Trump approves Michigan disaster declaration

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster exists in Michigan amid the COVID-19 outbreak and ordered federal assistance to aid recovery efforts here, his administration announced Saturday.

They're moves that will make additional federal resources available to the state, which ranks among the top five nationally for confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also announced Saturday that Michigan had received 112,800 N95 masks from the federal government's strategic national stockpile with another shipment of "8,000 masks on the way." The masks have been in short supply but are needed to protect health care workers in the state.

Whitmer sent a letter seeking the major disaster declaration on Thursday. According to the White House, Trump approved the declaration on Friday, the same day he publicly criticized Whitmer on Twitter.

The declaration will provide federal funding for crisis counseling for those impacted by COVID-19. It will also make federal dollars available for state, tribal and eligible local governments along with some private nonprofit organizations for "emergency protective measures," according to a press release.

In a statement on Saturday, the governor's office said it had made a broad request Thursday for federal aid in "every individual assistance and public assistance program." But funding was approved for the crisis counseling program and for emergency protective measures from the public assistance category, the office said.

"This is a good start, and it will help us protect Michiganders and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Whitmer said Saturday. "I’m hopeful that the president will review my request for individual assistance programs that would provide meals to families who need them and rental assistance and temporary housing for families."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks about the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan during a press conference in Lansing on Thursday, March 26, 2020.

Michigan joins more than a dozen other states that have already received the declarations, including states with similar numbers of confirmed coronavrius cases, like Washington and Florida.

As of Friday, Michigan had seen 92 COVID-19 deaths and 3,657 confirmed cases of the virus that is still spreading in the state and already challenging the health care system's resources.

Trump has been critical of Whitmer's handling of the virus in recent days while Whitmer has said the country needs a better national strategy for combating the virus.

On Friday night, Trump escalated his attacks on Michigan's governor in a tweet.

"I love Michigan, one of the reasons we are doing such a GREAT job for them during this horrible Pandemic," Trump posted on Twitter. "Yet your Governor, Gretchen “Half” Whitmer is way in over her ahead, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude!" 

Trump's tweet came after Whitmer said in an interview with CNN that Michigan wasn't receiving needed health and safety equipment because contractors were sending their products to the federal government first.

On Saturday morning, however, Whitmer said Michigan had received 112,800 N95 masks in a shipment from the federal government's strategic national stockpile with 8,000 "more on the way."

N95 masks filter out at least 95% of airborne particles, providing more protection than regular surgical masks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Great news for our health care workers," Whitmer posted. "We'll keep working hard along with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the White House to get more of the PPE (personal protective equipment) we need to keep Michiganders safe."

Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.