Tele-Town Hall With U.S. Rep. Debbie DingellApril 6, 2020
Good morning everyone. This is Tammy Carnrike, the chief operating officer at the Detroit Regional Chamber and welcome to another of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Tele-Town Hall meetings. These town halls have been very, very well attended and the Chamber is pleased to bring you relevant information as well as all work through as we all work through this changing environment that we’re experiencing due to COVID-19. Just a few simple things up front for you. All participants are on mute, but you do have the opportunity to submit questions. The box on the right side of your screen is where you submit those questions. We’ll get to as many as we can in the time that we have together. Our government relations team will also follow up after the call to help those whose questions did not get answered. An audio version of this discussion will be available on the Chamber’s resource site by the end of today and that is detroitchamber.com/covid19. So today I’m very pleased to welcome Rep. Debbie Dingell of the 12th district in Michigan to provide an update from Washington regarding COVID-19 response by our national leaders. Also joining me on the calls Brad Williams doesn’t have government relations at the Detroit Chamber and he’ll be managing the questions. So welcome, Congresswoman Dingell.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (01:33):
Thank you, Tammy. It’s good to talk to you. Like many of you I know, I know how scary these times are. All the different challenges and how people are really looking for answers. What are we going to do? What’s going to happen? I want to answer your questions, provide the information I have to protect it and share it to protect your family. And then how you can access the support and resources that are available to you as well as give you.
Tammy Carnrike (02:17):
Debbie Dingell (02:18):
There are a lot of protocols that are just everything that’s they can keep our communities safe and secure. Look, let’s get real…
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (02:27):
I’m not going to be political today, but anybody who thinks that this is going to be done by Easter, it’s not going to be. We need right now a phase of mitigation. We need diligence from the part of everyone right now and in the near future, which means that when the governor put out a stay at home order, it means stay at home. Home kids don’t go to each other’s house in play. Seniors don’t play cards. You don’t get bored and go someplace. We need to stay at home. We are becoming the epicenter. Detroit is likely to be, or in the Southeast, in these three counties, it’s doubling each day. And the only way to stop that is to stay home. There are leaders on this phone. We need to be leaders, but we also need to make sure that the frontline workers in health care, food supply and central services can do their jobs.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (03:24):
And we’ve got a responsibility to support that as well. And quite frankly, when you talk to a grocery store, they tell you that there’s plenty of food in the supply chain. We’ll be okay. We have to try to keep people from panicking. I know for many of you there’s been some really difficult times. Some heartbreaking decisions like closing up shop and in many cases laying off your employees for the time being. But the bill that we should pass, I can talk a little about that. The Senate passed it last night. We are still getting information today. The house will vote on it tomorrow, but that bill which passed the Senate, which is like, unheard of. 56 to 0 passed because we know we have to get money into the economy. We need to stimulate it and it is.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (04:22):
Yeah, it is putting money into the small business program. There are programs. We’ve got to get you the details. How do you apply, how do we get it to you? But you’ll get a $10,000 small business loan, but if you’re able to stay open, keep your employees, that’s going to become a grant. You’re not going to have to repay it. We’ve had to infuse the unemployment provisions so that people are getting cash. We’re putting, I think this happened, I’ve still been asking this question all morning, that they’re $600 on unemployment payments on top of what they would usually get. It’ll be extended. You saw today it’s the highest unemployment numbers We’ve seen in the history of this country, but we need to reassure people. And so, what we’re doing in Washington is trying to reassure, put money into the economy where it needs to be.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (05:22):
This is the third tranche. The first was to just make sure we were getting money to the health care system. Okay. There was money to get the testing up there. There’s money to develop the vaccines, et cetera. The second dealt with starting to get unemployment, making sure every person that should get a coronavirus test doesn’t not go and get it because they can’t afford it. There’s still a real shortage of testing and it’s taken too long. I’m not going to sugar coat anything. It’s taken too long to get these test results back. But our, our biggest crisis right now in this state and across the country. It’s physical protection equipment. Our hospitals are running out of those supplies and we got to make sure we’re getting it to them.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (06:14):
Our entire congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats, have really been focused about that. A first priority for everyone is to mitigate the spread of the disease. The effects of this virus are going to ripple through our economy for our long time and we’re not going to be able to rebound if we don’t have hardworking men and women Southeastern Michigan healthy. The workers are one of our greatest resources and keeping them in their families healthy. It’s got to ensure ability to come back.
