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Michigan Legislature approves $1.2B bill to combat COVID-19

Benton Harbor High School parking lot COVID-19 drive-thru testing site.
Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium
Associated Press
Benton Harbor High School parking lot COVID-19 drive-thru testing site.

It will be funded with half discretionary and half nondiscretionary federal pandemic dollars

Michigan lawmakers on Tuesday passed a $1.2 billion spending bill to combat COVID-19, including $300 million to help hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities give recruitment and retention bonuses to workers.

The pending allocation is the latest from aid that was enacted by Congress and President Joe Biden nearly a year ago. It will be funded with half discretionary and half nondiscretionary federal pandemic dollars, leaving Michigan with $4.7 billion of the $6.5 billion with which it has broad flexibility and $1.2 billion in remaining nondiscretionary funding, according to the state budget office.

The Republican-led Senate and House approved the legislation 36-2 and 98-6. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will sign it after senators concur with a House change.

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association said the state had 875, or 4%, fewer staffed inpatient beds in November than it did a year before due to employee shortages. Many health care facilities have 20% or higher workforce vacancy rates, spokesperson John Karasinski said.

“It will provide reinforcements for weary workers at short-staffed hospitals and other health care providers who have bravely battled this pandemic the past two years,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican, said of the bill.

The measure includes recruitment and retention funds; $150 million for school safety, including to buy coronavirus tests to keep in-person learning intact; $100 million for early treatment of patients with therapeutics to blunt the worst effects of the virus; and $70 million in grants to adult foster care facilities and homes for the aged.

The sponsor, Republican Rep. Julie Calley of Portland, said expanding access to treatments such as monoclonal antibodies — including at eight additional sites — will help more residents recover without needing to go to the hospital.

Nursing homes would receive $39 million to improve air quality, create isolation areas and negative pressure rooms, and convert multiresident rooms to single-resident rooms. Hospitals with the most COVID-19 patients would be prioritized for $10 million in pilot funding to install ultraviolet lighting in rooms. Roughly $10 million would be used to plan and design a new state public health laboratory.

Whitmer last year proposed $220 million to build a new lab. She said the current one in Lansing is inadequate, saying more room is needed and there is too much reliance on private labs where it costs more to process coronavirus tests. The legislation would require the state health department to give legislators a comparative assessment of constructing new labs, expanding or renovating existing ones or repurposing another state-owned building.

“We are finally going to see many remarkable investments where they are desperately needed,” said House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski. The Democrat from Washtenaw County’s Scio Township expressed frustration that the Legislature has not allocated all federal assistance from a package signed by then-President Donald Trump in late 2020.

Republicans say they have released the funds as needed, and some funding that was previously allotted has not yet been spent.

The votes came as infections and hospitalizations have declined from pandemic highs. The number of hospitalized adults with confirmed cases in Michigan, around 2,500, was down from nearly 4,600 three weeks ago. The seven-day average of new infections was 6,812 on Monday, about a third of the peak.

Nearly 33,000 people with confirmed or probable infections have died. About 62% of residents ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated. Half of those ages 12 and up who are fully vaccinated have gotten a booster shot.