LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday unveiled a $5.6 billion plan to combat and recover from the coronavirus pandemic, proposing the use of billions in federal relief and $575 million in surplus state funds.
The request will go to Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature on Wednesday, less than a month after Congress and President Trump enacted additional COVID-19 aid that will flow through states and fund priorities such as vaccine distribution, testing, tracing, higher food assistance benefits and new rental assistance.
A major facet of the Democratic governor’s proposal would allocate $300 million in state dollars — nearly $2 billion when federal funding is counted — to help K-12 schools offer the option of in-person instruction by March 1 and to address pandemic-related learning loss. Districts with higher numbers of disadvantaged students or those with disabilities would receive more money.
Whitmer also proposed $225 million for three new economic-development programs, including additional grants to restaurants that cannot allow indoor dining under a state order.
The plan is focused on protecting public health, getting students back on track and jumpstarting the economy, she said about a month after signing a supplemental budget bill that helped small businesses.
“We can take strong bipartisan action again on behalf of Michiganders everywhere,” Whitmer said from Washington, D.C., where she planned to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
The governor again called for permanently extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, from 20, after her decision to veto a deposit into the unemployment trust fund last month nixed a temporary continuation. Whitmer, for the first time, also urged lawmakers to renew “Good Jobs for Michigan” tax incentives, which expired in 2019 and were used to attract large-scale business expansions.
A bill that would have reauthorized the program died last session but was supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Clarklake Republican, said it was good to see the governor “finally come around” to policies previously advanced by the GOP — like providing funding to waive penalties and interest for businesses that could not pay their summer property taxes on time.
“Senate Republicans will take a look at what the governor has proposed and see where we can make improvements,” he said.
Whitmer also proposed $5 million in funding for security upgrades related to the new ban on openly carried guns in the Capitol.
The governor said she hopes $90 million in federal vaccine funding will bring Michigan closer to its goal of 50,000 shots in arms per day. About 29,000 doses a day were administered last week.
Distributor McKesson notified the state that nearly 12,000 Moderna doses that were shipped Sunday were spoiled after getting too cold. Replacement doses were sent Monday and Tuesday.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the city received 6,000 vaccine doses this week, short of the 9,000 to 10,000 it had expected. Detroit has opened free vaccinations at the downtown TCF Center for people 70 and older, and people 65 and older who drive them to the center.
“The day the Biden Administration tells us we can count on 10,000 (vaccines) a week we are going to bring the age down to 65,” he said.
The state health department encouraged universities and colleges to require weekly virus testing of all undergrads who live on or near campus and who participate in associated social activities. If that is not feasible, they should mandate testing for students on a regular but random basis, according to the guidance.
Many colleges and universities voluntarily waited to resume in-person classes until this week, two months after Whitmer prohibited face-to-face instruction to help curb a spike in cases.