Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs $106M relief bill, extends unemployment benefits

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a $106 million bipartisan relief bill to provide families and small businesses support while also extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks.

Whitmer announced the signing during a COVID-19 news conference on Tuesday as she spoke on the state of COVID-19 in Michigan along with Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun at 11:30 a.m. 

In Whitmer's first speech since before Christmas, she announced the signing of the bill which includes a total of $55 million for small businesses which will be available in up to $20,000 in grants per business. Additionally, $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 for live music and entertainment is available, and $45 million in direct payments to workers who have bene laid off or furloughed.

"I proposed this stimulus plan to the legislature in November because I know how much our families, frontline workers, and small businesses need relief. This bipartisan bill will provide families and businesses the support they need to stay afloat as we continue working to distribute the safe and effective vaccine and eliminate COVID-19 once and for all," said Governor Whitmer. "There is still more work to do to eliminate this virus and grow our economy. All Michiganders have a personal responsibility to do their part and mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. We will beat this virus together." 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs $106 million COVID-19 relief bill for small businesses.

Whitmer said the bill is a step in the right direction but still isn't enough.

"This [relief bill] is a positive step but there is still much more work to do to eliminate the virus and to grow our economy," Whitmer said.

In signing the bill, Whitmer line-item vetoed items that were not subject to the negotiated agreement, including $220 million in taxpayer money to the employer-owned Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund - a pool of funds designed to help businesses fund benefits for laid-off workers.

In a press release, Whitmer said general fund dollars must be used to fund essential services like vaccines and PPE, not tax breaks for big businesses. 

Whitmer also signed a bill that extends COVID-19 unemployment benefits from 20 weeks to 26 weeks until the end of March 2021.

"No Michigander should have to worry about how to put food on the table or pay their bills, especially during a global pandemic," said Governor Whitmer. "These bipartisan bills are an important step in providing immediate relief for working families, but there is more work to do. I urge the legislature to take further action to make this permanent. 40 states, including all of our neighbors, automatically provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment relief. Michiganders deserve better than a short-term extension that expires in March. It’s time to work together on a bipartisan, long-term solution for working families." 

Casinos, movie theaters and bowling alleys were allowed to reopen before Christmas but in-person dining and other restrictions are still in place through at least January 15, 2021. You can see a full list of what is and is not open here

Meanwhile, the state's medical director Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said health officials are continuing to see improvements in the three key COVID-19 metrics in the state. 

Case rates in the state have been declining in all regions for 38 days now and is at 279 cases per million people per day. The average case rate in Michigan peaked at 739 cases per million on Nov. 14.

The percent positive rate has been declining in the state for multiple weeks now and is at 8.4%. This rate recently peaked at 14.3% on Dec. 4. 

Dr. Khaldun has said a percent positive rate below 3% indicates community spread isn't happening. 

Also, the percent of hospital beds being used for COVID-19 patients has also been declining. As of Dec. 29, 13.8% of hospital beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. This peaked at 20.1% on Dec. 1. 

Dr. Khaldun did mention that testing is lower than it has been in recent months, and is currently at an average of 37,300 tests per day. At one point, nearly 55,000 tests in Michigan were happening daily on average. 

You can find a testing site near you at michigan.gov/coronavirustest.