Tammy Carnrike (06:52):
I was going to follow up on something you said, but please go ahead.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (06:57):
Okay. Well, I just want to remind people that it’s not only the elderly, we are seeing young and healthy people get it and we saw someone in Detroit that everybody knew died this week. It’s real. So, Gov. Whitmer’s order, “Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives” matters and it’s going to last for three weeks. And I’m trying to work with her because I know that businesses have had a lot of questions about what that means. We’ve got numbers for you to call, websites for all of these. I work with Tammy to make sure that it is on your website as well. I’ve also work nonstop with the autos, and the suppliers. I’ve been on the phone with the CEOs, I’ve been on the phone with most of the local unions.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (07:52):
People are working together. They want to keep their employees safe but there is money in this bill, it’s going to pass that will have a large fund. …I’m telling you every conversation I had, I talked about the supplier, the suppliers, the suppliers because in 2008 the supplier community was not talked about as much. You all know the situation’s evolving. It’s going to keep evolving, but we got to remain calm. You got a maintain diligence, you’ve got to mitigate. Everybody on this call is a leader. Leaders have to lead. We’ll get through this. We’ve gone through partially before, but it’s new and unique but if we stay calm, we work together, we’re going to get through it. So, you go back to you Tammy.
Tammy Carnrike (08:42):
All right. Thank you, Congresswoman and thank you for that, that good broad overview and covering so many of the important elements of what we need to focus on day to day. Especially a thank you to you for fighting you on behalf of our automotive industry and all of our industries. Let me just ask you an easy, quick question. Based on the economic relief fund and what you do know to this point, what specifically do you think will be the most beneficial in that stimulus fund for the Michigan business community?
Rep. Debbie Dingell (09:17):
Well, I think that there are going to be several things. So, there’s small business money that is being ramped up. There’s new infusions of cash and you can start to apply for those loans now to the small business site. And we’ve also, we did a conference call yesterday and we can work with you, Tammy, to get the small business administration to work with you on that. There’re two funds there. This is what I’ve been working on. I want to see the final language. So, anything I’d tell you all you know, I’m still the bills coming over to the house. We haven’t gotten the final bill, but I’ve spent nonstop time on the phone. There is a larger fund. Some people call it the nation’s stimulus fund. Which has got a $1 trillion– something in it – 0.5 or 0.7 – The problem for businesses right now is that you need liquidity.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (10:17):
So how do we ensure that you’ve got the liquidity that you need? So, there’s a larger fund that larger corporations like the OEMs would be able to go to and tier one suppliers. And then there’s something we called the Warner fund. For purposes of writing this bill, I don’t know what we’ll call it when we’re done with this bill, but which would be for employers with 500 employees or less and they will both be funds that, you know, people were really working for loan guarantees, there [are] grants in there. We know what we had to do to get to you. I worked with NEMA, I worked with the supplier community, I worked with the OEMs directly, the auto alliance. Debbie Stabenow worked her heart and soul out on this over on the Senate side. The House had more provisions. But I think Debbie was feeling very good on where they came out. And as soon as we get the final details, I hate to say this to you, but it was also being written yesterday at 6 p.m. We’ll make sure that we get the information to everybody who cares about it.
Tammy Carnrike (11:31):
Oh, well thank you very much… we’ll make sure it’s a part of our COVID-19 website… Let’s go to Brad. Brad, do you have some questions ready from our folks on the line?
