House R’s Announce Plan for $415 Million Grant Program for Affected Businesses
February 3, 2021
Calling Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request “off the mark by a wide margin,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) Wednesday unveiled his own $3.5 billion plan, roughly $2 billion less than what the governor recently proposed.
Albert’s proposal makes $2.1 billion funding in school education contingent upon approval of a law moving the power to close in-person learning and sports activities away from the governor or her administration to local health departments, which would have that authority following health metrics.
House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) is in full support of the plan, which he said is the best option to get relief in the hands of people who need it. He referred to the governor’s $5.6 billion plan as a “blank check.”
“It focuses all funding on COVID relief instead of the political pet projects and corporate welfare the governor included,” Wentworth stated.
Dr. Tina Kerr, executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators, expressed concern about using $1.6 billion in aid to Michigan schools as “bargaining chip.”
K-12 Alliance Executive Director Robert McCann said House Republicans’ proposal to hold “critical school funding hostage as part of a political squabble goes beyond ugly partisan politics: it is immoral and fundamentally unacceptable.”
The plan also would include a $415 million grant program for restaurants and other businesses “crippled by the governor’s economic shutdown orders,” according to the press release, which also involve $38.5 million to reimburse liquor license and health department fees.
The House Republicans’ recovery plan leaves out money for some items the governor had proposed, such as metal detectors in the Capitol and “corporate giveaways for new job creation,” according to Albert in the press release.
“The governor’s plan is focused on corporate giveaways and growing government. Our plan will provide hope that people might still have a livelihood. Her plan has talking points about supporting summer school — our plan actually puts forth funding to help schools make it a reality,” Albert said.
Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said in response, “We are pleased to see that House Republicans are embracing the key elements of Gov. Whitmer’s MI COVID Recovery Plan that prioritizes vaccine distribution, support for small businesses, and getting our kids back in the classroom.” Brown added that the governor “is ready and eager to work with Republicans in the Legislature to pass a bipartisan economic recovery plan that supports our small businesses and helps get families back on their feet.”
The new plan provides additional resources for “the governor’s floundering vaccine distribution program” by adding $22 million for vaccine distribution and $144 million for COVID-19 testing.
Lawmakers approved more than $50 million for vaccine distribution in December. Additional resources will be held in reserve for when they are needed, Albert said.
To get kids back in school, grant funding will help school districts provide in-person K-8 summer school and before-and-after school programs. It includes stipends to help families cover costs and financial incentives for participating teachers and staff.
Additional assistance of up to $250 per student will help districts committing to reopen in-person instruction by Feb. 15.
Federal Title I support also will be distributed and more money will support benchmark assessments to figure out where kids stand academically “after this tumultuous past year,” according to Albert’s plan.
“Some Michigan school districts haven’t had in-person classes since March — that’s hurting kids in ways we can’t even imagine, and not just academically,” Albert said. “The disruption of sports and other extracurricular activities also takes a major toll. It’s going to take years for some of these students to recover academically. I will do everything possible to get kids safely in the classroom now.”
Other facets of the House Republicans’ proposal include investments to support the unemployment benefits trust fund while providing relief to job providers who pay into the system.
Families will benefit from federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support. Other assistance includes funding for meals for seniors, child care and development, mental health, and substance abuse prevention and treatment.
The plan also includes rent and utility relief and property tax relief for job providers.
Albert said his plan requires transparency and accountability and forces the administration to start delivering results.
The plan was discussed in Wednesday morning’s House Appropriations Committee meeting.
Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley and Fenton Winery and Brewery owner Ginny Sherrow testified in support Albert’s plan.
“The pandemic has already led to countless business closures and thousands of other businesses just barely hanging on,” Calley said. “We don’t have time or money to waste and this plan provides meaningful help and hope for the road ahead.”
Sherrow said the struggles of her business over the past 10 months “have been excruciating.”
“We have been team players helping to flatten the curve, following the rules, making safety of our employees and customers a priority and so much more. We’ve passed the test so far, but many of us are at a breaking point,” Sherrow said.
Charlie Owens, of the National Federation of Independent Business, told the committee it is time for the Legislature “to take back its rightful role as a full partner in governing the state.”
“Michigan is an outlier among the nation and surrounding Midwestern states when it comes to opening up the economy and easing restrictions,” Owens said.
Businesses do not want to exist by pursing loans and grants from the government. They just want to get back to work, Owens said.
“We fully support the Legislature’s use of ‘the power of the purse’ to condition appropriations on their inclusion in the policy making process and oversight of state agency authority,” Owens said.