Whitmer signs most of COVID-19 relief package, vetoes bill limiting pandemic powers

By: - March 9, 2021 4:58 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Whitmer office photo

Updated, 8:59 p.m., 3/9/21

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed two bills in the COVID-19 relief funding package Tuesday afternoon, but vetoed another — as promised — that would have stripped her administration of key executive powers. 

Whitmer said she signed about $2.5 billion in supplemental funding, including $283 million in federal emergency rental assistance, up to $110 million in federal funding for vaccine administration and up to $555 million in federal funding for testing and tracing. 

She also vetoed $840 million in K-12 funding that is tie-barred to legislation that would have yanked power from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and also issued line-item vetoes worth $650 million. 

“I think it’s great news that we’ve been able to get some of the federal funding available to us appropriated, including passing two of my key proposals to provide a wage increase for direct care workers and increased funding to help expand vaccinations for Michiganders who are 50 years old or older,” said Whitmer. “However, the reality is that there is more work to be done and there are still billions of dollars in federal funding that we need to get out the door to help businesses and families across the state.”

https://www.michiganadvance.com/2021/03/09/whitmer-calls-gop-actions-on-covid-relief-nonsensical-says-she-wont-surrender-her-powers/

In December, Congress passed COVID-19 relief funds, including $5.6 billion for Michigan. Whitmer noted in her signing that she proposed her plan on Jan. 19 to spend the money on school funding, vaccine distribution and support for health care workers and small businesses and took a shot at Republicans for waiting 48 days to send her a bill. The governor also said “not one of those days was spent negotiating with me and the State Budget Office to reach a bipartisan accord.” 

Last week, the House gave final approval to a $4.5 billion supplemental package and would increase school spending through $1.9 million in federal COVID-19 funds. Some of the funding was tied to a requirement in House Bill 4049 that bars DHHS from closing in-person school instruction or prohibiting sporting events during a pandemic, giving that power to local health departments. 

The Michigan Association for Local Public Health last week wrote a letter asking Whitmer to veto HB 4049, saying it would “result in confusion” and “impede a coordinated and timely response” to the pandemic.

“The bills I received were not negotiated with me or my administration, and I continue to call on the legislature to ensure that we work together to ensure we maximize every penny that is available,” Whitmer said in a statement. “There were problems in the bills that I had to veto, and I expect the legislature to step up to fix the bill to allocate all of the money so we can get back to normal as soon as possible.” 

Whitmer approved House Bills 4047 and 4048, but vetoed HB 4049, calling it a “reckless idea, poorly executed and poorly timed.” 

“Why the Legislature rushed this bill to my desk while they continue to let billions of dollars for schools and aid to Michigan families gather dust is a mystery to me,” Whitmer wrote in a letter to House members. 

https://www.michiganadvance.com/2021/03/03/no-apparent-deal-between-whitmer-and-republicans-but-house-gives-covid-19-plan-final-ok/

HB 4047 provides $2.3 billion in supplemental funding to support businesses, to enhance direct care worker hazard pay and to make a base adjustment to the Food Assistance Program. This bill is tie-barred to Senate Bill 1, which would revoke the DHHS’ power to extend epidemic orders beyond 28 days without approval from the GOP-led Legislature.

SB 1 hasn’t been sent to the governor’s desk yet and isn’t expected to be voted on in the House until this week. 

Between the two House bills that were approved by the governor, there were four line-item vetoes, including $405 million in business tax and fee relief, $150 million in unemployment funds, nearly $87 million for private schools and $10 million for parents with children enrolled in school school programs in 2021. 

Whitmer and State Budget Director David Massaron requested that Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) and House Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) meet by the end of day Friday to begin negotiations, with the goal of getting the remaining more than $2 billion in federal funding appropriated.

“It is time to set aside partisanship and find a way to work together. I understand there are frustrations and differences of opinion on the pandemic response, but what we can all agree upon is the need to ensure that we are making use of the resources that are available to us,” Massaron wrote. “The items that were vetoed in the recent set of bills sent to us by the Legislature represent key points of difference between us, but it does not represent an unwillingness to work together.”

https://www.michiganadvance.com/2021/02/25/senate-passes-small-covid-relief-plan-dem-calls-it-callous-cruelty-fueled-by-elitism-and-racism/

The Legislature goes on spring break on March 29 until April 12. There will likely soon be the added pressure of more funding coming from the latest $1.9 trillion relief bill the U.S. Senate passed last week and the House is expected to vote on this week. Michigan is set to receive an additional $5.6 billion in aid, which the Legislature will have to appropriate.  

In response to the governor’s vetoes, Albert said in a statement that he is “deeply disappointed … but not surprised.”

Whitmer is sending a clear message to the people of our state – she doesn’t care about you or if your livelihood survives the pandemic,” Albert wrote.

He did not mention whether or not he will agree to negotiations this week with the governor. 

House Speaker Pro Tem Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.), who sponsored HB 4049, also criticized the governor’s vetoes. 

“These vetoes come as no surprise. Even before the pandemic, the governor’s priorities have been about her political aspirations, not what’s best for the people of Michigan,” Hornberger wrote in a statement. “A total of $840 million in academic funding was rejected by the governor today. That money would have helped restore in-person learning and give families the support they need to put their children in a summer school program if they choose. This is a very sad day for Michigan.”

Following the governor’s actions Tuesday, the House held four votes to attempt to override Whitmer’s line-item vetoes, but all failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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