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Protections for workers extended: Executive order impacts nursing homes, grocery stores

MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday extended protections for Michigan’s frontline workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and long-term care facilities by signing executive orders 2020-168 and 2020-169.

The governor’s orders extend existing safety measures– including two hours a week of reserved shopping time for vulnerable populations — to protect consumers and employees at grocery stores and pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the past five months, Michiganders have stepped up and done their part to fight COVID-19, and frontline workers in our hospitals, grocery stores, nursing homes and more have put their own lives on the line to protect our families,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Our fight is not over yet, and that is why I am extending these protections to ensure employees, residents and customers are able to work and live in a safe environment.”

Executive Order 2020-168, which continues through Sept. 7, extends the following health and safety rules for grocery stores and pharmacies, among others:

≤ Grocery stores and pharmacies must allocate at least two hours per week of shopping time for vulnerable populations.

≤ If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the business must notify other employees without infringing on private health information.

≤ Grocery stores and pharmacies must offer accommodations to vulnerable employees, such as low-risk assignments or a leave of absence.

Executive Order 2020-169, which also extends through Sept. 7, maintains infection control protocols the governor put in place in nursing homes at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis. It also protects residents from eviction and employees from retaliatory action for staying home when exhibiting symptoms.

Student loan relief sought

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined a coalition of 29 attorneys general in urging the U.S. Senate to provide relief for all federal student loan borrowers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act currently only covers federal student loans owned by the federal government, excluding nearly 8 million borrowers whose federal student loans are owned by private entities.

“For many people across this nation, paying for a college education was challenging before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now those challenges have multiplied as we continue to navigate through this crisis,” Nessel said in a statement. “The Senate in Washington, D.C., needs to do the right thing and ensure relief for all students whose loans are supported or guaranteed by the federal government — regardless of who owns them. These students filled out their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms, accepted the aid offered by the federal government, and now shouldn’t be left behind due to a technicality.”

In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, which provides financial relief for Americans, including student loan borrowers, impacted by the global pandemic. Under the CARES Act, student loan borrowers do not have to make payments and interest will not accrue on their loans through Sept. 30. The CARES Act also suspends involuntary collection activities and negative credit reporting through Sept. 30.

The CARES Act, however, applies only to federal student loans held by the federal government.

Nearly 8 million federal student loan borrowers have Perkins loans that are held by schools or commercially held Federal Family Education Loan Program loans that are held by financial institutions. While the federal government supports or guarantees these loans against default, borrowers were denied CARES Act relief.

According to the attorney general’s office, these borrowers are struggling with the pandemic just as other federal student loan borrowers are, but do not have relief options under the CARES Act solely because of the entity that owns their loan.

In the letter submitted Wednesday, the coalition urges the Senate to provide the same relief currently available to borrowers whose federal student loans are owned by the federal government, including a temporary suspension of payments, a 0% interest rate and the suspension of involuntary collections.

The coalition also calls for the relief measures to apply retroactively if borrowers have already made payments. The attorneys general state that members of the Senate can support added relief as part of a stand-alone bill — the Student Loan Fairness Act, S.4237 recently introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jack Reed of Rhode Island — or as part of the larger coronavirus relief package currently being debated in the Senate.

The coalition also calls on Congress to implement longer-term solutions for struggling borrowers. Such measures include extending the temporary suspension of payments past Sept. 30 and requiring student loan servicers to evaluate borrowers for income-driven repayment plans once they resume payments.

Library expands

services

Due to volume and demand, the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library has expanded its curbside pickup services from three days to five days a week. Patrons can now schedule their pickups from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In June, the library began to offer its curbside program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

“We have actually been unofficially filling orders five days a week from very early on,” librarian Kelsey Boldt said in a news release. “It has been incredibly rewarding to start interacting with our patrons again.”

Curbside pickup is still contactless. Patrons can place holds online or call the library to reserve library materials. If a book is available immediately, library users can expect a same-day pickup. Orders are bagged and placed on a cart outside the library once a pickup time is established.

Library staff continues to take precautions while handling library materials.

“We wear masks and handle books with gloves if they haven’t gone through quarantine,” Boldt said.

Returned library materials go through a four-day quarantine before being shelved or checked out to another patron. Staff also frequently disinfects often-used surfaces to be safe.

Patrons can call 906-486-4381 for more information.

Testing available in

Ironwood

COVID-19 testing is available at no cost from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDT today at Ironwood Public Safety, 123 W. McLeod Ave., Ironwood.

Testing is available to anyone, with no preregistration, insurance, prescription or doctor’s order needed.

Visit Michigan.gov/CoronavirusTest to learn more.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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