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Key Issues


The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare systemic inequities, including health disparities, economic inequality, and racial injustice. In response to the pandemic, Poverty Solutions has developed and shared rapid-response research and policy analysis to inform the efforts of policymakers, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations to support people with low incomes and those living in poverty.

Our work during the pandemic has relied on the strong relationships we’ve built over the years with government agencies and service providers – a foundation that enabled us to respond quickly to the crisis, in partnership with government and community.

Federal Response to the Pandemic-Related Economic Downturn

Throughout the pandemic, scholars at the University of Michigan have tracked various indicators of economic well-being and evaluated the impact of the federal social safety net response. This included monitoring changes in material hardship levels, studying the effect of the expanded Child Tax Credit, and assessing how school closures during the pandemic impacted students experiencing homelessness.

Poverty Solutions Faculty Director H. Luke Shaefer and Senior Research Associate Jennifer Erb-Downward testified at Congressional hearings in 2020 and 2021 on the impact of pandemic relief programs and the educational challenges faced by students without a stable place to live. Research on the federal social safety net response supported by Poverty Solutions was cited by the White House Press Office, New York Times, The Atlantic, Vox, and numerous media outlets across the country.

Policy brief: Material Hardship and Well-being of U.S. Households at the End of 2021

U-M public policy professors awarded Equitable Growth grant to study effects of expanded Child Tax Credit

Addressing student homelessness amid the pandemic

COVID-19 Response in the State of Michigan

At the state level, Poverty Solutions Faculty Director Luke Shaefer worked in close partnership with  the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to connect families with resources to help them meet basic needs, streamline processes to reduce strain on families in crisis, and help enable families to adhere to the state’s shelter-in-place order. These efforts informed several responses by the State, including:

  • Making Michigan the first state to deliver added food assistance to families with federal funds totaling nearly $1 billion.
  • Gain federal approval to suspend work requirements, recertification activities, and in-person interview requirements for food and cash assistance programs, eliminating cumbersome barriers to more quickly deliver resources.
  • Implement numerous policy changes to streamline access to energy assistance, and negotiating long-term rate reductions and subsidy programs with DTE and Consumers Energy.

Poverty Solutions also advised state and local officials on policies to support housing stability through the crisis, and mitigate the risk faced by homeless families and individuals.

>> Read more in this op-ed by Patrick Cooney and Luke Shaefer 

Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 in Detroit and Washtenaw County

Poverty Solutions and its faculty affiliates worked alongside partners in Southeast Michigan to inform local officials’ response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

U-M’s Detroit Metro Area Communities Study conducted several rapid-response surveys to provide real-time information on Detroiters’ experiences of unemployment, attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccine and health guidelines, and how residents wanted the city to spend federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to assist with pandemic recovery. These findings were covered by the Associated Press, Bridge Detroit, Detroit News, WXYZ 7, and numerous other media outlets. 

In Washtenaw County, where U-M’s Ann Arbor campus is located, Poverty Solutions supported a survey to better understand COVID-19’s impact on Ypsilanti residents of color, evaluated Washtenaw County’s American Rescue Plan Act allocations from an equity perspective, and revamped the county’s Opportunity Index in 2020 to provide data on disparities in access to opportunity across the county.

Resource Guides

In response to the pandemic, Poverty Solutions and its partners developed community resources to ensure residents and community advocates had up-to-date information on how to access critical resources to support health and economic stability. This included websites with step-by-step guidance on how to receive federal stimulus checks and claim the expanded Child Tax Credit.


News Releases

Research Projects

Michigan Advance | Mar. 19, 2023

‘A very dark time’: SNAP cuts leave Michigan families, food banks struggling

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Detroit News | Feb. 27, 2023

Michigan saw decline in racial health disparities during pandemic, report says

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LA Times | Jan. 3, 2023

You’re not getting child tax credit checks anymore. Here’s why

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