Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer seeks $400M in virus spending in Legislature

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked Michigan lawmakers to approve $300 million in state spending to fight the coronavirus into 2021, including money to support the broad-based distribution of pending vaccines.

The request, made Thursday, is in addition to the Democratic governor's previous call for $100 million in direct aid to people and businesses hit hardest by the pandemic. Specifics on the $100 million in relief are light but expected to be negotiated with the Republican-led Legislature. State budget director Chris Kolb said it should be split in half between families and small businesses.

COVID-19 funding and other outbreak-related bills are a top priority in the remaining two weeks of the two-year session. The state budget office said the $300 million is needed to continue critical response activities that cannot be funded with previously authorized U.S. aid after Dec. 30 under federal law. It is unclear if Congress will enact an additional round of federal relief by year's end.

“The Legislature has indicated a willingness to work with us quickly to ensure we are providing additional support for the people of Michigan,” Kolb said. “With the recent surge we have seen in the spread of the virus, and knowing the large need that exists for small businesses and people across the state, I think everyone understands the importance of getting this supplemental approved as soon as we can.”

The Whitmer administration has prohibited indoor restaurant dining and closed various entertainment businesses under an order designed to stem a spike in COVID-19 cases. The governor has said the restrictions may be extended beyond Tuesday, when they are due to end.

Included in the budget proposal is $192 million for the state health department to continue tracing, testing and a $2 hourly wage increase for “direct care” workers, including those in nursing homes and home health aides. The funding also would help expand the health care system's capacity to distribute vaccines that may be available to the mass public by late spring.

The state environmental agency would get $25 million to continue wastewater surveillance to detect and monitor the virus within communities. Some $10 million would reduce child care costs for essential workers. Other funds would be used to inspect migrant housing in the 2021 and 2022 growing seasons, do weekly testing of all prisoners and corrections staff, combat infections at state veterans homes and test National Guard members.