Brad Williams (11:54):
Yes, Thank you so much for your service right now, particularly right now. I’ve got a question from a mother who has children with cystic fibrosis and I’m sure this is top of mind, not just for parents of children with cystic fibrosis, but also anyone who’s got a family member who is particularly vulnerable. What can be done for moms who can’t go to work for fear of bringing home the virus to their vulnerable children? Can they go on unemployment? Are there other things that other areas of assistance that are available to them being in those particular situations?
Rep. Debbie Dingell (12:38):
Yes. So, the first thing I’m going to say to anybody who has an underlying condition like that. Yeah. This is the first cystic fibrosis question I’ve gotten. You need to stay home, period. Your child is at increased risk. This virus is spreading, and I just don’t sugarcoat it. People need to stay home period. What we have here is that these legislations that we are passing right now – and quite frankly, it’s the second bill that we passed, that really will help her – is that if someone is sick with the coronavirus, there’s a very specific 14 day paid time off. But we have a four month a family plan lead that will be paid, If you need to take time off related to the coronavirus, your case can clearly indicate, yes, you have a child with an underlying condition, our office can help you and get supplies for what you need to do. That’s all being ramped up right now by the agencies. But you are somebody that that’s why we did the four-month paid family leave because we know you need to stay home and take care of your child.
Brad Williams (13:51):
Okay. There’s also a lot of questions about the small business components of this. First of all, when and how can small businesses apply for the funding and the loans that are available under the stimulus? I know you still have to vote on it and the President hasn’t signed this, so this is maybe a little bit of a fluid situation, but is there an understanding of when and how this will be available?
Rep. Debbie Dingell (14:24):
Oh, we’ve already [inaudible] the small business loans and it’s obviously changing as we’re talking. We’ll pass a bill by tomorrow, but I did a phone call last night with people from the Detroit Small Business Administration and Sandy, this has been your background as well. And they were talking people to questions, answering their questions, telling them how to get forms. You could go to their website. It did crash. Both the unemployment, and the SBA site crashed and they brought them back up. They suggest maybe going in off peak hours. I would like to make him very specific suggestion that the Detroit Chamber host a town hall with the Detroit SBA administration to answer questions and help facilitate how people can do this quickly. You should apply online, but you’ve probably got questions as you’re reading the information that’s there and it’s going to change as soon as this bill passes…
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (15:20):
…tomorrow. We’ve been addressing a number of the issues, that I’ve heard about from restaurant owners and small business owners that are concerned about tie backs to their personal residences. They’re kids’ funds. They’re trying very much to address those. I think they have been. I don’t lie to people when I don’t have every detail. So I think we need to get this bill passed tomorrow to see what’s been done in addition to the funds we put in to it in the second bill and I think it would be really useful to have a, but just a dedicated town hall with the SBA to answer those questions. And, yeah, I’m glad to listen in so I can understand issues that are coming up and sort of be an oversight on it so that I can go back and pursue where it’s not clear.
Tammy Carnrike (16:09):
I can follow up on that, congresswoman. Just to let you know, we do have a town hall scheduled for tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. and it’s going to be with the Michigan district office of the SBA and they’re going to be giving input on application advice and answering questions. So if you want to tune in tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. it’ll be another great town hall.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (16:31):
I will do that. But I would say to people that it’s important because I’ve been helping small business owners already do applications, get in the queue and do some work. We are making these loans into grants of up to 10,000 so that we can provide immediate relief for operating costs. If somebody applied for an economic injury disaster loan. I think the details, it’s going to take a week or two. Sandy comes from SBA, this is going to be expedited. Everything we’re doing is on steroids. But even though everybody’s doing it on steroids, it does take few days to be able to get some of this actually into a workable fashion.
