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House, Senate send $880M funding bill for COVID-19 response to Whitmer

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Legislatureadopted a supplemental funding bill unanimously Wednesday that would infuse state departments with an additional $880 million.

Using federal Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars, the House supplemental bill would push $100 million for first responder hazard pay premiums, $2.5 million for $500 grants to laid-off hospitality workers, $1.4 million for the state to conduct infection control surveys at nursing homes and $120 million to increase the pay of state direct care workers.

Vehicles check in at the CVS drive-thru COVID-19 rapid testing site at 16301 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn, Friday, April 24, 2020.

The supplemental budget was negotiated between lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who called discussions "fruitful."

"This bill is an example of what can happen when politics are put aside and all parties come together to do what is best for the people of Michigan, including our front-line workers in local communities across the state," Whitmer said in a statement

The governor is urging Congress to approve additional money for the state, which is seeking to fill a $3.2 billion budget shortfall this year and $3 billion shortfall next year.

Next year's budget won't be finalized until September, Whitmer said, to make sure it is done with the most updated revenue numbers available.

The legislation is "an important step as Michigan reopens after months of COVID-19 shutdown mandated by the governor’s unilateral executive orders," said Rep. Shane Hernandez, the Port Huron Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. “As we rebound and rebuild from COVID-19, this federal funding will help those affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways." 

Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, supported the legislation during the Senate's Wednesday session where lawmakers rejected several Democratic amendments to the spending plan. 

"Is this bill perfect?" Stamas said. "No. But does it make a difference for our families? It does."

The final funding bill is roughly $350 million more than the Senate’s recently approved bill, which totaled $523.7 million.

The supplemental also allows for $29.1 million to hire additional temporary workers at the Unemployment Insurance Agency, the only item in the supplemental funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration instead of federal coronavirus relief dollars. 

The supplemental pumps $43 million to schools for costs associated with assessments and safety protocol, $100 million to small business restart efforts and more than $40 million for personal protection equipment grants.

Included in the spending bill, are $60 million in rental assistance and $25 million to reimburse water utility providers for customer debt that they may have forgiven or discounted during the pandemic.

The supplement includes about $200 million for local units of government to pay for pandemic-increased public safety and health costs.

The House rejected amendments proposed Wednesday to increase the additional funding for the Unemployment Insurance Agency and add more funding for public health departments coordinating local response to the pandemic.

The Senate likewise rejected amendments that would put more money toward items such as the state's homeless population, mental health services, summer school, paid sick leave and "summer enrichment."

eleblanc@detroitnews.com