Legislature OKs $880M spending bill, rejects Dem asks for mental health, sick leave

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

After a long Wednesday session that continued into the evening, the Michigan Legislature passed an $880 million supplemental spending plan now headed for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

Those funds include millions in support for small businesses, health care providers, local governments and more that are struggling with the financial impacts from Michigan’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Senate Bill 690 appropriates a total of $880 million in federal dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It was ultimately adopted by the Senate via a unanimous vote, but not before legislative Republicans struck down 10 amendments proposed by Democrats.

The defeated amendments were introduced by state Sens. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) and Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing), and requested additional funds for mental health support, summer school programs, paid sick leave, increased hazard pay, unemployment relief, nursing homes and the state’s homeless population.

Michigan has $2.8B left in federal COVID-19 relief, some lawmakers want flexibility to spend it

Sponsor Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) repeatedly thanked Democrats for their good intentions after each floor speech but insisted that the bill already has funds in place to address each issue.

SB 690 appropriates:

  • $200 million for local government support in addressing COVID-19
  • $125 million in child care relief
  • $117 in direct care worker hazard pay increases
  • $100 million in small business grants
  • $100 million in public safety officer hazard pay
  • $60 million to establish a rental assistance program
  • $43 million to assist public schools in their COVID-19 response
  • $40 million in testing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) for priority industries like agriculture
  • $29 million in additional support and workers for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency
  • $25 million in water utility assistance (maximum of $700 per household)
  • $10 million in grants for food banks
  • $10 million in grants for the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) to help businesses reopen safely
  • $5.1 million in additional funds for inpatient behavioral health providers
  • $5 million in multicultural integration funding for vulnerable populations
  • $4 million in grants to domestic violence shelters
  • $2.5 million for a hospitality industry employee fund
  • $1.4 million for additional staffing at skilled nursing facilities to perform infection control surveys

State faces $6.3B budget shortfall as COVID-19 craters revenues

“As we rebound and rebuild from COVID-19, this federal funding will help those affected by the pandemic in a variety of ways,” House Appropriations Chair Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) said in a statement. “… It’s an important step to take as Michigan reopens after months of COVID-19 shutdown mandated by the governor’s unilateral executive orders.”

Whitmer praised the passage of the Fiscal Year 2020 supplemental on Wednesday, signaling her support for SB 690 and thanking lawmakers on both sides for putting politics aside to make it happen.

“By putting these federal funds to work now we are able to provide direct relief across Michigan to help families, keep workers safe, and support small businesses without waiting for further federal guidance,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer noted that there is still a need for Congress to take action and provide additional support to states, as the federal government currently does not allow CARES Act money to fill in other state budget holes that were brought on by COVID-19.

The state is facing a $6.3 billion budget shortfall across fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

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Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), spoke along similar lines. In a statement, Jacobs said that Wednesday’s legislative action was promising but dire fiscal issues remain.

“We appreciate the bipartisan, unanimous action today to help Michiganders weather this crisis, but we also can’t let today’s good news cloud the fact that there’s still a significant state budget crisis — and a dire need for new revenue — looming,” Jacobs said.

“We hope this bipartisan agreement can continue in the weeks and months ahead with lawmakers working together to advocate for more federal funding and flexibility and making sound, strategic budget decisions that focus on new revenue and investment instead of drastic cuts.”

Several school officials expressed disappointment that the bill did not address education funding. Schools start their fiscal years on July 1; three months before the state does on Oct. 1 .

“Any additional school funding cuts could hamper a safe return to school and likely exacerbate the growing inequities in our schools, disproportionately affecting students with the greatest hurdles to learning,” said Randy Liepa, Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) superintendent. 

“From the digital divide to schools struggling to serve the needs of special education students, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the glaring disparities already in place in our broken school funding approach. As Michigan’s schools reopen, students will only continue falling further behind without a new school funding approach that helps them achieve and succeed.”