Michigan lawmakers, governor agree to $465M in virus aid

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Michigan lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed to a $465 million pandemic spending plan, including relief payments to businesses and workers struggling to stay afloat because of the coronavirus and government restrictions to curb its spread.

The legislation received overwhelming Senate support late Friday and is expected to win House passage on Monday before legislators adjourn for the year. Nearly half of the funding would be used to continue, through March, a maximum 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in a year instead of 20 weeks.

The bill would provide $45 million in assistance to employees who have been laid off or seen their hours cut due to restrictions under a state health department order that has prohibited indoor restaurant dining and closed entertainment venues. A worker could get up to $1,650.

Small businesses affected by the recent orders, those with no more than 100 employees, would receive $55 million in grants – up to $20,000 if they had to close, $15,000 if they partially closed. Certain concert and other live-entertainment sites could qualify for $40,000 as part of a separate $3.5 million grant program.

“If we lost all these small stages across the state, it would be a disaster for Michigan. They are economic drivers. They are a cultural experience,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the top Democrat on the Senate budget panel.

He said the legislation is not perfect but reflects a compromise – one that the Democratic governor and members of both parties in the Republican-controlled Legislature “can all celebrate and, more importantly, the people of Michigan can celebrate.”

The deal also has funding for the health response, including testing – $51 million for vaccine distribution, a continuation of a $2 hourly raise for direct care workers, and aid to hospitals and nursing homes.

“This bill does not mark the end of the fight against COVID-19, but it is another critical step in helping Michiganders battle the virus and survive the repeated shutdowns of our economy,” said the sponsor, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican.

The state budget office said tax revenues are much higher than expected. Federal funds would be used instead of state dollars if Congress later OKs relief to states.

The measure would spend up to $3.4 million for rapid testing of teachers and other school employees, and $2.5 million so additional teachers receive $500 that many got earlier in the year in recognition of their work during the outbreak.

The Senate‘s 35-2 vote came just over two weeks after Whitmer requested $400 million in supplemental spending, including $100 million in direct relief to people and businesses hit hardest by the pandemic.

Her budget office had said much of the funding was needed to continue critical response activities that cannot be funded with previously authorized U.S. aid after Dec. 30 under federal law. Congress was negotiating an almost $1 trillion COVID-19 economic relief package that could be finalized over the weekend.

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