Dem leader calls for GOP Legislature to stop stalling, release $5.6B in federal COVID funds

State Rep. Donna Lasinski and House Democrats announce their unemployment benefits package, Sept. 3, 2019 | Nick Manes

State House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) on Monday called on GOP legislative leaders to immediately vote to release billions of federal stimulus dollars for Michiganders impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal funds of more than $5.6 billion were appropriated nearly two months ago, with a bipartisan vote in Congress and a green light from then-President Donald Trump on a large COVID-19 relief bill. The GOP-led Michigan Legislature still needs to approve final legislation to release the funds and send it to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

“It’s been 21 days since Michigan House Democrats called on our colleagues to take a simple up-or-down vote. … But what have the House Republicans done? They’ve waited,” Lasinski said during a virtual press conference.

“This is not a partisan issue, but the Republicans are insisting on making it one,” she added.

The funds, once released, would go toward Michigan’s vaccine distribution system — at a crucial time, as the state is expecting more shipments soon — as well as COVID-19 testing and tracing, relief for hungry Michigan families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), resources for schools, support for small businesses and more.

House COVID plan requires vaccine recipients be notified if aborted fetuses were used in development

The federal dollars are “use it or lose it” and will expire in September, Lasinski noted, and she argued that Michiganders need relief now. She said Republicans are continuing to hold the money “hostage” to play “political games.”

In February, the GOP-led state House passed a funding plan that allocated $868.5 million in federal dollars to the state, with those funds being broken up into quarterly supplementals. The plan was significantly less than the $3.6 billion the Democrats had proposed, and included a requirement that recipients of COVID-19 vaccines must be notified if aborted fetal tissue was used in the vaccine’s development.

The state Senate has not yet passed bills, but Republicans recently proposed a plan that would allocate $1.2 billion of federal COVID-19 relief funds to the state. Republicans in the Senate also want those dollars to be doled out in quarterly supplementals.

“The Legislature has approved over $4 billion to combat COVID-19 and its impact since this pandemic began. The Senate and House are working together to finalize another round of funding that prioritizes the most pressing needs, like more testing, better vaccine distribution and getting our kids back to school safely,” Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said.

Senate Republicans unveil COVID-19 relief plan, significantly less than Whitmer and House GOP plans

A spokesperson for House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) did not immediately return a request for comment.

As the budget debate has worn on, Republican leaders have clashed with Whitmer about her administration’s epidemic orders that have restricted indoor dining and youth contact sports and have introduced several measures taking emergency powers away. The Senate also has rejected almost 20 of Whitmer’s administrative appointments to express Republicans’ displeasure over her COVID actions.

“Federal dollars come to the state of Michigan with a lot of strings attached,” Lasinski said. “There’s very little discretion with federal dollars as to how they will be spent in the state. … [But] we simply cannot provide oversight for dollars that are sitting in Washington, D.C.

“The first step is the dollars have to be here in Michigan; they have to be put to work for families and businesses here in Michigan. And then we can provide the oversight as those dollars are going out the door.”