Michigan Senate passes more than $500M in federal coronavirus relief spending

Lawmakers said more than $500 million in federal funding passed Wednesday was appropriated with input from senators from both parties and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office. (Shutterstock)

The Michigan Senate unanimously approved a $523.7 million stimulus bill Wednesday that would funnel new federal money to support child care, wages for front-line workers, unemployment benefits administration, testing supplies and more during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Lawmakers said the spending, made available through the federal CARES Act that passed in late March, was appropriated with input from Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature and the governor’s office. 

“It is a good step in the right direction for us all to be working together and trying to solve these problems together,” Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “I’m glad that at least in this issue we are working together and moving in the same direction.”

The spending represents around one-sixth of the $3 billion the state government received through the CARES Act. Another $800 million was given to Detroit and the four largest counties in the state, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Kent.

The money can’t be used to pay for things the state had already put into the budget or to pay for ongoing state costs  — “which is the number one thing we need,” Kurt Weiss, spokesman for the State Budget Office, told Bridge — despite the fact that there is estimated to be up to a $3 billion shortfall in the state’s budget due to revenue decreases during the pandemic.

It’s unclear how the state plans to spend the rest of the federal money made available through the CARES Act, though Weiss said “discussions are ongoing in DC” to make it possible for states to use the money to make up for revenue losses.

“We are hopeful that Congress can come together so Michigan and every other state across the country can account for the impacts to our existing budgets,” he said.

The legislation must be approved by the House and the governor before it becomes final.

Among other things, the bill includes: 

  • $178.2 million to the state Department of Health and Human Services to provide a wage increase to skilled nursing facility employees and “direct care” workers employed by the department and its contractors. It’s retroactive to April 1 and will go through September 30. Nursing home workers will get a $3 per hour wage increase while those who already received a $2 per hour wage increase in April will get a $1 per hour increase. 
  • $125 million to reimburse child care providers, who are required to pass along the money to the families they serve by reducing child care rates. Providers will receive 25 percent of their monthly billed amount or $300 per child, whatever is less. 
  • $100 million to municipal governments to provide $1,000 bonuses to police, firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and 911 operators.
  • $50 million for coronavirus testing supplies and personal protection equipment at hospitals. 
  • $30 million for school districts to buy devices to help with distance learning.  

The legislation also includes $11 million to hire 300 temporary employees at the state Unemployment Insurance Agency to help process unemployment benefit claims, $2.5 million in aid to hospitality workers and $12 million for coronavirus testing and protection equipment at food processing plants. 

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, introduced an amendment to remove $10 million included in the bill for benchmark testing in K-12 schools. “I would prefer that we spend our dollars actually educating and instructing children rather than organizing more testing,” he said. The amendment failed. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said the testing grants are optional, so no school district would be forced to do more testing. The money would be split between the schools that apply for and receive a grant.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. May 14 to reflect the correct amount of the relief package. An earlier version of this story, including the headline, included a slightly lower total that didn't reflect last-minute additions to the legislation.

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Wed, 05/13/2020 - 5:58pm

Dumb. The Governor should just veto this garbage and spend whatever she wants. She is the Duke of Michigan, after all, and these stupid serfs should just know their place and follow her royal directives.

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 7:56pm

This is the best news I have seen all month - both parties WORKING TOGETHER to help us, our children and the front line workers!

Wed, 05/13/2020 - 9:12pm

Seems like a solid bill... but it came from Republicans... some of whom are white or male... so THE SCIENCE SPEAKS AND SAYS IT MUST BE OPPOSED.

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 10:37am

I am wondering why there is $11 million in the bill to hire 300 temporary workers to help with unemployment when the Governor is talking about laying of 31,000 State workers. Couldn't some of those employees be transferred to do that work?