Brad Williams (17:23):
Congresswoman, I know you said you’re not going to get political and I appreciate that, but there’s been questions both today and yesterday about the president’s statement that he’d like to see everything opened up by Easter. We had a question of how that interacts with the governor’s stay at home order, which of course extends until the day after Easter. And it could extend beyond that. Can you just explain for the people who are listening in what the interaction is between you know, the Governor’s power under the emergency powers and the President’s power. How does that work? Just so, so people understand that.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (18:08):
I’m going to be really blunt, first of all, everybody on this phone to want the scientific data to track that decision and let the health experts drive that decision. So I’m going to say that is one issue too. I’m going to say, fortunately the president doesn’t have a say when states re–open. That’s clearly stated in the law that the governors have that responsibility. So the governor’s authority is the one that dictates what is happening in a state in terms of the preventative measures that we have to take to mitigate this. Having said that, there are some, I’m not going to sugar coat. Really spent, I’m on the phone from 6:00 a.m. to midnight every day. And last week the president on his conference call with the governors, told them to go out and get their own supplies. The we have a lot of hospitals across this country that need ventilators and respirators and masks and gloves and need to keep their doctors and nurses safe.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (19:11):
So, [with regard to] the national stockpile, what Michigan got had enough for one shift. So our governor working with our bipartisan congressional delegations, there is no partisanship in working on all of this. Many of the businesses in Michigan began to try to find supplies and was arranging for some to be shipped. And on Tuesday night we did a delegation call. I got a phone call, an hour or two earlier where. The materials that was, or supplies that were scheduled to be shipped to the store date hello. The suppliers had suddenly been told that they could no longer ship that the federal government was taking over distribution. And quite frankly, these mixed signals.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (20:13):
I know that there are many Michigan companies that you’ve seen that Chrysler, Ford, and GM are all trying to [help]. GM’s working on ventilators. Ford is making multiple, it’s doing gloves and shields and gowns and Chrysler is doing masks. And many of the suppliers change here have components that can help from ventilators and want to do this other work. But the disconnect between the federal and the state level right now is a problem. The vice president called the governor yesterday and he did, they’ve had a direct conversation. Our delegation talks to each other. I talked to Fred Upton, I guess this doesn’t surprise me, buddy. Probably 10 or 15 times a day. He called me right before this call started. We don’t have time to play games. We have to get down in what we have to get done.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (21:09):
We’re trying to get masks shipped in from China. Yeah. Yesterday the FDA lifted — they still believed that this mask is safe — but it lifted, under the emergency authorities, masks that could come in from South Korea and Mexico and four other countries. But China wasn’t on it. Well, China’s got the most masks. We can get a million mass to Michigan within a week if we can get that lifted. So, Fred made his calls. I made my calls. We’re working together to try to address these issues. This is time that the federal and the state government has to work together. We need to have somebody in charge that’s really doing this. I think there are a lot of good talented people at the federal level who are trying to work around some difficult circumstances on certain days. But I won’t take partisan shots. We got to protect our country. That’s my answer.
Brad Williams (22:12):
Okay. There’s a question here about higher education and particularly help our students. It says the media is reporting that the stimulus bill has funding to help students and higher education institutions. Any details on that support?
Rep. Debbie Dingell (22:28):
We were on the phone with the ed committee yesterday and I mean, you have seen that…
Rep. Debbie Dingell (22:37):
We have been trying to ensure that higher education that student loans are having, they’re not having to [inaudible]. Most of the payments are being waived for at the time looking at refinancing. There has been support for the higher ed, both the local school systems in higher ed to provide educational service to their students online. But again, there’s a disconnect, no impact that people who probably need it the most don’t have computers. And how do we get them computers? Brad, I don’t have the specific details of what we’re in the final package and as soon as we get it, I’ll make that available.
Brad Williams (23:18):
There’s some questions in here, also Congresswoman about nonprofits and what sort of support they can expect under this bill. I know that it’s been a consistent question that we’ve seen all week about nonprofits. And we had Senator Peters with us yesterday and at that point it looked like there was going to be some support for 501c3’s but not 501c6’s. Do you know if that has changed over–night since we last spoke to Senator Peters.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (23:59):
As you know, each of us has kind of taken leads on different things. Having Jim [Cliburn?] as the champion 501c3’s in churches is not a bad thing. He felt very strongly about it. That was one of the areas they were still riding when we did our phone call yesterday, but Gary was in the room. And you know, we’ve got a problem that churches are treated differently and you all, and what about unemployment for their workers. So that was all being worked on and we will get you information on that as we get the bill today.
