Whitmer signs bill to release $2.2B in aid

Funding to be invested in recovery efforts; NMU?addresses MIOSHA requirements

MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed a bipartisan bill to invest $2.2 billion of federal COVID-19 relief funding to support the recovery of individuals, families and businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic.

The new funding supports the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Emergency Rental Assistance program, the governor’s office announced.

“As we look ahead, we have an unprecedented opportunity to use federal stimulus funds to help Michigan’s families, small businesses and communities emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever before,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The bipartisan bill that I signed today is the result of good-faith efforts by members of the Legislature and it is a testament to what we can do together: make a real difference in people’s lives right now.

“With life getting back to normal, we are turning full attention to our state’s economic jump start by creating jobs with higher wages, giving small businesses the needed capital to ramp up hiring and boost investment, and making sure every family has access to affordable, quality child care.”

In addition to the money for food and housing, funding is provided to help local governments continue providing essential services and sends disaster relief dollars directly to counties, cities and hospitals for their COVID vaccination efforts as well as communities impacted by the 2020 flooding in downstate Midland.

Funding in the bill is specifically provided as follows:

≤ Within the Department of Health and Human Services: $1.5 billion in federal SNAP funding to support a 15% increase in monthly food assistance benefits through Sept. 30, providing temporary assistance to families needing emergency food.

≤ Within the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity: $378.3 million in federal funding for grant awards to be distributed and used to assist renter households at or below 80% of area median income, supporting the Emergency Rental Assistance Program that includes rental and utility assistance payments, housing stability services and case management to eligible renter households impacted by COVID-19.

≤ Within the Department of State Police: $65.2 million in federal funding for payment to vendors for emergency and disaster response and mitigation services provided in areas throughout the state.

≤ Within the Department of Technology, Management and Budget: $21 million in state funding for a one-time purchase of tax vouchers issued by the state to the Venture Michigan Fund, which is used to generate investment capital from lenders. This results in projected savings through the avoidance of interest that would accrue on vouchers.

≤ Within the Department of Treasury: $322.1 million in federal funding to distribute to local units of government to be used for the following: to provide assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits; to aid industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality; to provide premium pay for essential workers; to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year; and to make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband.

NMU addresses MIOSHA requirements

In a Monday correspondence to students, faculty and staff, Northern Michigan University President Fritz Erickson noted that since the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services had rescinded many of its emergency orders, including the Gathering and Face Mask Order, this means the state no longer has any requirements for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals to wear masks or social distance.

Exceptions include some health care and long-term care facilities, he said, and no social distancing means room capacity limits can be eliminated for indoor gatherings.

However, Erickson said some requirements regarding masks still are in place.

“While there are no longer any statewide restrictions and requirements as to gatherings and face coverings, Michigan employers, including NMU, are still required to comply with the Michigan Occupational and Health Administration Emergency Rules regarding mitigation of COVID-19 in the workplace,” he wrote.

Erickson said that unless MIOSHA rescinds these rules, they are set to remain in effect until Oct. 14.

“This means all unvaccinated NMU employees — full-time, part-time and student — are required to continue to properly wear face masks (over nose and mouth) when inside a Northern facility except for when at their own work space, providing that work space is 6 feet or more from other work areas,” he said.

Erickson stressed that there are three things NMU has been waiting on to finalize many of its pandemic protocols for fall.

“This is the first — lifting of this mask and gatherings emergency order at the state level,” he said. “The second is waiting to see how the MIOSHA responds to the changes made by the MDHHS.”

MIOSHA, Erickson said, was expected to amend its rules soon to comply with new Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines coming out of the Biden administration.

NMU officials also are waiting for a more definitive assessment of vaccination levels for its on-campus population, which they hope to have in early July. Erickson said NMU will provide the campus community with detailed information about 2021-22 university pandemic protocols that are decided upon at that time.

“I’ve had questions about ‘the whole MDHHS vs. MIOSHA’ thing, as a student phrased it,” Erickson wrote. “Mandates that are/were under MDHHS are broad-based public health orders for the general state, both its residents and visitors. Mandates in MIOSHA’s orders are specific to public health workplace issues for the state’s employers, such as Northern.

“In the case of NMU, our full-time, part-time and student employees must follow MIOSHA rules and our workplace environments must be in compliance with any rules and regulations. MIOSHA falls under the oversight of the federal OSHA; MDHHS is a state agency. Not following MDHHS or MIOSHA orders can result in fines and other penalties.”

Survey shows business optimism

A new survey done last week by the Small Business Association of Michigan showed that small businesses are optimistic despite being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey revealed that 72% of businesses report feeling optimistic about the survival of their businesses.

“It’s encouraging to see optimism among small businesses despite all they have endured over the last 15 months of this pandemic,” SBAM President Brian Calley said in a statement. “Now that restrictions are lifted, we must address barriers to recruiting and retaining employees so that our economy may fully recover.”

The survey, conducted June 8-18 of more than 600 Michigan small businesses, also revealed that:

≤ 47% of respondents say difficulty finding and keeping employees is the biggest problem facing their business.

≤ 50% of those surveyed expect to increase the size of their workforce over the next six months.

≤ 52% of small businesses have increased wages of their employees since the pandemic began.

≤ 78% of respondents said that COVID-19 had a negative impact on their business in 2020 and 63% say that COVID-19 is still negatively impacting their business.

≤ 63% of those surveyed reported a decline in sales in 2020 compared with 2019, including 34% that reported a decline of revenues of more than 25%.

≤ 45% say the pandemic created permanent changes in the customers they serve.

≤ 91% of businesses received Paycheck Protection Program assistance during the pandemic, by far the largest source of relief.

≤ 33% of businesses reported staffing reductions due to the pandemic.

≤ 16% of businesses report struggling to pay bills as they come in.

Parents urged to file federal income tax return

Whitmer on Monday urged parents to file a federal income tax return if they haven’t done so or use the nonfiler signup tool to be eligible for federal Child Tax Credit payments. The tool can be accessed at https://bit.ly/3xKhtki.

Key points include:

≤ Payments will begin July 15 and will not affect public assistance.

≤ Parents of children under 18 may be eligible to receive this money even if they have not previously filed taxes and have low or no earnings.

≤ The expanded Child Tax Credit is expected to reduce child poverty by 45% overall, by 52% among Black children and by 62% among Native American children.

The governor’s office said the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 increased this tax credit up to $3,600 per year for children under age 6 and $3,000 per year for children ages 6-17. The tax credit will be issued as a monthly payment and will not count as additional income that could affect a family’s eligibility for public assistance.

Families meeting the guidelines will receive an Internal Revenue Service-issued check or direct deposit on July 15, Aug. 13, Sept. 15, Oct. 15, Nov. 15 and Dec. 15.

The new maximum credit is available to taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less for singles; $112,500 or less for a single parent, also called head of household; and $150,­000 or less for married couples filing a joint return; and qualified widows and widowers.

A federal tax return also can be filed by using the Free File system at IRS.gov.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net


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