Michigan Legislature OKs $125M for COVID-19, schools left out

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The Michigan Legislature on Tuesday night approved an additional $125 million to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in the state.

House Bill 4729, which passed through the Senate and House with unanimous support, allocates $50 million for hospital services and medical supplies and $40 million will go toward general efforts. The bill also sets aside $35 million to be transferred to needs as necessary.

A statewide coronavirus hotline will be open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-888-535-6136. Information can be found on the DHHS website or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention website.

“We are working with our governor to direct necessary funds to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) said in a statement. “Today’s actions make additional state dollars available to deploy across Michigan.  We also voted to access federal funds to help support efforts to combat the impact of the virus on our population and protect public health.”

Last week, the Legislature approved $15 million in set aside funds and $10 million in readily available funds for COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus.

The Legislature was in session for roughly 10 hours in order for GOP leaders to strike a deal with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for a much-needed supplemental deal amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan. 

During recess and breaks, cleaning staff could be seen on the House and Senate floor, sanitizing the desks of lawmakers. In fact, some of the lawmakers even thanked staff for providing that service, like state Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.)

After Tuesday night’s deal was struck, the Senate and House both adjourned until March 25.

March 17, 2020 graphic by Laina G. Stebbins

At the time of publication, the state has 65 positive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by a new coronavirus, but health officials believe the number is actually higher. 

“This plan will help keep Michigan families safe and give our scientists and first responders the tools they need to combat this disease,” state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering). “This is a public health crisis, and the people deserve to know their state government stands ready to deliver much-needed answers and resources.”

What wasn’t approved was any pay for hourly school employees or action to shorten the school year after Whitmer signed an executive order to close all K-12 schools for three weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A coalition of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators and Michigan Association of School Boards issued a statement Tuesday night in response to the inaction on specific education issues.

“Over the past few days, our organizations — from both the labor and management sides of the education community — have worked together to find a legislative solution to ensure all school employees continue to be paid during this crisis,” the statement said. “We agreed on an approach that would bring some certainty around pay and days/hours requirements to school districts and employees alike.”

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The group calls on Shirkey to reconvene the Senate to find a solution. 

“[School employees and districts] deserve nothing less, given the immense efforts overtaken since last Friday to continue engaging students in learning where possible and to ensure meals and other critical supports continue to flow to our students with the greatest need,” the statement said. 

Shirkey said the Senate will continue conversations about legislation to address the needs of the schools and is “exploring additional funding to extend the school year in the event temporary closures last longer than anticipated.”

Michigan League for Public Policy President and CEO Gilda Jacobs said she hopes discussions will continue on School Aid and education needs, but is pleased with the efforts toward COVID-19 relief funding. 

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“We appreciate the Legislature’s action today to address the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan and its potential impact on residents’ health, economic security and more,” Jacobs wrote in a statement. “The impact of the coronavirus will be far-reaching and will be especially devastating to workers with lower incomes. 

“Lawmakers will need to continue to work together on the 2021 state budget and other health and safety net improvements to benefit all residents, especially those who have been hit hardest by this crisis.”

“The situation surrounding this illness is changing rapidly, and we need to be flexible enough to provide a strong, agile response,” said Chatfield. “The coronavirus doesn’t care about politics, and neither can our response.”

The Michigan House and  Senate were in session all day and into the night Tuesday, even though the Michigan Capitol Building was closed to the public. Other public places also were shut down, due to executive orders signed by Whitmer in response to COVID-19. As previously reported by the Advance, there’s an exemption in the statewide ban on large gatherings for the Legislature to meet.  

Madeline Ciak
Madeline Ciak is a former Michigan Advance reporter. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12.
Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.