Michigan House OKs $4.2B in COVID spending, ties $1.2B to power limits for Whitmer
The Michigan House on Wednesday gave final legislative approvals to a $4.25 billion supplemental spending plan that ties nearly $1.2 billion in federal funding to measures that would limit the pandemic powers of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration.
The House approvals come a day after the Senate also approved the funds. Most of the Republican-backed bills head next to Whitmer's desk for possible action, although she has opposed tying strings to the money.
The legislation includes $1.9 billion in education funding and $2.3 billion for unemployment, property tax relief and the state health department's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. About $3.4 billion of the funding is in the form of federal relief funds approved by Congress in December.
About $840.7 million of school district funding is tied to a separate bill that would move responsibility over school closures and high school sports from the state health department to local health departments. The provision would require local health officials to comply with testing, case and hospitalization benchmarks when considering a closure.
Another $347.3 million in COVID epidemiology and lab capacity funding depends on a bill that would limit the state health department's epidemic rules to no more than 28 days without legislative approval. The Senate bill establishing the 28-day limit is not scheduled to be voted on by the House until next week.
Whitmer told reporters Wednesday that Republican senators had not held any negotiations with her office and "I have not signed off on any of the terms in it."
"It was my hope as we've been reaching out for weeks, frankly since January, to try to get them to the table," the Democratic governor said. "The state has $5 billion that has been allocated under a law signed by (then) President Trump, approved by our bipartisan delegation and it's gathering dust.
"We need to deploy these dollars into our economy, ramping up vaccines, getting our kids back into school safely and helping small businesses," Whitmer said. "Curtailing that is short-changing the people of Michigan."
ln a statement later Wednesday, Whitmer's office said it was "promising to see the Legislature take steps" to release some of the federal funding, including dollars for items Whitmer supported such as expanded vaccinations and increased pay for direct care workers. But the money comes two months after it was made available and still withholds some funds, said Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for the governor.
"Gov. Whitmer will ensure that this crucial funding is available" for vaccines, schools, small businesses and rental and food assistance, "but we expect the legislature to step up to fix the bill to allocate all of the money we need to get back to normal," Leddy said.
By not releasing all of the federal relief funding at once, lawmakers are prolonging the pandemic for Michigan residents, House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski said as she announced plans Wednesday for a substitute measure that would allocate all $5.6 billion of the federal money available to the state.
"Michigan’s recovery is being knee-capped and there’s only one reason: Pure partisan politics," Lasinski said. "And every Michigander can see through that.”
The supplemental approved Wednesday is "simply another lifeline," and not a permanent solution, said Rep. Thomas Albert, the Lowell Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. Albert said a permanent solution lay in the governor's continued removal of pandemic restrictions on schools and businesses.
"We are seeing thousands of small businesses either downsizing or closing," he said. "We are facing death by a thousand cuts.”
The bills would put $600 million toward food assistance, $150 million to direct care hazard worker pay increases, $110 million toward vaccine distribution and $547 million toward COVID-19 testing, including the $347 million dependent on the pandemic authority bill.
The bill also would deposit $150 million into the Unemployment Insurance Agency Trust Fund, $220 million toward emergency rental assistance, $322 million to offset property taxes and interest and penalties on late property taxes, and $50 million to offset food and liquor licensing fees.
The school funding bill includes about $1.65 billion in weighted distributions to schools, with about $840 million being tied to the measure limiting the state health department's pandemic powers.
About $136 million in state funding would be awarded to some districts if they offer at least 20 hours per week of in-person instruction by March 22.
Another $160 million in federal funds would go toward K-8 summer programs, credit recovery programs and before and after school programs. About $86.7 million in federal funds would go to nonpublic schools.
Staff Writer Charles E. Ramirez contributed.