$1.2B spending bill would provide COVID tests, relief for hospitals and schools

By: - February 10, 2022 2:41 pm

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After sitting on billions of dollars in federal funding for nearly a year, the Republican-led Michigan Legislature passed a $1.2 billion supplemental bill this week that health care leaders said will provide critically needed funds to recruit and retain employees at hospitals that have been hemorrhaging workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Bill 5523, introduced by Rep. Julie Calley (R-Portland), appropriates about $1.2 billion in federal funds, the majority of which come from the American Rescue Plan Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in March 2021. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a post-State of the State press conference at the Mott Community College Regional Technology Center in Flint on Jan. 27, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Once Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs the bill, which she said this week that she plans to do, the bulk of the funding will go to the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for the recruitment, retention and training of health care workers; pandemic-related safety measures at schools; COVID-19 testing; and infection control at nursing homes, among other initiatives.  

Health care leaders welcomed the news, saying the legislation passed Tuesday will bring deeply needed relief to health care workers and institutions beleaguered by an ongoing pandemic that has prompted hospital workers to leave their jobs for a variety of reasons, including feeling unsafe and being increasingly harassed. Prior to the pandemic, hospitals faced employee shortages — which have been further exacerbated by COVID-19, health care workers have told the Advance.

“Hospitals throughout all regions of Michigan are experiencing significant workforce shortages,” Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association (MHA), said in a press release. 

“This funding is vital to assist hospitals and health systems in addressing high job vacancy rates, providing training and development, and supporting existing workers who have resiliently provided care for patients throughout the two years of this pandemic,” Peters continued.

Calley said in a prepared statement that the legislation will ease the burden on health care facilities and allow schools to remain open because of increased COVID-19 testing.

“The COVID pandemic continues to put pressure on our community health systems, schools and families,” Calley said. “Thankfully, we’ve been using our federal COVID relief dollars responsibly, and we still have these resources available to help our communities continue their recovery.” 

The legislation includes

  • $300 million for health care recruitment, retention and training programs
  • $150.8 million to purchase COVID-19 tests for schools
  • $75 million for early COVID-19 treatment and testing
  • $70 million to help adult foster care and homes for the aged cover pandemic-related costs
  • $54.1 million for COVID-19 vaccine marketing, education, outreach, and other community engagement strategies through local public health departments
  • $29 million to assist nursing homes with infection control 
  • $19 million for caregivers of foster children
  • $10 million to help nursing homes convert multi-resident rooms into single-resident rooms
  • $4 million for Wayne State University to create a “Michigan mobile health corps program” to address health disparities in Southeast Michigan

Since the federal funds became available last spring, Democratic lawmakers have been pushing the GOP-led legislature to appropriate billions of dollars in funding for COVID-related purposes, such as assisting hospitals. Once the $1.2 billion has been spent from this bill, Michigan will still have about $5.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, according to Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the State Budget Office. 

In December, for example, House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) introduced a supplemental budget amendment to allocate $330 million in federal COVID relief funds that were made available in December 2020, under the Trump administration. House Democrats called for a vote on the amendment, but Republicans refused to do so.

“We are quickly approaching the one-year anniversary of the passage of federal COVID relief funding, but Michigan Republicans continue to refuse this support and let it gather dust in D.C. instead of being brought home to Michigan where it can be put to good use,” Lasinski said in December. 

“Republicans are willing to … pay a price measured in human lives to play a political game,” she continued. But in this game, we all lose.”

Ultimately, Democrats and Republicans were able to come together on the $1.2 billion bill, Whitmer said.

“This supplemental is a testament to what’s possible when Republicans and Democrats work together to put Michiganders first,” the governor said Wednesday in a press release. “After reviewing, I look forward to signing it and getting these resources out the door.”

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country. She began her journalism career reporting on state politics in Wisconsin and has gone on to cover government, racial justice and immigration reform in New York City, education in Connecticut, the environment in Wyoming, and more. Previously, Anna lived in Argentina and Morocco, and, when she’s not working, she’s often trying to perfect the empanada and couscous recipes she fell in love with in these countries. You’ll likely also find her working on her century-old home in downtown Lansing, writing that ever-elusive novel and hiking throughout Michigan.

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