Michigan Senate approves per-child tax credit, ban on mask mandates for kids

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Senate voted Thursday in favor of two bills that would directly affect families, approving a $500 tax credit for each dependent an adult has and a ban on emergency orders that require children younger than 5 years old to wear masks.

The tax bill passed in a 25-10 vote. It now goes to the Michigan House for consideration. The proposal would allow residents to claim a $500 credit against their state income taxes for each dependent they have for 2022 through 2025.

Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, the sponsor of the bill, cited the pandemic and the rising costs of child care as reasons to support the new tax credit.

Fifth-grade teacher Kelli Mason of Scotch Elementary school prepares to send her five-year-old son Trent Mason off to school at Gretchko Elementary school during the first day of classes at Scotch Elementary School in West Bloomfield, Thursday, August 27, 2020, West Bloomfield.

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"Last year, the state of Michigan, we had the lowest birth rate since 1941," Runestad said. "Why? They cannot afford to have children."

Before 2012, Michigan offered a $600 tax deduction for dependent children under the age of 19.

Runestad's bill would reduce income tax revenue by $725 million per year, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency.

Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, spoke against the proposal, arguing that it would blow a hole in the state's budget for schools.

"It’s a financially reckless trade-off," she said.

The other Senate bill approved Thursday afternoon would bar the state Department of Health and Human Services from issuing emergency orders that require children younger than 5 to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. It passed in a party-line vote of 20-15. 

The vote came 27 days after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration announced it would expand the state's mask requirement to children from the ages of 2 to 4.

Previously, Michigan's mask policies had exempted kids younger than 5. The change came as Michigan was seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, including climbing infection rates among young people. The Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics commended the order from the Whitmer administration.

"We know that wearing a mask significantly reduces the spread of infection and should be part of the comprehensive strategy to reduce COVID-19, including for children age 2 and up,” organization President Dr. Matthew Hornik said. "Use of masks does not restrict oxygen in the lungs even in children, it is recommended to wear a mask with layers to filter droplets effectively."

But Sen. Curtis VanderWall, R-Mason, said very young children would not be able to wear masks properly.

The state's latest epidemic order still includes a requirement that children 2 years and older wear masks at indoor gatherings. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services eased the mask policy statewide, stipulating that people generally don't have to wear them outdoors and fully vaccinated people won't have to wear masks at indoor residential gatherings.

Whitmer is unlikely to sign the Senate Republicans' proposed ban on mask requirements for young children.