Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has a plan that she says will cripple COVID-19, get students back in schools and residents back to work.

Whitmer Recover

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan. 

The ambitious proposal, announced Tuesday and called the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan, relies heavily on federal funds already awarded to the state. But it will also require legislative buy-in from a GOP-controlled Michigan statehouse that has balked at previous requests from Whitmer.

The plan outlines how the governor wants to successfully vaccinate more people, provide new and additional funding to small businesses and schools, feed those most in need, and extend benefits for those unable to work because of the pandemic and related health orders.

“To help grow and strengthen our economy, we must provide crucial support for our families, small businesses and frontline workers,” Whitmer said in a news release. “The MI COVID Recovery Plan will help small businesses get through the winter, help us put more shots in arms and ramp up vaccine distribution, and get our kids back on track in school. It’s the right thing to do to protect public health and jumpstart our economy, and I’m ready to work with the Legislature to get it done.”

In addition to using federal funds to better deploy the vaccine, the plan includes $225 million for new economic development incentives and $300 million for schools to meet Whitmer’s goal of everyone offering in-person classes by March 1.

The announcement echoes previous requests from Whitmer for state lawmakers to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars for businesses and residents struggling to survive during the pandemic.

It also comes at a time when state health orders ban indoor dining, a move some restaurant and bar owners say has a far greater impact on their livelihoods than possible government relief.

Whitmer and her administration argue the public health orders are saving lives, pointing to available data that appears to show a correlation between gathering and business capacity restrictions and the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan.

However, any real health and economic recovery hinges on successfully vaccinating the broader public. Manufacturing, communication and administrative problems continue to hamper the rollout of available COVID-19 vaccines, although Whitmer and state health officials say procedures have greatly improved in recent days.

As of Monday, the state distributed more than 1 million doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to local health departments and hospitals. A little less than half of those doses – 487,959 – have actually been injected in people’s arms as of Sunday, according to state data.

The new plan references a proposal already offered by Whitmer and the administration: using available federal funds in the pursuit of vaccinating 50,000 people per day. Recently, state officials said they were injecting about 32,000 per day, but those rates rely on the availability of vaccine doses and the ability of administrators to successfully schedule appointments.

While the state of Michigan has more money available than anticipated at times during the pandemic, the uncertainty businesses face because of the virus leads to difficulty predicting tax funding for the foreseeable future, experts recently said.

Consumer spending and income taxes rose, aligned with a massive spike in unemployment benefits and the rise in online shopping.

“Our economic recovery is highly dependent on getting the public health situation under control, and her actions to address the COVID-19 pandemic have improved our fiscal outlook,” state Treasurer Rachel Eubanks said in a statement. “The MI COVID Recovery Plan will help us jumpstart our economy.”

The governor’s plan includes three initiatives backed with $225 million; the announcement did not specify whether this was new state funding or federal funds already approved. The plans are:

The Michigan Mainstreet Initiative: Grants for restaurants and other place-based businesses “to keep our Main Streets vibrant and our communities resilient.”

The Michigan Microenterprise Support Initiative: Funds for businesses with fewer than nine employees, “creating greater access to much-needed support.”

The Business Accelerator and Resiliency Initiative: “Grants to high-tech startups that can help our communities thrive.”

Several business leaders heralded Whitmer’s announcement.

“This plan addresses some of the major issues that must be overcome to win Michigan’s COVID-19 recovery: mitigating learning loss, rebuilding small businesses, attracting new jobs and upskilling our workforce,” said Jeff Donofrio, president/CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, in a statement distributed by Whitmer’s office. “We’re encouraged by the proposed one-time investments for each of these priorities, and look forward to working with the governor and our state’s leaders to recover and get back on the path to becoming a Top Ten state.”

Throughout the fall, Whitmer called on the Legislature to approve more than $100 million in direct COVID-19 relief. The proposal passed in the House and Senate includes grant programs from employees and businesses, both of which are now accepting applications.

The business grant program allows industries specifically affected by pandemic-related orders issued in November to apply for up to $20,000. Individual grants of up to $1,650 are also available for workers in these industries. Given the amount of money available and massive expected interest, eligible applicants are not expected to receive the full dollar amount.

Whitmer and other Democrats have called on the Legislature to pass a law to permanently extend benefit eligibility to 26 weeks, and the governor renewed that call on Tuesday.

However, she used her line-item veto authority to remove hundreds of millions of dollars from a bipartisan relief bill approved in late January.

Whitmer argued the bill included $220 million in unnecessary state-sponsored handouts for businesses. Republicans in the Legislature said she hurt businesses with the move – they also used legislative procedure to tie that funding to a proposal that extended how long someone could receive unemployment benefits.

Because of this maneuver, when Whitmer vetoed the funding she also essentially nixed a proposed 26-week benefit extension. State law allows someone to receive unemployment benefits for 20 weeks per claim, but Whitmer used executive orders to extend that to 26 weeks at the beginning of the pandemic. While the governor and lawmakers worked together to keep that extension in place through the end of 2020, GOP legislative moves and Whitmer’s veto combined to end the extension for claims filed this year.

(2) comments

wiseye

For her to state she has a planned roll-out to restart struggling businesses is galling. These barely-surviving businesses started up with none of her help and am certain they are able to perform their own re-openings. Ms. Governess, allow the restaurants, gyms, libraries to get back on line, as only their administrators know the routine it requires.

I believe the reaction to this virus is over-kill. The cure has certainly been worse than the disease.

revk8

Nowhere in her announcement does she accept any of the blame for the problems that she now wants the state legislature to fix. They didn't close restaurants and bars; she did. They didn't put seniors in harm's way by housing COVID patients in nursing homes; she did. They didn't reduce the quality of education by closing schools; she did. In the end, we're the ones who are going to have to fix her mess.

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