Whitmer: Congress can prevent deep cuts
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that protecting K-12 funding is her priority as Michigan seeks a federal bailout to avoid steep spending cuts during the pandemic, and her budget director signaled the next state budget won’t be complete by a July 1 deadline.
The state is facing a nearly $6.3 billion revenue hole over this fiscal year and the next. The governor previously said “hard decisions” would need to be made if Congress and President Donald Trump did not act by the end of May. Whitmer now hopes for movement in Washington in the coming weeks.
“We need flexibility and financial support from the federal government to support essential services like health care, education, public safety and transportation during this crisis,” she said at a news conference.
The chairmen of budget committees in the Republican-led Legislature renewed their call for the Democratic governor to submit proposed spending reductions to balance the current budget, as required under two laws.
“Waiting on a Hail Mary from Congress is not a plan,” said Sen. Tony Stamas of Midland. “We now know the full scope of the budget problem, and we need the governor to start working with the Legislature to solve it.”
Whitmer signed a Republican-sponsored bill in December that requires lawmakers to send her a spending bill by July 1 — three months before the start of the fiscal year.
But budget director Chris Kolb said the “budget timeline is going to have to be different.” He said the administration and legislative fiscal agencies will have a rare third revenue-estimating meeting this summer to finalize the 2020-21 budget. The state government has received $3 billion from the federal coronavirus rescue package, but it can’t be used to cover shortfalls.
Kolb called for Congress to give states flexibility to account for COVID-19’s impact on tax revenues.
“Three-fourths of discretionary state spending goes out to other entities like schools, local governments, health care providers,” he said.
NURSING HOME DEATHS
At least 1,216 residents of Michigan nursing homes have died from the new coronavirus, accounting for nearly a quarter of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon told the Senate Oversight Committee Wednesday that the number is incomplete because 65, or 13%, of facilities are not reporting to the state, including in hard-hit metro Detroit.
Gordon said Wayne and Oakland counties that are receiving coronavirus death data from more nursing homes show 400 additional deaths not reflected in the state’s information. That could mean nursing home residents represent at least a third of the state’s 5,372 deaths related to COVID-19.
“We’re going to find out about more deaths,” Gordon said.
Whitmer last week lifted requirements that nursing homes establish special coronavirus units and admit hospital patients recovering from COVID-19, giving the facilities more flexibility to decide if they can safely isolate people who are infected.
Her administration had faced questions from legislators concerned that residents who haven’t tested positive were at risk. At the time of the initial order, Gordon said, hospitals were at capacity, with some unable to treat all the coronavirus patients in need of acute care because all beds were occupied.
“Today, hospitals have capacity,” he said.
Recovering patients can be sent to regional “hub” homes with COVID-19 wings and higher levels of care, where dedicated staff only work, he said. Critics note residents without the virus are still in other parts of the building.
The state reported 38 more deaths overall, though 17 likely occurred days or weeks earlier. It recorded 406 additional cases, bringing the total number of people infected to slightly more than 56,000.
Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said most of Michigan has reached or almost reached 20 new cases a day per million people. If the trend continues, she said, the state will be able to proceed with the next phases of a plan to gradually reopen the economy.
With the weather warming, health departments in Detroit and Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties ordered that all licensed pools remain closed, including in apartment and condominium complexes and at public facilities and water parks. Pool water poses a low risk for transmitting the virus, but it’s difficult to maintain social distance in and around pools, the agencies said.