Senate panel OKs $4.4 billion in supplemental COVID relief

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A Senate panel Wednesday gave its stamp of approval Wednesday to bills that would distribute about $4.4 billion in supplemental funding, using the last of federal COVID relief funding approved by Congress in December. 

The supplemental spending bills will head to the full Senate floor next before they are considered by the GOP-led House and, lastly, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Sen. Jim Stamas in Senate chambers, Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

The spending plan was reported to the full Senate a few hours after a House panel began reporting its supplemental bills to the lower chamber. The Senate plan largely appropriates those federal funds approved in December, while the House's $13 billion plan addresses federal COVID relief dollars from December and March. 

Both the Senate and Whitmer have said they believe it's too soon to begin planning for some of the March dollars and are waiting on guidance from the U.S. Treasury about how the March money can be spent. 

“Our goal is to continue to be responsible with how we use this once-in-a-lifetime federal support to maximize the benefits for everyone in our state," Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said in a statement. "Much of the funding would help struggling families with food and rental assistance, provide important COVID-19 testing, and invest $1.4 billion in child care support to help people trying to return to work."

The two main funding bills passed unanimously through committee Wednesday, but Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-Lansing, said his caucus was still reviewing the details of the legislation.

State Sen. Curtis Hertel

"Our votes could always change on the floor because of that, but I fully believe that we can continue to work together as we have on this," Hertel said Wednesday. "At the end of this day, I believe this bill will help Michigan get through the end of this pandemic and help us recover faster out of it."

The Senate bills include about $1.4 billion for child care grants, $726 million for food assistance, $378 million in rental assistance, $347 million in COVID-19 testing funds and $260 million to help cover pandemic-related costs at hospitals and nursing facilities. 

Another $35 million would go toward substance abuse treatment and $32 million to mental health programs. 

About $943 million would restore school funding vetoed by the governor — $840 million of which would go to public schools, $10 million to help parents put their kids through summer school and $87 million for nonpublic schools. 

Of the $387 million in federal transportation funding, about $261 million will be tied to the passage of a bill ensuring the money goes to local road repair.