Michigan budget boosts child care, keeps caregiver pay hike

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LANSING — Michigan will make more kids eligible for child care subsidies, equip state troopers with body cameras and make permanent a pandemic wage hike for nursing home workers and other caregivers under the next state budget, poised for initial approval Tuesday.

The bipartisan $53 billion spending plan, which includes billions in federal COVID-19 funding, also will boost payments for child care providers and enable them to give $1,000 bonuses to new or existing staff. The state’s savings account will grow by $500 million.

As part of the deal, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed to a Republican-written provision to prevent the state and local governments from issuing coronavirus vaccine requirements that go further than plans outlined by President Joe Biden. He recently said the federal government would mandate shots for many health care workers and require that employers with at least 100 employees force them to get vaccinated or be tested weekly.

“We negotiated together in good faith,” the governor said at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island. “This budget makes bold investments in Michigan’s families, in our communities and in our small businesses.”

The GOP-led Legislature is expected to pass the plan this week so she can sign it before Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins. The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved one of two bills, which also includes $2 billion in supplemental spending this budget year. The $17 billion school aid budget was enacted in July.

Michigan will spend funding allotted for child care under the past two federal COVID-19 rescue laws. Much of it will help stabilize facilities hurt by the pandemic. Other funds will expand eligibility for child care subsidies to 185% of the federal poverty level instead of 150% for two years, raise payments to providers that serve lower-income children and waive families’ out-of-pocket copays.

Of the roughly 416,000 kids eligible for payment assistance through the state Child Care and Development program, about 25,000 are getting subsidized child care. The state estimates the expansion will make 105,000 additional children eligible, with roughly 6,000 new recipients enrolling.

As businesses emerge from the pandemic, they need workers, said state budget director Dave Massaron.

“Child care is a huge part of that, particularly when you look at the data for working mothers. This investment is something we all are incredibly proud of,” he said.

Infrastructure is another priority.

Michigan will spend about $200 million to replace or fix local bridges. Nearly $20 million will be set aside to repair or remove dams in the wake of disastrous Midland-area flooding in 2020. An additional $10 million will be used to replace lead pipes in Benton Harbor, where the drinking water has exceeded federal limits for the toxic metal that can disrupt children’s brain development.

The budget includes $460 million to fund a $2.35 hourly wage increase for “direct care” workers, such as home health aides. They have been paid $2 or $2.25 more an hour since last year due to the pandemic. The plan will cover the pay with base funding, a signal the hike will be permanent for future years.

“We’re approving a sustainable budget that supports vital services today and greatly reduces the potential need for cuts if the economy worsens tomorrow,” said House Appropriations Committee Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican who highlighted a $150 million deposit into the depleted unemployment benefits fund and spending on tourism, workforce development and infrastructure.

The budget also addresses police transparency by outfitting all enlisted state police personnel with body cameras. About 200 troopers, motor carrier officers and state property security officials currently have them because their work may not be captured by in-car cameras. But many do not.

The agency will buy 1,200 cameras for all troopers and sergeants assigned to uniform patrol.

Universities and community colleges will get a small, one-time 1% funding increase next fiscal year year along with a one-time 4% boost this year to partly offset a past pandemic-related reduction.

Several universities, including Michigan and Michigan State, have COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Republican-backed budget language bans the state and municipalities from requiring coronavirus vaccinations “except as provided by federal law or as a condition of receiving federal Medicare or Medicaid funding.”

Whitmer, who has repeatedly said she does not plan to mandate the vaccine, is generally OK with the restrictions. But she could declare the language unenforceable on public universities because they are independent schools.

The spending legislation says if government officials do establish a vaccine policy because of the pending federal requirement, they must offer exemptions if a doctor certifies it is detrimental to someone’s health or is not appropriate. Those who cite religious convictions or another “consistently held objection to immunization” also must get waivers.

The governor is expected strike a GOP-written provision that would prohibit the state health director or local officials from requiring masks for kids. At least 16 of 83 counties, including many of the most populated ones, mandate indoor masking at schools.

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