Tammy Carnrike (24:40):
Can I ask a follow-up question to that? If it in fact doesn’t add 501c6s to this bill, is there a potential for future bills perhaps?
Rep. Debbie Dingell (24:53):
Yes, So I want to say to you all, there’s a lot of things, I don’t know how people on this phone feel, but I was working with Rashida because I don’t really have a problem that a public health crisis right now that we’re telling people to wash their hands every time they do something. And are people throughout the state that don’t have running water. We were trying to make sure that there was money to support local governments and people to turn the water on for everybody. The City of Detroit’s been great and I’m doing a conference call with the Mayor at 1 o’clock. Right. Quite frankly, the plan, Detroit’s probably the worst example right now in that they have the highest numbers and it’s for many reasons, the water’s been off for so long. The plumbing’s bad. They’re trying to get plumbers to work the problem.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (25:42):
But to me, having running water during a public health crisis Is major. To me this is 101 Public Health. Well it’s not in the bill. I was pushing very hard with Fred Upton for Cobra. A lot of people are having to, they got their employees right now and Cobra for supplier community can be $2,000 a month. Well, when you’re on unemployment and trying to take care of a family that’s a lot fo money. So people are going to go without health insurance. So we’re fighting for, there’s so many things in this bill. All the different things that you have to think about. I’m pretty sure our COBRA support is in there or it was at five o’clock last night. I’ll tell you the truth. I’ll tell you what I know. But we have to have another bill. We’re going to have to have a fourth tronch in a fifth tronch and you have to have hope. So if it’s not in this bill, we had to get money into the economy. We had to get this economic stimulus going, but we know we have a lot more issues to address and we’re going to address them.
Brad, back to you.
Brad Williams (26:57):
All right. The last question I have for you Congresswoman and then I will hand it back off to Tammy. This is something that we’ve heard from a lot of members both in the chat and and offline about automotive suppliers in the supply chain. And the question of you know, resuming production. Particularly those who have OEMs, suppliers in States where they are not on a stay at home order and the customers are requesting that they go back to work in the state, is unable to maybe provide the guidance that they’re looking for. Is there any federal guidance on what they should do in this situation? Or do you have a thought on this?
Rep. Debbie Dingell (27:54):
So, I probably have thoughts. There isn’t any federal guidance and – you know – I’ll say to a lot of you, I quite frankly don’t want the defense production. I know there are companies that do not want the defense production act used and I think we have no choice. I think if you could get the calls that I’m getting from the nurses and doctors in these hospitals and how scared they are. We got to get the supplies to these people.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (28:30):
I haven’t, there were some people that thought that we should start creating standards for each plant and having labor. But many of you have contracts with unions, so you know what you need to do. So, I was getting mixed signals about whether people wanted regulation, what they wanted, and there was so much going on in at the federal level, that that has not happened. If people, think that they want it, I would be curious on that. I’ve been more focused on the defense production act, Which I do think that we need. Last week, I was not off the phone for five days with the OEMs and the UAW. I think people did not realize how scared their workforces were and what was going on in the plants. I think one of the most important things I would say that say to any employer is the need to be transparent.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (29:33):
If someone gets the coronavirus in your operation, help people. Yeah. Do what you have to do to take the people that were around [them] and put [them] into quarantine when you get a positive test. Quite frankly, it’s taking too long on these tests. I will just tell you personally, I was around somebody who was around somebody but in a very close contact for several days and that person’s test has not come back. Some symptomatic fever has not come back for nine days on a test. So, I’ve been sort of self–quarantining and, but I am self–quarantined because that’s the responsible thing we have to do. We’re not getting these tests back fast enough. But when someone comes back with a positive test in your operation, telling people to go home, but not tell anybody, it’s the worst thing you can do because then everybody posts on Facebook and everybody goes into a state of panic.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (cont.) (30:33):
