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Whitmer: Delayed virus aid may lead to slower vaccinations

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, December 3, 2020 photo
Office of the Governor
/
Associated Press

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday pressed state lawmakers to allocate billions in federal COVID-19 aid, warning that a delay could slow Michigan’s vaccination rate and efforts to reopen schools and help ailing businesses.

The push coincided with Senate Republicans’ release of a $2.2 billion coronavirus relief plan, which is less than half of what the Democratic governor proposed spending on one three weeks ago.

“We may fall on the priority list of supplies and as a result see a slowdown in our vaccination rate,” Whitmer said during a news conference. “This is a very real threat.”

Six weeks after Congress and then-President Donald Trump enacted the most recent round of funding, the GOP-led Legislature and governor have not agreed to disburse the aid, which would go toward things such as vaccine distribution and virus testing, K-12 schools, businesses, emergency rental assistance.

Asked how much vaccine Michigan could lose if it ran into funding problems, Whitmer said “it’s hard to put a specific number on it.”

There was some movement on the spending issue Tuesday. Senate Republicans unveiled their own proposal less than a week after House Republicans approved nearly $3.6 billion in spending, including more than $2.6 billion in federal funds. GOP legislators contend there is no need to release all $5 billion in federal aid immediately.

“Instead of issuing a blank check for the governor to use without a detailed plan, our plan funds our state’s most pressing needs and saves additional resources so we can continue to assess the situation and have the ability to respond to problems as they arise,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican.

The Senate legislation, unlike the House bills, would not tie school funding to the governor agreeing to cede the state health department’s authority to prohibit in-person instruction or sports to local health officials. It would, however, cut nearly $10.4 million in spending to eliminate roughly 62 jobs at the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Liquor Control Commission. Both agencies have fined businesses for violating COVID-19 regulations.

Under the Senate plan, $500 million in state funding would be used to offset businesses’ property tax payments and licensing and inspection fees and to boost the unemployment trust fund. Whitmer in late December vetoed legislators’ attempt to deposit tax dollars into the fund, which is supported by unemployment taxes assessed on businesses.