Michigan businesses may be reopening, but the effects of coronavirus are still present for many Detroiters. Thousands have unexpectedly lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently, and waiting lists to receive aid continue to grow.

Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Center has received more than 20,000 applications for assistance in eight weeks and processed close to 12,000. Wayne Metro representatives say they usually see 30,000 applications for assistance per year, but have been inundated with assistance applications for food, water, plumbing, rent or mortgage, property tax and funeral assistance in the wake of COVID-19. Wayne Metro received $11 million in federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in late April. Of that $11 million, $8 million was designated for Detroiters.

The federal government passed the first stimulus package, the CARES Act, in March. It included a one-time payment of $1,200 for individuals and up to $2,500 for married taxpayers. There are three proposed stimulus package bills awaiting the Senate that could put more dollars in taxpayers’ pockets.

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The HEROES Act, or Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, which passed the House in May, would allow up to $6,000 in payments to families with college-aged children through the end of September.  

The nonprofit assists Wayne County residents on a first-come, first-serve basis, and says it will continue to accept applications. The nonprofit has extended its call-in hours to 7 p.m. and is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon during this time.

Chief Executive Officer Louis Piszker said Wayne Metro will conclude Phase One of coronavirus relief on June 30 to determine how much money is left and what needs persist. Those who have already applied for assistance and are still waiting will keep their place in line and will not have to reapply in July.  

“We know people are hurting,” Piszker said. “It’s just unprecedented, we’ve never seen applications like this.”

 “We know people are hurting,” Louis Piszker said. “It’s just unprecedented, we’ve never seen applications like this.”

Piszker said the threshold of poverty has also increased, meaning more families qualify than previously. About 60 percent of processed applications are from families that have never sought out the community action agency for assistance. Many are also trying to enroll for unemployment benefits through the Department of Health and Human Services.

“That’s significant,” Piszker said. “A lot of new people are entering the system.”

Wayne Metro received an additional $7 million through the city of Detroit, Wayne County and private foundations including the Clara Lionel Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Kresge Foundation, Ballmer Group, DTE Foundation and the United Way of Southeast Michigan. Almost half of those dollars have been earmarked for Detroit residents. The organization is still applying for additional dollars. 

Not all the money has stayed with Wayne Metro. The community action agency serves as a grant partner to small nonprofits and grassroots organizations. Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at Wayne Metro, Mia Harnos, said $2.5 million of coronavirus relief funding was regranted to nonprofits within the city of Detroit.

Cathy Maher of Detroit Friendship House said they received about $24,600 from Wayne Metro to conduct two food distributions for 400 families on May 11 and June 8. The packages included specific items that are currently hard to find, like halal chicken, diapers and baby formula.

Detroit Friendship House, a local food pantry, serves the 48212 ZIP code. Maher said they’ve seen an increase in need, with families coming from as far as Downriver and as close as Highland Park for food.

Maher said she’s heard from families: “I don’t meet your criteria, but I need food,” and that she doesn’t turn anyone away if she can help them.

360 Detroit, a grassroots organization serving the Virginia Park neighborhood, also received funds from Wayne Metro for coronavirus relief. George Adams Jr., president and founder of Detroit 360, said their group left care packages on the front porches of 100 families in the area in May. The packages included hand sanitizer, first-aid supplies, shower gel and other personal protection equipment.

Adams said the group plans another round of care package drop-offs in June through additional funding from the United Way.

Everyday needs aren’t the only request Wayne County residents have.

Piszker and Harnos said water continues to be the greatest issue in Detroit proper due to poor plumbing. Wayne Metro’s coronavirus relief aid includes plumbing repairs for access to water. Harnos said while funding is available, Wayne Metro does not redo the plumbing for an entire house, but looks for necessities like running water to wash hands and food in the kitchen, having a laundry tub to wash clothing, and a hot water tank so that residents can bathe.

Harnos said Wayne Metro delivers water to residents whose homes are on the waiting list for plumbing repairs, often costing anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. They’ve delivered Absopure water bottles to 93 homes since April 27.

“Any person that doesn’t have water, we will find water for them,” Harnos said. “We don’t want anyone that comes to our door to not have water, that’s our commitment to the community.”

Wayne Metro said there are more requests for food and rent assistance, but not having access to water puts Detroit residents at a “huge disadvantage.”  

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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