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Michigan Dems want quick vote to disburse federal virus aid

$100 bills counted photo

Democratic lawmakers called Monday for a quick up-or-down vote on disbursing $5 billion in federal coronavirus relief throughout Michigan, saying the funding should not be delayed by Republicans pushing to curtail state-issued COVID-19 restrictions.

The aid was enacted by Congress and then-President Donald Trump five weeks ago. It includes money for vaccine distribution, virus testing, food and rental assistance, and education. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislators have proposed also using state funds to help schools and restaurants, which resumed indoor dining Monday after a 2 1/2-month ban.

The House GOP last week outlined a $3.5 billion supplemental plan that would withhold nearly $1.8 billion in federal K-12 aid unless the Democratic governor signs a law ceding the state health department’s authority to prohibit in-person instruction and sports to local health departments. Counties could only bar the activities if certain case, testing and hospitalization metrics were exceeded.

It is “simply unacceptable” for Michiganders’ tax dollars to be “languishing in Washington, D.C., and not being here in the state for us to use to get folks back on their feet and to get our economy kickstarted and to help stop the spread of this pandemic,” said House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski of Washtenaw County’s Scio Township.

She opposed removing powers from the executive branch, including the state Department of Health and Human Services, and noted that school districts currently have flexibility on whether to provide face-to-face classes. The Whitmer administration in mid-November prohibited in-person instruction at high schools amid spiking cases — angering Republicans — and lifted it a month later.

“We need to get these dollars to work quickly and efficiently, not add more strings,” Lasinski said.

A message seeking comment was left with the House GOP.