number of households served through its community mobile distribution site — about 50 more households than in previous weeks. 

“This increase is very similar to the number of households we saw at mobiles during the first few months of the pandemic,” said Stacy Averill, vice president of community giving and public relations at Gleaners, in a statement. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers to Families Food Box, which provided more than 100 million food boxes  to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and nonprofits since the spring, runs through Dec. 31. In the latest round, the USDA awarded Michigan contractor Atlas Wholesale Food Company nearly 360,000 boxes to distribute to food banks throughout the state. Gleaners expects to see drastic reductions in donations from the USDA going into the first quarter of 2021, Averill said, noting that about half of the food Gleaners distributes each month comes from the USDA.  

Since March, 350,000 Michigan families have been receiving increased monthly food stamp benefits. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, states have been able to augment existing federal benefits. Those extra benefits were extended for December in Michigan, said Bob Wheaton, a spokesperson for the state’s department of health and human services. Eligible participants will see extra food stamp benefits as soon as Dec. 20, he said. 

As for 2021, the state will continue to request these extra benefits each month and issue them to families during the next calendar year so long as the federal government approves them, Wheaton said. 

How to get help: 

  • For emergency food assistance, call 211 or Michigan’s statewide toll-free number: 844-875-9211
  • Find a food pantry near you (it’s recommended to call ahead for hours of operation and eligibility requirements): 
  • Families eligible for food stamps do not need to reapply to receive the additional assistance. Recipients can check their benefits by going to or reaching out to a consumer service representative toll-free at 888-678-8914. Spanish and Arabic service is available. Michiganders who are deaf, blind, hard of hearing or speech-impaired, can call the Michigan Relay Center at 7-1-1.

Jobless benefits, paid sick leave, pause on student loan forbearance to end 

Nearly 700,000  Michiganders could be cut off from jobless aid this month. About a third of Michigan households surveyed by the Census said they expect someone in their household to lose employment income in the next four weeks.

“We’re hopeful that Congress will take action to protect access to critical unemployment assistance for Michigan workers whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19,” said UIA acting director Liza Estlund Olson in a news release. “Allowing these programs to expire is not only harmful to Michigan workers, but it would be devastating to Michigan’s economy.”

Another deadline is a forbearance on federally-backed student loans, which began in March and was extended through Dec. 31. Loan repayment begins after Jan. 31, according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Emergency paid family and medical leave and emergency sick days provided by federal relief packages are also expected to expire, and organizations like the National Partnership for Women and Families have urged Congress to further extend those provisions. 

Absent a federal response, states and localities must rely on a disparate “patchwork with a lot of holes in it,” Seefeldt said. A July policy brief from Poverty Solutions said that CARES Act provisions were critical in “preventing hardship from increasing to levels far higher” than expected.

“You’ve got states and local government under a lot of duress, the buck is just being passed down to them. You’ve got nonprofit agencies and charitable giving organizations strained already. I think Congress has to do something,” she said.

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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