You have to make sure you’ve got people that are cleaning the facilities. I can tell you nightmares from last week that wasn’t getting from the plant shop to the people at the top. And there weren’t enough people to clean the plant. People were afraid. The sanitation companies that cleans many of the plants around here were begging people. People were taking a bus from here to Chicago to do the Ford plant and people showing up and people weren’t distancing in the plant. We’ve got to get more supplies. So Chrysler is making masks now and not only are they making mass to help the hospitals, but they’re couldn’t give their employee masks. Oakland County has told people they’ve got to take temperatures before they go into work. We need to have really pragmatic [conversations]. I’ve had more conversations on all of this and I’m happy to do it with anyone one on one.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (31:32):
It’s too broad a group to do it. If you’ve got a large company, what a supplier may do, [is begin] taking people’s temperatures, while they’re going into the plant and somebody who’s got a temperature can create total panic. Is there a way people can check their temperatures at home? Is there other technology? All those things need to be thought through so that you can guarantee your employees that they’re in a safe working site. Yeah, we have plants that are open. They’re going to be making these, this, these masks, these PPE, the personal protection orders. They’re going to be volunteers. So it’s going to be workers that are volunteering to come into work. And you keep people with preexisting conditions out of the workforce right now. While it’s a threat to them if they pick up this virus. Okay. I’m probably going on too long but I’ve spent a lot of time on this one, so.
Brad Williams (32:27):
Well thank you. Just so folks know we are doing our best to get through as many questions as possible, but as we have been throughout this series, the questions we don’t get to, my team on the government relations team here at the Chamber is collecting them, doing our best to reconnect with you and see if we can get you an answer either through the congresswoman’s office or through our own resources. So know that even if we didn’t get to your question today, we’re going to do our best to get you an answer here in the, in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Tammy Carnrike (33:02):
Thank you very much Brad. Thanks for all your help with the managing the questions today. Congresswoman, first let me thank you for your continued effort to look out for Michigan, to define bipartisan solutions on behalf of the issues we’re dealing with. The information you provided today was extremely helpful. I know for all of the folks on the line and I enjoyed hearing, I know there’s going to be a lot more to break in the next couple of days and we’ll be watching that, but we really appreciate you giving us the most up to date, what you think is going to be happening and sharing that with us. Would you like to make any final remarks, Congresswoman?
Rep. Debbie Dingell (33:50):
I am trying to communicate with everybody on a regular basis. When Tammy reached out and said, would you do this? I said yes. Right away I talked to my elected officials, my mayors, my County officials, my state reps twice a week and we coordinate what’s going on, what do we need to know? We do communication every day. I do a post every day. I do town halls every week. We, all of us, need to communicate with the people that are part of our organizations, people that we touch. And I also would say a personal comment that I hate the word social distancing right now. The word should be physical distancing. We should all the using our technology, we should be socially reaching out to people. We need to answer your question so you know what to do to keep your business open.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (34:42):
It may be closed, but how do we keep [inaudible] be strong through so that the economy is strong when we come out of this? how do we answer questions for your employees? We’re all here and we want to answer and I think the best thing for me to do is to go through Tammy and Brad, but I’m here. I work seven days a week. And guys, this is Debbie Dingell You’re talking about I’m home alone. Five days a week. So it’s obvious I am not a human being meant to be home alone. So I prefer working. Nobody should ever hesitate to call me. I’m always available.
Tammy Carnrike (35:18):
Well, with that, we thank you for this continued activity and service that you work so hard for us daily. To all of our participants on the line, thank you for joining us today. We’ll have another town hall tomorrow, as I mentioned earlier, at 11:00 AM with of the Michigan district of the Small Business Administration. So, we hope you’ll join us then and to everyone on the call, I hope you have a great day and Congresswoman, stay strong. Thank you. Thanks to all of you. You guys stay strong.