Michigan Legislature's $4.2B COVID-19 relief package contingent on curbing Whitmer's emergency powers

Michigan Legislature
Posted at 9:47 AM, Mar 03, 2021

(WXYZ) — The Michigan Legislature has begun final legislative approval on a $4.2 billion COVID-19 relief package.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been repeatedly calling on the Legislature to act on approving federal funds for the state.

“This plan responsibly and effectively puts billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 funding to use meeting our state’s most critical needs — getting more people the lifesaving vaccines, increasing testing and supporting our struggling families and job providers,” state Senator Jim Stamas said. “While providing vital rental assistance, supporting our front-line workers and maintaining oversight over this important funding, this plan focuses heavily on educating our students. We’re directing $2 billion to help determine any learning loss due to the pandemic and help our affected students catch up.”

The COVID-19 relief bills were approved by the Senate on Tuesday and are expected to be passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. After passage by the House, the bills will go to the governor to be signed.

House Bill 4047 includes $2.3 billion in total funding to meet the goals of ensuring healthier families and communities and helping create a healthier economy, such as:

  • $110 million in additional support for vaccine distribution. $36.7 million is dedicated to improving the vaccine rollout. The rest of the funds will be held in reserve until vaccine doses are available and the governor’s plan is completed.
  • $204 million for COVID-19 testing, including $37.5 million to increase virus testing for students, teachers and staff in order to help in-person learning resume statewide as soon as possible. The funding also includes $25 million for nursing home testing.
  • $370 million in contingent COVID-19 testing funds. This full-funding of testing is contingent on the governor signing Senate Bill 1, which would require the state health department to receive legislative approval of emergency orders beyond 28 days and to provide the science and data being used to make emergency public health declarations.
  • $150 million to increase pay for direct care workers on the front lines of fighting the virus in hospitals and nursing homes.
  • $33.4 million for mental health services and substance abuse prevention.
  • $300 million to assist workers and businesses facing financial ruin. These grants will offset property tax payments for affected businesses.
  • $1.3 million to provide home-delivered meals to seniors, using organizations such as Meals on Wheels.
  • $150 million to repay the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund for fraudulent benefits paid out by the Unemployment Insurance Agency.
  • $283 million in emergency rental assistance.
  • $55 million for grants to help struggling businesses with unemployment taxes.
  • $50 million to reimburse Michigan businesses that were charged licensing and inspection fees by the state even when their businesses were closed through no fault of their own.

HB 4048includes $2 billion in school funding to help build a healthier future, such as:

  • A minimum of $450 per pupil to tackle learning loss associated with school closures.
  • $189 million to support summer school to help students catch up.
  • $10 million to reimburse parents for costs associated with summer school.
  • $20 million for student mental health services.
  • $11.7 million for benchmark assessments in reading and math.
  • $87 million in federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) grants for nonpublic schools.

The Legislature is withholding $840 million in the school funding in HB 4048; this is tied to the governor signing HB 4049, which would prevent the Department of Health and Human Services director from issuing an emergency public health order that closes a school to in-person instruction or prohibits a qualified sporting event during a coronavirus epidemic.

Sporting events would include certain events and team practices of schools, colleges and universities, and local organizations.

HB 4049 would also add four criteria that must be met for a local health department to close schools to in-person instruction or to prohibit qualified sporting events as part of a coronavirus emergency public health order, including:

  • Confirmed local coronavirus cases rise above 55 per 1 million within a 14-day period.
  • Percentage of local positive coronavirus tests rise above 10% within a 14-day period.
  • Surge capacity falls below 20% in admissions or patient transfers for each local health facility.
  • Coronavirus local hospitalizations increase by 25% or more within a 14-day period.