LANSING — Michigan lawmakers late Tuesday approved an additional $841 million in spending, primarily on pandemic relief, including for coronavirus testing at schools and emergency assistance to help low-income renters.
The supplemental funding was passed on 94-9 and 35-1 votes in the House and Senate as the state grapples with one of the country’s highest COVID-19 infection rates and record-high hospitalizations. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign it.
The bill, which legislators advanced on their final day of voting for the year, includes $736 million in nondiscretionary federal pandemic aid that Congress passed in March and last December. Of that, $150 million will go to schools to help them screen and test for the virus, which was half of the amount Whitmer sought. Another $168 million will go toward relief for airports, and $140 million will go toward emergency rental aid.
“If we don’t get that testing money out the door right now, schools are going to be in real trouble. If we want to continue in-person learning, the only way to do that is to have proper testing and proper contact tracing,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, the top Democrat on the Senate budget panel.
Federal funds also would go toward a range of areas, including genomic sequencing to identify variants, curbing the virus inside prisons, fighting substance abuse and supporting “strike teams” to help with onsite testing at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
The legislation includes $36 million in state funding to address the water crisis in Benton Harbor, where the supply is contaminated with lead, and $9 million to support the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic and replaced this year with an outdoor event.
The remaining $150 million in testing money for schools is included in a separate $1 billion-plus COVID spending bill the House passed 98-4 on Tuesday but the Senate will not consider until next year.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican, said he decided not to allocate all $300 million for schools now because of problems when the Michigan National Guard inadvertently confiscated testing kits from a K-12 district in his area to redistribute to other districts.
“It was just a bad process. I think we have a better one here,” he said, pointing to a new method and saying $150 million is “enough to give us some running room to figure that out.”
The House bill sent to the Senate for future consideration would provide funding to help hospitals recruit and retain workers amid a shortage, continue testing aid and boost early treatment of patients with monoclonal antibodies and other pending medicines such as antiviral pills.
Republicans rejected Democratic-proposed amendments that would give pandemic frontline workers $2,500 bonuses and nurses $5,000 bonuses, and up to $30,000 “hero” scholarships to people who earn health care degrees or certificates and commit to working in the state for at least four years.
Rep. Mary Whiteford, a Republican from Allegan County’s Casco Township, said her husband nearly died from COVID in April but got better after receiving antibody infusions.
“COVID is a terrible disease for so many of our Michiganders,” she said while speaking in support of the measure going to the Democratic governor. “It’s past time that we get in front of this with early treatment. Working together is the best thing that we can do.”
Whitmer said her administration and legislators found common ground to “help keep kids safe and learning in school, protect seniors in nursing homes and get vaccines out the door even faster.”
Democrats had been urging GOP lawmakers to release additional federal coronavirus funds, particularly those that were enacted nearly a year ago.
“I will analyze the legislation with key members of my administration, and I look forward to signing the supplemental soon,” Whitmer said.