Navigating Crisis:
How U-M helped thousands receive COVID-19 stimulus checks

In March 2020, as Americans began shouldering the economic weight of COVID-19, the federal government responded by rolling out the largest federal stimulus package in U.S. history. The CARES Act guaranteed millions of Americans a $1,200 stimulus check to combat the financial strains caused by the pandemic.

What the federal government did not guarantee was that receiving these support funds would be a speedy and intuitive process. And with millions furloughed or let go from their jobs and many more bearing the burden of financial uncertainty, time was of the essence.

For some people, these checks arrived swiftly and required zero paperwork. But for others, receiving stimulus money was a more complicated process. Consequently, as March turned to April, many still had not received their checks. That’s when U-M’s Poverty Solutions stepped in.

Teaming up with the Detroit-based design firm Civilla and the City of Detroit, Poverty Solutions launched a Coronavirus Stimulus Payment website that clearly explained if you were eligible for a check and what steps were required to ensure its prompt arrival. The website also featured Spanish and Arabic translations to ensure more people could easily access its information. In one week, it had over 80,000 visitors. To date, the Poverty Solutions’ website has helped thousands receive financial support.

A laptop displaying the Coronovirus Stimulus Website

“I just wanted to thank you for setting up the website to quickly and easily do what I needed to do to get the COVID-19 relief payment,” said Kim Martin, a Dearborn resident, in an email to Poverty Solutions. “Until I saw this resource available, I was certain that I wouldn’t be able to get a payment for weeks (if not longer) due to a number of factors caused by a personal crisis. But thanks to you, I was able to submit the required information to the IRS, which has already accepted my transmission. I am so very grateful to you! And I will be spreading the word.”

While the website’s target audience was Michigan residents, its support extended beyond Michigan’s borders. Organizations and governments from across the country looked to it as a model for helping their constituencies navigate the stimulus check process. In Michigan, the City of Detroit transferred much of the content to its own website, but so did the City of Durham, North Carolina.

“We wanted to make Michigan one of the states with the highest rates of people receiving their stimulus checks during this incredibly important time,” said H. Luke Shaefer, faculty director of Poverty Solutions and Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy. “We got questions about the stimulus checks from all over the state and heard from many people that our site helped them get their checks. In the process, we learned a lot about the challenges facing families that informs our research and teaching.”

The stimulus payment website is just one example of Poverty Solutions’ important work in the state of Michigan and beyond. Poverty Solutions cultivates action-based research partnerships with community stakeholders and policymakers to build knowledge about what does and does not work in confronting poverty. And as communities across the country continue negotiating the myriad challenges of a global pandemic, these partnerships remain more critical than ever.

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