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COVID Relief Funds To Be Held Until Whitmer Does More

January 12, 2021

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer must take more steps to reopen Michigan’s economy before the Legislature “can have meaningful conversations” about allocating federal COVID-19 relief funds, House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said in a statement released Friday morning. 

“I can’t envision starting conversations about how to allocate additional federal COVID-19 relief funds until the Governor shows more willingness to restore the economy and a sense of normalcy,” Albert stated. 
 
He said he intends to “employ the checks and balances” of government and contended that restaurant workers have no idea if they’ll be able to return to work when the current order to pause indoor dining expires Jan. 15. 
 
“We will not simply hand over billions of taxpayer dollars to extend the current way of governing,” Albert stated. 
 
Whitmer’s response came in a press conference Friday afternoon. 
 
“I’m sure that the representative isn’t implying that he would withhold hundreds of millions of dollars for vaccinations, for testing, for education for our kids, for eviction relief. 
 
“I’m sure that they wouldn’t say, ‘Unless you open restaurants, we won’t give $90 million for vaccine deployment, or $575 million to support COVID testing and tracing efforts and mitigation efforts.’ This federal funding also includes $665 million in eviction diversion and rental assistance to help people who are struggling to stay in their homes. I hope that is not what they are threatening because that would be just devastating to so many people in our state,” Whitmer said. 
 
The Governor said representatives should get “the benefit of the doubt” because they might not know what all is included in the federal relief package. It includes, she said, $125 million for emergency education relief, millions for access to broadband, and $287 million for emergency childcare funds. 
 
“It is my hope that they are not suggesting now we should start negotiating away public health measures to keep people safe and hold these things hostage, because there are a lot of people in our state struggling and this federal relief is necessary. I’m hopeful they will get to work and get this allocated as quickly as possible,” Whitmer said. 
 
The Governor took issue with the contention that few outbreaks have been associated with bars and restaurants. 
 
“What we have seen, the studies have shown that restaurants and bars are places where we see many outbreaks. Our tracing capabilities are underwhelming on that front, and so I think that is part of the data issue that we haven’t seen translate, and that is why we have continued the policy . . . The fact of the matter is, the studies show that that is where we have seen the highest risk,” Whitmer said. 
 
Albert’s statement also drew reaction from House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.). 
 
“It’s totally irresponsible to even suggest holding hostage much-needed relief when vaccine distribution is the most important thing to getting the economy moving again,” Lasinski said. “I call on House Republicans to release the federal funds now for vaccines that can save lives and help reopen our economy.” 
 
In Lasinski’s press release, Rep. Joe Tate (D-Detroit) is referenced as the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. 
 
“The only thing the #MIGOP won’t block when it comes to COVID is the virus itself by wearing masks,” said Lonnie Scott, of Progress Michigan. “Holding up Michigan tax dollars and federal funds for COVID testing, vaccine distribution, education, keeping people in their homes, childcare, and feeding hungry kids will put millions of people in harm’s way. We all must work together to fight this pandemic that has killed more than 13,000 people in our state. Republicans should stop using relief from a deadly virus as a political bargaining chip.” 
 
But Albert got support from freshman Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Hillsdale). 
 
“Thousands of restaurant workers across Michigan are in dire straits,” Fink said. “They want to work, but they can’t . . . Workers in the restaurant industry have proven that they can operate safely with proper protocols in place for both employees and customers. They should be allowed to work. I hope the Governor will reassess her misguided decision and consider their struggles.” 

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