Whitmer calls on Senate GOP to increase federal COVID-19 recovery funds

Gov. asks Trump to impose national mask mandate

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hold up a "Vote" mask during a July 28, 2020 press conference | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday urged the President Trump administration and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to support a stronger economic recovery package for Americans.

Whitmer’s comments come as federal enhanced benefits of $600 per week are set to expire on Friday.

“If we are to continue to beat back this virus, and help our state recover, we need more help and leadership at the federal level,” Whitmer said at a press conference in Lansing.

She also declared the COVID-19 virus “is still very real” and called on Trump to embrace a national mask mandate. Whitmer has strengthened Michigan’s requirement in businesses due to an uptick in cases in recent weeks.

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

State Budget Director Chris Kolb said that the U.S. Senate Republican plan released Monday is “woefully lacking in many ways.”

“With the absence of fiscal support many states and localities with their budget shortfalls with a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kolb said. “There is not a single new dollar in the McConnell package dedicated to the needed economic relief of Michigan and the other 49 states. Frankly, it’s pretty unbelievable.”

Whtimer and Michigan GOP legislative leaders struck a deal on patching the current Fiscal Year 2020 budget and she’s expected to sign legislation soon.

But the state is running roughly $3 billion short for FY 2021, which begins on Oct. 1. The state budget is about $60 billion. Leaders have yet to come to an agreement for that budget.

U.S. Senate Republicans have rolled out a nearly $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill proposal after the Democratic-led U.S. House passed a $3 trillion plan known as the HEROES Act in May. The GOP plan reduces the current federal $600 weekly unemployment supplement to $200 per week through September. Democrats, on the other hand, have proposed continuing through January the current $600-a-week benefit.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been critical of McConnell and his GOP colleagues, but she also believes that public pressure has caused them to move closer to Democrats on this issue. 

“There’s a recognition that there’s going to be a bill,” told reporters about the Senate Republican plan. “They went from zero to now $1.3 [trillion]. That’s not enough, we need more. But we see the public evolution of their thinking.”

Kolb said the Whitmer administration prefers the U.S. House-passed HEROES Act.

House Dems pass massive infrastructure bill, GOP calls it ‘nonsense’

“The McConnell plan does not work for Michigan,” Kolb said.

Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO, said that his organization has joined several major business groups in Michigan in signing a letter urging the state congressional delegation to include state and local government funding in the next coronavirus relief package. Other groups include the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Business Leaders for Michigan, Michigan Manufacturers Association, Small Business Association of Michigan and Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Our state and local governments have been strapped for resources and will be strapped for resources as this crisis continues, just when our citizens need it the most,” Baruah said.

Whitmer was asked about schools reopening this fall and what it will look like. She said the decision of whether there’s online or in-person instruction is largely a local decision under her plan. The GOP-controlled state House last week passed legislation requiring in-person learning for K-5 students.

“We can’t dictate for all 800 districts precisely what a day looks like,” Whitmer said. “… We are three or four weeks out from when schools are supposed to resume. Our actions today are going to yield what the numbers are on those days when kids are supposed to go back to school. 

“So while I can’t tell you what is going to look like, I can tell that every day between now and then we are watching the numbers very closely,” she added. “That’s why masking up and tightening are protocols right now in hopes that we don’t have to take a step backward and that we can at least stay where we are right now.”  

The Advance reported on Monday that several school districts have formally announced plans for completely virtual instruction, although some have not made the final decision. They include: Lansing School District, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Ann Arbor Public Schools, East Lansing Public Schools, Waverly Community Schools, Okemos Public Schools and Melvindale-Northern Allen Public Schools.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.