State grant to support schools

MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced that schools are recruiting and hiring 560 more school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors and school nurses with the help of funding from the fiscal year 2022 State School Aid Act.

“The pandemic reminded us that school-based mental and physical health professionals are not luxuries,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Healthy students — physically, mentally and social-emotionally — are better learners. Having skilled professionals in school buildings helps our kids get the supports they need so they can thrive in the classroom and beyond.”

Children require academic, social, emotional and physical supports, both in and out of school, said state Superintendent Michael F. Rice in a statement.

“School communities across the state are appreciative of this critical new fiscal year 2022 budget investment negotiated between the governor and the state legislature,” Rice said. “This $240 million begins the requisite school support for our children’s mental health and physical needs.”

Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, said in a statement that the health and well-being of Michigan’s students continues to be a top priority for both MASA and its members.

“Now, more than ever, our students need access to these services, and there’s no better place than in our schools to provide them,” Kerr said. “We are very pleased to see this important funding going to districts across the state so they can hire the key staff needed to support our students.”

In the fiscal year 2022 budget, Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature worked together to appropriate $240 million to increase the number of school-based professionals to support students’ mental and physical health, the governor’s office said.

To date, 210 school districts have applied for grant funding to hire 562 staff members, including 60 school psychologists, 226 school social workers, 146 school counselors and 130 school nurses. Grant funds help districts hire staff and gradually transition from fully funding the positions with state funds in the first year to fully funding the positions with local funds in the fourth year.

The application period is still open, and all districts are eligible to apply. Districts can review frequently asked questions and submit their application by visiting Michigan.gov/MDE. Districts must hire staff by March 1 to qualify.

Nessel joins coalition

Attorney General Dana Nessel announced on Monday that she joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general urging the federal government to take action to help borrowers by addressing failures to implement mortgage restructuring programs to ensure those most financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can afford their mortgages and remain in their homes.

During the pandemic, the Federal Housing Administration has helped borrowers in need remain in their homes by implementing payment pauses and forbearance programs, the attorney general’s office said. The agency has implemented COVID-19 Recovery Loss Mitigation Options to help borrowers who were unable to pay the cost of their pre-pandemic mortgages plus the arrears that had accrued during forbearance.

These programs aim to help families lower their principal and interest so they have affordable monthly mortgage payments that allow a sustained and stable financial recovery — specifically for low-income households, first-time homeowners and households of color disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the attorney general’s office said.

All lenders of FHA-insured loans were required to implement these programs by no later than Oct. 21.

In a letter led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine to FHA, the attorneys general detail that several mortgage loan servicers employed and approved by FHA have “failed to adequately implement” the FHA COVID-19 Recovery Modification, as well as other COVID-19 relief programs to support borrowers.

The letter alleges that mortgage services of FHA-insured loans routinely send borrowers letters that fail to include the COVID-19 Recovery Modification as an available option, require paperwork and impose qualifications unnecessary under FHA guidelines, and instruct borrowers during customer-service phone calls that this option does not exist.

It also states that as the U.S. Treasury Department approves programs to distribute Homeownership Assistance Funds around the country, it is “critical” that FHA ensures that servicers educate borrowers and evaluate them for loan modification.

“HAF should be a fund of last resort and should not replace servicers’ obligations to evaluate homeowners for all loss mitigation options,” the letter reads.

The letter calls on FHA to ensure that its approved and employed mortgage loan servicers are taking the necessary steps to implement the FHA COVID-19 Recovery Modification in its entirety.

“At a time when so many face ongoing financial hardships, we must deliver on assurances provided to those who are struggling,” Nessel said in a statement. “I join my colleagues in urging our federal partners to verify proper implementation of this vital program.”

LMAS adds cases

The Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft District Health Department reported in a Monday Facebook post that 65 COVID-19 cases have been added in the LMAS counties since Dec. 22.

“Not a lot for a five-day period, but more than expected over the Christmas holiday with little testing going on,” the post reads. “As for now, mask up, get vaccinated/ boosted (if not already) and stay home when you’re sick.”

The health department reported that there have been 666 cases in the four counties between Dec. 1 and Monday, with 560 cases considered recovered and nine deaths.

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


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