State 'reviewing' possible request of FEMA disaster declaration

Michigan has yet to request a declaration of major disaster from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a designation that could qualify the state for federal reimbursement of certain expenses related to the coronavirus response.

Seven other states — New York, California, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Louisiana and Washington — have already been granted the declaration, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has yet to make a formal request for Michigan.

“Our legal team is working urgently with the Michigan State Police to draft a comprehensive request based on our needs to the president to declare a major disaster declaration for Michigan," Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said Wednesday. 

"We have been disappointed to see that while the Trump administration declared major disasters for a handful of states, the declarations were not accompanied by substantial federal resources," she added.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity in a Sunday news release indicated the request had already been made. On Wednesday, department spokesman Jason Moon said "it would have been more accurate to have it read 'is working on a request.'"

The original Sunday statement from the department read: 

"The state is also seeking solutions for self-employed workers and independent contractors who traditionally do not have access to unemployment insurance. The governor has requested that President Trump issue a Major Disaster Declaration so that individual assistance and disaster unemployment assistance through FEMA may be made available to additional Michiganders affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."

A bicycle rider crosses Grand River Avenue near Rosa Parks Boulevard as empty streets are seen throughout  Detroit on Tuesday, March 24, 2020.

The Michigan Republican Party criticized the delayed request and said the governor should "put aside her partisanship and do what's right for the people of Michigan" by requesting FEMA assistance.

"We now know the shameful fact that, while Gov. Whitmer has been sniping at the president as a frequent guest on national television, she has refused to take advantage of all the resources the president is offering," GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox said in a statement.

The state’s potential interest in requesting a disaster declaration comes as the number of people testing positive for the disease has reached 2,294 and coronavirus-related deaths have risen to 43

On Monday, Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order, noting the state’s trajectory of cases resembled Italy’s. Without action, modeling projects roughly 70% of the state’s 10 million residents could be infected with 1 million hospitalized, the governor argued.

Louisiana’s disaster declaration included allowances for “federal funding available for crisis counseling” and emergency protective measures, “including direct federal assistance.”