Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is hoping lawmakers returning from their hunting break this week will focus on COVID-19 relief, unemployment benefits, a mask mandate and preparations for vaccine distribution.
In a letter to the top legislative leaders on Wednesday — Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) and House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) — Whitmer signaled that hopes the leaders will adopt her priorities to contain COVID-19 as the virus continues to ravage the state.
“At the current rate, we may be hitting our 2020 peak for daily deaths right around the Christmas holiday,” Whitmer wrote. “… While there is real hope on the horizon with multiple vaccines becoming available in the coming weeks and months, we are entering what could be a very dark and deadly winter.”
The quadrant is scheduled to meet with Whitmer and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist on Tuesday. The state Legislature is also set to resume that day after taking weeks off for its traditional November hunting break.
Shirkey spokesperson Amber McCann issued a statement critical of the governor.
“Sen. Shirkey is glad to see the governor reverse her position that there is nothing she can do for the workers and businesses impacted by her shut down orders,” she said. “He is not able to endorse the Governor’s plan without having access to the details, specifically a funding source.The Senate is actively working on a responsible plan to get dollars to Michiganders in need. We will share that soon and would welcome support from the Whitmer Administration.”
A Chatfield spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
The first priority Whitmer lays out is for lawmakers to pass a $100 million, state-based COVID-19 relief plan to provide direct financial support for suffering families and small businesses.
“As you know, Michigan is still facing a shortfall of up to $1 billion for next year, so it is incumbent upon all of us to avoid the temptation to spend limited dollars on non-critical projects,” Whitmer added.
Whitmer, Ananich and Greig sent a joint letter to congressional leaders on Nov. 19 asking for a long-awaited federal COVID-19 relief bill. Shirkey and Chatfield declined to sign onto that letter, but instead delivered their own letter regarding federal aid to President Donald Trump the next day during their visit to the White House, which also included a discussion of Michigan’s election and its aftermath. The president has pursued a number of avenues to try and overturn election results in battleground states but has been unsuccessful in court and the formal transition process to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration has begun.
Both Michigan GOP leaders claimed that they chose to write their own letter because they felt it was “important to represent our position distinctly from the governor’s.”
In addition to COVID relief funds, Whitmer also requested that the Legislature immediately pass a permanent extension of unemployment benefits. Lawmakers had codified Whitmer’s executive order months ago to temporarily extend unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, but that bipartisan legislation will expire at the end of the year.
“Let us work together again to make this extension permanent. Further, I hope that you will increase the weekly benefit and permanently expand our top-in-the- nation Workshare program,” Whitmer said.
Whitmer further requested that state legislators help improve mask-wearing compliance by passing their own mask mandate. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has implemented emergency pandemic rules regarding mask requirements and gathering limits, but Whitmer has repeatedly noted that GOP leaders’ failure to embrace masks as a way to slow COVID-19 spread has hurt statewide compliance.
She added that there should be a focus on spending on direct public costs, as federal COVID-19 funds expire at the end of December.
“In the absence of federal funding, we also need funding to begin preparations for vaccine distribution and administration,” Whitmer said.