Mich. Senate approves $465M for COVID testing, vaccination, biz relief, unemployment

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Senate Friday night approved a $465 million supplemental spending bill that will address millions of dollars in COVID-related needs throughout the state, including $220 million toward unemployment benefits, $22.5 million for testing of vulnerable populations, more than $57 million for vaccination efforts and more than $55 million in small business survival grants.

The allocations, which will head to the House for approval Monday, bring the Legislature's COVID-related appropriations to $4 billion, said Sen. Jim Stamas, the Midland Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Sen. Jim Stamas, a Republican, right, and Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat

The allocation is less than the $734 million supplemental and $100 million in direct financial support to families and small businesses recommended by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month. But the supplemental approved 35-2 Friday comes after days of negotiations between the Democratic governor and GOP-led Legislature.

"This bill does not mark the end of the fight against COVID-19 but it is another critical step in helping Michiganders battle the virus," Stamas said. 

Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said the bill was a good compromise that meets the needs of the state in the current moment. 

"This bill is not perfect," Hertel said. "But that being said, I believe it's incredibly important and reflects a compromise in the discussions and priorities laid out by our governor."

Roughly $443 million of the supplemental will come from the state's general fund, while federal dollars will make up about $21.7 million. 

Besides the allocations for unemployment, testing, vaccination efforts and small business survival grants, the supplemental includes $3.5 million for entertainment venues hit hard by COVID-19 shutdowns and $45 million in employee assistance grants for laid-off restaurant workers and others pushed out of work by state-ordered closures. 

The bill also includes more than $110 million to increase pay for direct care workers and hire additional health care workers. 

The legislation allocates $2 million to the continued implementation of Care and Recovery Centers for non-acute COVID patients from nursing homes and $3.3 million to help hospitals keep COVID-positive long-term care patients. 

Nearly $2.9 million in state funding was allocated for COVID-19 testing and protective measures at state veterans homes.

Another $2.5 million was allocated for grants for certain full-time teachers and $5 million for a property tax deferral program.

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, celebrated the allocations that went directly to small businesses and workers affected by recent COVID-related closures as some of the most impactful items in the supplemental.

"These are the businesses that are essential to the fabric of our communities," Irwin said. "They were oftentimes the first to close down and they’re going to be the last to reopen.”

Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, opposed the bill because she said it failed to offer more financing for technology in rural or disadvantaged areas at a time when more and more education and business activities have been pushed online.

Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, also opposed the bill because of a section that would require the Michigan Department of Transportation to allow certain nonradioactive hazardous materials to be transported over the Ambassador Bridge, referring to an eight-year-old report recommending as much.

It was not clear why the item was included in the COVID-focused supplemental.

"Our state many years ago decided to reject this study because it was flawed, because it did not follow federal standards and because during the process of hearing community input there was strong opposition," Chang said, noting the bridge route is near a residential area. "That opposition still exists today."

In November, Whitmer asked the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass a state-based stimulus plan of up to $100 million in response to provide "direct financial support to the families and small businesses" most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A week later, Whitmer's budget office also asked the Legislature for about $734.7 million in federal and state dollars for state education, health, veteran, technology, corrections and environmental agencies.