Workers and communities must control COVID relief funds: A view from Detroit

The Biden Coronavirus Relief Bill offers significant funding that could alleviate at least in part the poverty faced by millions of people in the United States. An article in Bridge Michigan summed up the potential benefits for poor people in Michigan.

  • An estimated 1.97 million children under 18 in Michigan — and 65.7 million across the United States — could benefit from the expansion of the child tax credit. This constitutes 92% of all children in the state.
  • The bill includes an $880 million increase for food assistance, including a 15% increase in food stamp benefits. This potentially could help alleviate hunger for the more than 430,000 adults in Michigan who reported they can’t afford food to adequately feed their children.
  • Some $25 billion in rental assistance and housing vouchers could provide assistance to the 139,000 families at risk of eviction in the state.
  • There is $25 billion in aid to help child-care providers reopen safely and $15 billion in additional child-care assistance to help families return to work, as well.

All these benefits will be squandered if the workers and oppressed people rely on the capitalist state, a state set up to serve the interests of the corporations and the rich, to deliver these benefits to the people for whom they are intended. This is especially so in oppressed cities like Detroit.

Detroit’s poor completely alienated from capitalist state apparatus

In Detroit, years of grinding poverty and austerity imposed by finance capital have deprived hundreds of thousands of people of the resources to know about and take advantage of benefits, on the rare occasion when they are offered. The following statistics bear out the depth of poverty and lack of accessibility from any basic resources for tens of thousands of Detroiters.

  • In Detroit, 40% of the population has no access to any type of internet, 57% lack a high-speed connection, and 70% of school-aged children have no connection at home.
  • A 2011 report noted that 47% of Detroiters were functionally illiterate. In 2020, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Detroit schools deprive their students of basic access to literacy.
  • The median household income for Detroiters in 2018 was $31,283 compared to $61,973 nationally.

The effect of this lack of online access and basic literacy among Detroit’s poor means that even when grandiose programs are announced, those who could benefit the most are not in a position to take advantage of them.

  • While Detroit’s Black community suffered some of the highest COVID rates in the state, only 34.5% of Detroiters have been vaccinated compared to 54.5% of the statewide population.
  • As of January 2020, 11,297 homes lacked water service. Despite a plan being announced to restore service after the pandemic hit in March 2020, in fact there were only 1,250 water restorations as of May 17, 2021.
  • Between 2011 and 2015, one in four properties in Detroit was foreclosed on for unpaid property taxes by the Wayne County treasurer.
  • A survey conducted in 2019, found that of the 25,000 homeowners behind on paying their property taxes, 55% were unaware of the Homeowner Property Tax Assistance Program tax exemption, a program which exempts families earning less than $26,780 per year from paying any property taxes. And in 2017, only 197 families benefitted from the $760 million in federal hardest hit funds given the state to stop foreclosures. Instead, $380 million of the funds were diverted to contractors to tear down homes in a program laced with corruption.

Let the workers and community run things

One of the aspects of the Coronavirus Relief Bill is that it is expected to provide $10 billion for governments across Michigan: $4.4 billion for local governments plus another $5 billion for the state. The City of Detroit will be receiving $826.7 million. These funds must be spent by 2024 or be returned to the federal government.

The people must organize to make sure these funds aren’t squandered as they too often are in the capitalist United States, diverted to crony contractors and nonprofits. Instead, these funds should be used to set up community centers in every neighborhood of cities like Detroit, staffed and run by residents from the communities they serve.

The centers should have computer stations, and aides trained in helping individuals learn about and get access to all benefits they are entitled to. They should sponsor literacy classes. They should employ workers who go out into the community every day, to make sure those who are homebound are reached out to.

The workers and community members staffing these centers should be from the communities they are serving where they are known by their neighbors. They should take stock of basic items like access to electricity, heat and safe non-lead-poisoned water, so families are not afraid to report the lack of basic necessities for fear of having their children taken away.

They should also make sure that undocumented workers, who often are afraid to request aid for fear of deportation, get the services they need regardless of their so-called “residency status.”

Each center should include a health clinic, staffed by doctors, nurses and medical students who live in the community and can provide holistic and environmentally sensitive healthcare that really meets people’s needs.

Cuba shows the way

A model for community-based services can be found in socialist Cuba. An article by Ronn Pineo published in the Journal of Developing Societies described Cuba’s community-based health care system. As early as 1984, Cuba began implementation of its “one doctor plus one nurse team” approach — called Basic Health Teams — with each team unit caring for 80 to 150 families. The healthcare teams live in the communities that they serve so that they can better understand the local health issues.

The doctor/nurse/public health official teams are supported, in turn, by local Group Health Teams, which meet regularly to scout for common issues facing the populations they serve, keeping very careful records of their findings and reporting to the Ministry of Public Health.

Rather than waiting for people to get sick and come into doctors’ offices — the common practice elsewhere in the world — the Cuban doctor/nurse/public healthcare worker groups spend their afternoons walking about their assigned districts, medical bags in hand, dropping in unannounced on the homes of those living in the communities. As a result, they are in a position to notice medical conditions of the people they serve before most afflictions can grow to become too serious. The teams use their house calls as opportunities to remind residents to take their medications — supplied free or at very low price-controlled costs — to exercise more and usually quiz their patients closely about their daily diets.

Demand worker/community control the of relief funds

For the Coronavirus Relief Bill to really make a dent in poverty, hunger and homelessness, it will be up to workers and oppressed people to organize to demand control of the funds to ensure they serve the people for whom they are supposed to be intended. We cannot leave it to the capitalist state, an organ for repression of the people on behalf of the corporate elite, to do the job.

Ultimately, the only way to take the vast wealth of U.S. capitalism, produced by the working class and stolen by the bosses, is to overthrow this rotten system and replace it with a socialist system where the needs of the people in the United States and worldwide could easily be met.

Feature photo: Between 2011 and 2015, one in four properties in Detroit was foreclosed on for unpaid property taxes. Photo credit: University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (CC BY 2.0)

Related Articles

Back to top button