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State OKs $880M in pandemic spending

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Legislature on Wednesday unanimously approved spending $880 million in federal relief aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic, setting aside funding for frontline workers, municipalities and child care providers.

The bill would allocate more than a quarter of the $3 billion that was sent to the state government by Congress and President Donald Trump. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose administration was involved in negotiations, will sign it.

“This bill is an example of what can happen when politics are put aside and all parties come together to do what is best for the people of Michigan, including our frontline workers in local communities across the state,” she said in a statement.

About $2.1 billion would remain unspent as the governor and lawmakers from both parties in the Republican-led Legislature seek federal flexibility to use rescue funds to fill multibillion-dollar revenue shortfalls this fiscal year and next, not just cover additional COVID-19-related expenses. Democrats want Congress to approve additional funding for states, too.

The legislation includes $220 million to give pay raises to certain health workers ($2 an hour) and first responders (up to $1,000), $200 million to reimburse local governments for virus-related spending and $125 million to reduce child care costs.

An additional $100 million would go to small businesses and nonprofits with 50 or fewer employees. They could get grants of up to $20,000. Legislators also earmarked $15 million for agricultural processors and farmers.

Other major items include $60 million to create a rent assistance program to minimize evictions, $25 million to reimburse water utilities that prevent residential shutoffs and $29 million to address a backlog of jobless claims in a state with 21% unemployment as of May. There is money to make it more affordable for schools to buy devices that students can use at home and to support K-12 programs that help them catch up after in-person instruction ceased in March.

Also included is $25 million to provide personal protection equipment and COVID-19 testing to nursing homes, dental offices, pharmacies, funeral homes and other facilities.

“Is this bill perfect? No. But does it make a difference for our families? It does,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, a Midland Republican.

Majority Republicans rejected Democrats’ proposals for additional spending that would give $1,000 to people experiencing unemployment benefit delays and better fund the Unemployment Insurance Agency, mental health programs, local health departments and various initiatives.

But House Minority Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills said the bill still will give relief to residents and industries that were hit hardest by the pandemic. Its passage provides a launching point to push future initiatives, she said.

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