Legislature sends $842M spending bill for COVID testing, airports and more to Whitmer

Another $1B supplemental passes House, awaits Senate action

By: and - December 15, 2021 11:23 am

COVID-19 home tests | Ross Williams/States Newsroom

A long-delayed $842.6 million spending bill using federal stimulus money for COVID-19 testing — as well as wide-ranging items like mental health programs, airport projects and snowmobile trail and maintenance — is heading to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk after a marathon Tuesday session.

On what was expected to be the last day of action in the House and Senate for the year, the chambers voted on House Bill 4398 sponsored by Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores). The House voted 94-9, followed by a 35-1 vote in the Senate. 

House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert, Dec. 14, 2021 | Screenshot

Whitmer, House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) and State Budget Director Chris Harkins praised the bill’s passage in a joint statement. 

“Today, legislative leaders came together to put Michiganders first and make another monumental investment in Michigan’s families, communities, and small businesses,” said  Whitmer. “For months, we have been working together with the legislature and we have been negotiating together in good faith, finding a collaborative way to effectively spend the federal dollars sent to Michigan by the American Rescue Plan. Today, we took another big step forward in finding common ground and agreement on how to spend some of those federal resources, including resources to help kids safe and learning in school, protect seniors in nursing homes, and get vaccines out the door even faster.”

Albert said that the bill will help to further expand positive initiatives that have been going on in the state, and that the bill will do so while “being prudent” in regards to the state’s finances. 

“We are coming together and doing what must be done for our state right now, while also building positive momentum for important initiatives moving forward,” Albert said.

The no votes in the House were all Republicans: Reps. Steve Carra of Three Rivers, John Reilly of Oakland Township, Steve Johnson of Wayland, Sue Allor of Wolverine, Diana Farrington of Utica, Ryan Berman of Commerce Township, Michele Hoitenga of Manton, Matt Maddock of Milford and Luke Meerman of Coopersville. On the Senate side, Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) was the lone no vote.

Here are some of the programs funded by the bill:

  • $36.3 million to combat environmental health threats with a focus on lead
  • $150 million for school COVID-19 testing kits
  • $3.5 million for snowmobile trail development and maintenance
  • $100,000 for a mental health services in Oxford
  • $190,000 for the horse racing advisory commission
  • $1 million for a St. Clair County convention center
  • $2.5 million for pediatric autism treatment beds in Kalamazoo County
  • $168.9 million for airport response grants 
  • $47.1 million for substance abuse prevention and treatment block grants
  • $9 million for the North American International Auto Show 
  • $10 million for a teacher talent pipeline 
  • $140,000 for emergency and disaster response and mitigation
  • $4.4 million for a Michigan State Police criminal justice information center 
  • $5 million for a pediatric psychiatric unit in the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital 
  • $150 million for school safety programs that include COVID-19 testing and screening 
  • $140 million for emergency rental assistance

The state is currently awash in cash — quite a contrast from the early days of the COVID pandemic in 2020 when huge budget deficits loomed. There is about $8.5 billion in federal aid in addition to a $2.4 billion state budget surplus that lawmakers can spend. So far, $5.8 billion of stimulus funds awarded to the state through the American Rescue Plan are still able to be used. 

Whitmer had previously called on the Michigan Legislature to allocate $800 million in federal aid to go toward COVID-19 relief and response. She also recently asked for about $300 million in funds to be spent on COVID-19 testing initiatives in Michigan schools. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday weighed in, saying she hoped that “hero pay” for essential workers would be included to “properly acknowledge the additional costs and risks our essential employees have faced in order to keep Michigan running.”

“Michigan’s frontline workers have made great sacrifices throughout this pandemic and deserve added relief from the billions of dollars made available by our federal partners to help the state and its residents recover,” Nessel said. 

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The House on Tuesday also passed a $1 billion bill utilizing federal dollars for various COVID-19 treatments, to help health care employees and boost COVID-19 testing initiatives around the state. 

House Bill 5523, introduced by state Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland), passed 98-4, with Carra, Maddock, Reilly and Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-Detroit) voting against the bill. The bill passed through the Appropriations Committee earlier in the day with no adopted amendments. 

However, the Senate still has to take action and that’s not expected until next year. 

The bill would appropriate federal funds to go toward COVID-19 treatments, recruiting and retaining health care workers, and boost COVID-19 testing programs in schools and around the state. HB 5523 initially had a $1.2 billion price tag, but it shrank as $300 million was cut to $150 million for epidemiology and lab capacity school safety. Instead, lawmakers added $150 million for that to the supplemental on Whitmer’s desk.

The bill would appropriate $367 million to expand testing programs across the state. An additional $300 million will go to rapid testing for schools. 

In lieu of ongoing health care worker shortages, about $300 million in the bill will be allocated to recruit and retain health care workers in Michigan. 

House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) speaks at a press conference announcing Democrats’ voting rights bill package, Nov. 3, 2021, at the Ingham County Courthouse | Laina G. Stebbins

Around $134 million will also go to ramping up the distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments and other programs to help mitigate the virus. Another $109 million will create eight testing and treatment sites across Michigan. About $25 million will go to purchasing monoclonal antibodies and $90 million will be allocated to expanding vaccination initiatives. 

Michigan House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) said in a press release that she was “proud to finally be able to vote” for the bill that she believes will help Michiganders. 

“As our hospitals are filled to capacity, health care staff are pushed to the breaking point and people go without live-saving care because beds are occupied by COVID patients, it has never been more urgent to bring these taxpayer dollars back home to Michigan and out into the communities where they can help treat and mitigate this disease,” Lasinski said.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 21-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 4,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 70 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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Julia Forrest
Julia Forrest

Julia Forrest is a contributor to the Michigan Advance. She has been covering Michigan and national politics for two years at the Michigan Daily and OpenSecrets. She studies public policy at the University of Michigan.

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