Michigan Senate leader's business OK'd for second federal loan amid COVID aid fight

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — A business owned by Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has been approved for $1.7 million more in federal assistance as Democrats argue that he's not moving quickly enough to sign off on COVID-19 aid provided to the state as a whole.

Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is the owner and founder of Orbitform, a Jackson-based engineering business, according to his Senate website. The U.S. Small Business Administration authorized a $1.7 million loan for Orbitform through the Paycheck Protection Program on Jan. 21, according to data disclosed by the agency.

Orbitform received a $1.8 million loan in April 2020 through the program, which provides money to help businesses keep their workers employed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loans can be forgiven if employee and compensation levels are maintained.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

Shirkey is no longer involved in the day-to-day management of Orbitform, said Matt Sweeney, director for the Senate Republicans' communications office.

"If the company received a PPP loan, it would presumably be for the same reasons thousands of other companies did — to keep paying their employees," Sweeney said.

Orbitform's second loan was approved two days after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer unveiled her $5.6 billion COVID-19 recovery plan that proposed using federal relief dollars to boost schools, vaccine distribution and testing and tracing efforts.

Republicans who control the state Legislature have delayed allocating the funds. The Senate approved a $2 billion plan on Thursday, 37 days after Whitmer's proposal. The Senate bills now have to go to the House, which has its own proposal.

The Senate GOP plan failed to allocate $4 billion in federal relief money, including $2 billion in food assistance and $378 million in rental assistance, according to Whitmer's office. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said the state's food assistance program has enough money now.

"Our plan funds our state’s most pressing needs and saves additional resources so we can continue to assess the situation and respond to problems as they arise," Stamas said Thursday.

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On Friday, Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, said it was "outrageous" that Shirkey's business was taking more federal assistance while the Senate is not allocating all of Michigan's relief funding.

"While he is personally enriching himself or his business, there are Michiganders who are not getting the full support that should be sent to them," Moss said.

Senate Republicans are picking winners and losers during a pandemic by holding back billions of dollars, said Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

"It is unconscionable that Mike Shirkey would accept two PPP loans from the federal government on behalf of his company while at the same time denying COVID relief for the rest of Michigan," Barnes said.

Sweeney denied that the Senate was "withholding money."

"This week we passed a bill that will send schools more than $1 billion, provide rental assistance and improve Michigan’s vaccination efforts," Sweeney said. "We’re appropriating dollars in installments to avoid the kind of mismanagement and fraud we’ve seen in the Unemployment Agency and elsewhere."

The Paycheck Protection Program has approved 7,065,800 loans worth $662 billion, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The program allowed certain eligible borrowers that previously received a loan to apply for a second draw loan.

Orbitform, which didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, provides provides "world-class prototype engineering services for assembly of parts and specialized forming and fastening," according to Shirkey's website.