Whitmer signs bill to reimburse Michigan troops who deployed to U.S. Capitol

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a bill meant to reimburse Michigan National Guard soldiers who deployed to the U.S. Capitol earlier this year and paid for their own meals.

Guard members said often they paid out of pocket because of undercooked or poor quality food served by a contractor.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, directs the state Department of Military and Veteran Affairs to issue a one-time grant to eligible soldiers who deployed to help with security at the Capitol. 

The agency is to divvy up $110,000 that state lawmakers raised and was donated for this purpose, by the number of eligible soldiers who deployed so that the grant is an equal amount for each soldier, according to the bill and a signing statement by Whitmer. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tours the security perimeter of the U.S. Capitol complex with members of the Michigan National Guard on Friday, March 5, 2021.

Nearly 1,000 Michigan troops were among soldiers and airmen from other states and the District of Columbia deployed to the Capitol to help local and federal law enforcement with security in the wake of the deadly attack on the building on Jan. 6. That would amount to roughly $110 per soldier.

Whitmer traveled to Washington in March to lunch with service members and thank them for their service.

"The Michigan National Guard has risen to the occasion over the past year as we responded to COVID-19, natural disasters, and civil unrest," she said in a statement.

"It is unacceptable that our service members faced hardships of inadequate meals while serving our nation. I am delighted to sign this bipartisan bill to recognize Michigan National Guard members for their service."  

The National Guard previously confirmed that at least 50 troops were sickened with gastrointestinal illness after complaints that they were served undercooked or poor quality food by a military contractor.

None of those sickened were hospitalized due to illness from the food, but some were treated at hospitals, a guard spokesman previously said. 

The guard maintained that the problem was not systemic and limited to a fraction of over 1.2 million meals served since Jan. 6. 

The contractor, Sardi's Catering, defended its food service and claimed that none of the cases of reported gastrointestinal illness among soldiers were linked to the company. 

Sardi's federal contract expired in March, and the Guard that month brought in Design Cuisine out of Arlington, Virginia, to serve troops at the Capitol, said Maj. Aaron Thacker, a spokesman for the joint task force that’s commanding the Capitol mission. Sardi’s continued to serve meals to Guard troops stationed at other locations in the Capitol region, he said.

A bill introduced in the U.S. House in March led by Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Holland calls for partial per diem to be paid retroactively to National Guard troops serving at the U.S. Capitol due to the food quality issue. 

That legislation, dubbed the GRUB Act, would provide roughly $43 a day to reimburse them for any money they spent out of pocket for food during their deployment at the Capitol. 

Huizenga applauded the state Legislature's passage of Albert's bill but said "some in our nation’s capital seem to have forgotten the service of the Michigan Guard."

"I have not. Washington must live up to its obligation to the Michigan Guard, as well as the additional states who deployed their Guardsmen and Guardswomen to the U.S. Capitol," he said. "Congress can help make our troops whole and fulfill this obligation by passing the GRUB Act.”

mburke@detroitnews.com