Dominika Shelton, 32, was in an “extreme panic mode” last Friday, after Michigan schools started shutting down in hopes of blunting the spread of COVID-19.
The single mother of two was due for work in a few hours at a local flower shop when she heard her two children, ages 3 and 4, had to be picked up from daycare, where she had just dropped them off.
“The state had mandated this daycare facility be closed due to the pandemic,” says Shelton. “I didn’t have any options.”
“We know there is deep and devastating economic inequality across our country, created by racist policies that put profits over people. Because of COVID-19, these problems are exacerbated.” — Eliza Webb, resident
She called up friends, but no one was available for last minute childcare. Then, she did what a number of metro Detroiters have done recently: She logged onto Facebook and posted in a private support group for those affected by the disruption over coronavirus.
“I’m in desperate need of trustworthy childcare,” she wrote, implicitly asking, “What are your needs?”
Responses dotted the page: They just cut my hours, they just laid me off, I’m a 10-year nanny, I have a home childcare facility.
“I too am going through this,” Shelton paraphrases. “Let’s help each other.”
Sending Money to Strangers
The Facebook group is just one example of how the metro Detroit community is pulling together during what is, for many, a scary and unpredictable situation.
“We’re all in this together,” Shelton says. “I have come to face the unknown, embrace it almost. If I don’t embrace, then I’m going to sit up here with two kids, and I’m going to have a heart attack in this house.”
Shelton found a childcare facility, Kreative Buttercups Daycare, a home care center offering a special $15 rate during the pandemic. And Shelton also found a means to pay for it.
Elsewhere in the group, users had started posting their usernames on payment apps like Venmo, Square Cash and Paypal so that other users can semi-anonymously send them cash payments.
The financial assistance could be crucial at a time when part-time and service workers are facing increased instability.
“This group kept me grounded, especially in knowing that if anything hit the fan, I could reference it for support.” — Carinna Dennis, resident
“We know there is deep and devastating economic inequality across our country, created by racist policies that put profits over people,” says Eliza Webb, the person who started the payment thread. “We’ve long been in crisis, and because of COVID-19, these problems are exacerbated.”
(Are you facing financial hardship? See if you qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage during the crisis.)
A Username — And A Story
As of publish time, 141 people have commented on the payment thread — in fact, it’s so popular they transitioned to a Google spreadsheet. Many came with stories of closings and contract cancellations.
One overnight pet sitter lost all of their work through June.
One person’s husband is on dialysis and had to extend a months-long absence from work due to the risks of infection.
Another person was recently on unpaid maternity leave, and needed money to pay their internet bill so they could begin working from home.
It’s the type of informal, generosity-driven economy that’s difficult, if not impossible, to quantify as part of the response to COVID-19.
“This environment, this social isolation, the things that we must endure in these periods, it’s only going to make us better.” — Dominika Shelton, resident
“This group kept me grounded, especially in knowing that if anything hit the fan, I could reference it for support,” says Carinna Dennis, another person in the Facebook group who received two donations. “If it wasn’t for this group, I would have been more stressed and felt alone in this.”
Shelton says she received $30 after posting on the thread, donated by a total stranger. She used half of it to pay for childcare and forwarded the other half onto another user.
“We as the human race are super resilient. In order for us to remain resilient, sometimes we have to be put in environments that are not comfortable,” Shelton says. “This environment, this social isolation, the things that we must endure in these periods, it’s only going to make us better.”
She looks to her Buddhist faith for instruction on how to endure through a difficult time.
“My faith instructs us to understand our causes and effects,” she says. “The cause I made and the effect I got, it’s worth it.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed an executive order to temporarily expand eligibility for unemployment benefits, effective immediately and until Tuesday, April 14 at 11:59 PM.
Under this order, unemployment would be expanded to:
- Workers who have an unanticipated family care responsibility, including those who have childcare responsibilities due to school closures, or those who are forced to care for loved ones who become ill.
- Workers who are sick, quarantined, or immunocompromised and who do not have access to paid family and medical leave or are laid off.
- First responders in the public health community who become ill or are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.
Access to benefits for unemployed workers will also be extended:
- Benefits will be increased from 20 to 26 weeks.
- The application eligibility period will be increased from 14 to 28 days
- The normal in-person registration and work search requirements will be suspended.