by Laina G. Stebbins, Michigan Advance
March 11, 2022
As President Joe Biden continues to push for his stalled “Build Back Better” legislation, White House and Michigan officials spoke Friday on a virtual panel highlighting the ways in which the administration’s policies have impacted Michigan directly in the runup to the midterm elections.
White House administration officials hosted the panel. Speakers included state Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham); Sommer Foster, co-executive director of the nonprofit funding table Michigan Voices; Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott; Dr. Hasan Shanawani, president of the American Muslim Health Professionals; Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Reg. 7 Justice Coordinators in Kalamazoo; and Rabbi Marla Hornsten of West Bloomfield’s Temple Israel.
Manoogian called Biden “the most pro-union president ever” who boasts “the cleanest climate agenda ever.” She highlighted Michigan accomplishments including General Motors’ $7 billion investment in the metro Detroit and Capital region and the addition of 5,000 new union jobs.
“These are going to be jobs building electric vehicle batteries, to power the future of our roads. With hard work from our governor, Gretchen Whitmer, the Biden agenda is helping us make sure that Michigan is going to continue to put the world on wheels — without the need for fossil fuels,” Manoogian said.
“… By mobilizing every agency of the federal government — and working with our state partners — the president is leading us all in the right direction, all while working to secure a ‘made in America’ supply chain for every industry.”
Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal group Progress Michigan, said the American Rescue Plan and infrastructure bill are helping communities in Michigan.
“For the White House to not only thank local leaders for their work but also to take the time to listen to people from Michigan who joined the call was a refreshing change from a president who only cared about retweets and listened only to those who agreed with him,” Scott said, referring to former President Donald Trump.
Sommer Foster co-directs Michigan Voices, a nonprofit to build civic engagement in progressive nonprofits led by and focused on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color).
Foster highlighted Biden’s priority of combating COVID-19. She said the pandemic has hit BIPOC communities particularly hard, and with federal support hers and other organizations have been able to address some of the issues still being dealt with in those communities.
“As vaccines became available, we saw that there was some distrust in our communities about vaccinations. And due to existing health disparities that are more pronounced by factors such as race and socioeconomic status, it was important that we made sure that Black and Brown people had equitable access to the vaccines,” Foster said.
“We know that conversations with trusted messengers to alleviate some of the fear and distrust were so vital to making that happen.”
With the help of a nearly $1 million vaccine outreach grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in July, Foster said Michigan Voices and seven other organizations were able to create the Voices for Vaccines coalition to increase education about and access to vaccines.
“This organizing effort continues to address barriers to access and vaccine hesitancy, especially for Black, Indigenous and people of color living in medically underserved areas,” Foster said.
She also spoke about the Flint water crisis and her support for Biden’s infrastructure law that seeks to replace lead pipes and ensure clean water.
Julie Rodriguez, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, said the administration will “continue to lift up the truly transformational work that … these amazing leaders are doing together in [Michigan] communities” before handing over the virtual mic to residents.
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Laina G. Stebbins is a contributor for Michigan Advance, where this story first appeared.