LANSING, MI – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer partially signed the COVID-19 relief plan presented to her by the Michigan legislature, approving $106 million for small business grants and direct payments to individuals.
Funding is now approved for $55 million in grants to small businesses affected by COVID-19, including $3.5 million just for entertainment venues, and $45 million in state aid to laid-off or furloughed workers.
In her Tuesday, Dec. 29 press conference, Whitmer credited the bipartisan-approved bill with providing relief to “families, frontline workers, and small businesses.”
“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,” she said in a release. “There is still more work to do to eliminate this virus and grow our economy.”
However, Whitmer approved less than a quarter of the $465 million supplemental bill passed with wide bipartisan support last week in the House and Senate. Whitmer vetoed 11 items in the bill, most prominently the $220 million allocation of tax revenue into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
The Governor said she vetoed the Trust Fund replenishment due to Republicans not negotiating that provision with her office beforehand. She also approved an extension of unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks.
“To be very clear, this will not impact individual workers,” Whitmer said of the Trust Fund veto. “General Fund dollars have got to be used to fund essential services, like vaccines and PPE not to give tax breaks to big businesses right now.”
Senate Bill 748 added $220 million from the state’s general fund into the dangerously low unemployment trust fund – which is where unemployment benefits are paid from. At the start of the pandemic, the trust fund had $4.6 billion, but has dropped to $864 million as of Dec. 21 – meaning more than 80% of the fund has dried up in nine months. Employers typically pay into the unemployment trust fund to cover benefits for laid off workers. Proponents of the veto say the bill would have essentially given large corporations tax cuts by not having to pay into the trust fund.
Whitmer justified the move by pointing to the federal stimulus approved by President Donald Trump on Sunday, Dec. 27. The impact to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund would be mitigated by the federal stimulus providing all unemployment recipients with an additional $300 a week.
“The continuation of these benefits coupled with the additional $300 per week for all claimants will provide our workers with the emergency financial assistance to buy essential items like groceries and prescription drugs,” according to the release.
Whitmer has line-item veto authority per Michigan law. The other vetoes are detailed in the filing she sent to the Secretary of State’s office. Messages have been left with the Governor’s and Secretary of State’s offices to explain the other vetoes.
Senate Republicans called the $220 million veto “shameful” and a “slap in the face” to Michigan workers.
“The governor’s veto of funding for unemployment assistance is a slap in the face of thousands of Michigan workers and businesses who are suffering due to her actions,” wrote the MI Senate GOP on Twitter.
Whitmer originally pushed the legislature at the beginning of December for $400 million to fund the state’s response to COVID-19. That included $192 million for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for testing, contact tracing, food assistance for children and continuing a $2-per-hour wage increase for direct care workers.
Elements of the bill not addressed in the Whitmer release include $115.3 million to hospitals and nursing homes to address health-care worker shortages and $79.1 million to expand testing and fund vaccine distribution.
Read more from MLive: