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Michigan Legislature passes $4.2 billion in virus aid without deal

LANSING — Michigan’s Legislature on Wednesday approved a $4.2 billion coronavirus relief plan without a deal with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, as majority Republicans pressed to curtail her administration’s pandemic powers and Democrats opposed a decision to not allocate all federal aid immediately.

It was unclear if the Democratic governor will veto the entire package or instead sign some of it and nix other parts.

One bill, passed 77-33 by the House, includes a provision linking $840 million in federal school funding to Whitmer signing a measure to cede the state health department’s authority to prohibit in-person instruction or sports to local health officials. Another provision, included in a bill approved 85-25, ties $347 million in funds for COVID-19 testing to a measure requiring legislative approval to lengthen virus-related orders beyond 28 days.

The governor is sure to block attempts to dilute her administration’s powers. But she could still bless some or all of $3 billion in federal and state spending not linked to them, less than the $5.6 billion she proposed in January, weeks after Congress and then-President Donald Trump sent the aid to Michigan.

Frustrated school officials have criticized GOP legislators for tying nearly half of the additional federal K-12 funding to a bill Whitmer will not sign. Republicans, angry about the administration’s restrictions to curb the deadly virus and a lack of legislative input, see the budget process as a way to exert influence.

House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski, a Democrat from Washtenaw County’s Scio Township, accused GOP lawmakers of “literally knee-capping Michigan’s recovery” by not disbursing all $5 billion in federal relief now.

“Every Michigander should know that this bill does leave those dollars in Washington, D.C. And it does that, in large part, because of partisan political games that are being played,” she said.

Republicans said Whitmer’s restrictions are unnecessarily among the strictest in the nation.

“Your measures are not based on science but are calculated on measures to retain power,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert of Albert. “The economic devastation that is being unleashed is significant.”

The legislation would release billions in federal funds for vaccine distribution, testing, rental assistance and a 15% boost in food assistance benefits. A $2 hourly wage hike for direct care workers, which expired Sunday, would rise to $2.25 and be extended through September.

State money would be used to partially fund the pay increase, boost school funding and provide $427 million in business relief — primarily with grants to cover some or all of their property taxes. There also would be an unprecedented $150 million deposit of general funds into the unemployment fund, to soften future higher taxes on employers. The governor vetoed a similar move in December.

Businesses that could qualify for grants include restaurants, bars, gyms, bowling alleys, casinos, hair salons, nurseries, tattoo parlors, amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, skating rinks and trampoline parks.

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