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Whitmer launches major initiative to end COVID-19 and fix Michigan’s economy

The Michigan COVID Recovery Plan calls for spending over $5.6 billion of state and federal funds
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer(source: State of Michigan)
Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 2:14 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is launching a major initiative to end the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan, get students back on track and grow the state’s economy.

Whitmer’s administration plans to seek legislation allowing $5.6 billion in spending to support the plan, which includes mostly federal one-time stimulus or relief programs, $275 million from Michigan’s general fund and $300 million from the state School Aid Fund.

The Michigan COVID Recovery Plan starts with ramping up COVID-19 vaccine distribution to end the pandemic. Whitmer said the economy can’t reach full speed again until the coronavirus threat subsides.

She also is concerned about learning loss due to remote learning and extended breaks from classes during the pandemic. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is pushing schools to open some level of in-person learning for all students by March 1.

The centerpiece of the plan involves helping businesses recover from COVID-19 slowdowns and closures.

“To help grow and strengthen our economy, we must provide crucial support for our families, small businesses, and frontline workers,” Whitmer said. “The MI COVID Recovery Plan will help small businesses get through the winter, help us put more shots in arms and ramp up vaccine distribution, and get our kids back on track in school.”

State Treasurer Rebecca Eubanks said Michigan’s economy nosedived quickly last March, when coronavirus restrictions started. But the economy has performed equally or better than other Midwest states since then.

“Public health and the economy go together. We will not have a normal economy again until the public health situation is under control,” Eubanks said.

Last week’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference determined that Michigan will lose over $1 billion in revenue this fiscal year compared to earlier projections, but that is much less dire than the losses anticipated last summer.

Eubanks said Michigan’s economy will take a year or two to rebound fully after the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do expect a robust recovery once we get COVID under control, which this plan will help us do,” she said. “The pandemic created a sharp plunge into recession. Even with healthy growth, we’re looking at a multi year recovery process.”

NEW SPENDING

Congress approved $90 million for Michigan in the new federal stimulus and relief bill, which Whitmer plans to spend on vaccine distribution. Her goal is to administer 50,000 vaccine doses per day statewide.

Michigan also is receiving $575 million in federal funds to expand COVID-19 testing, contract tracing and laboratory capacity. Whitmer also is calling for $225 million in spending from the state’s general fund to boost the economy with three new programs:

  • Michigan Mainstreet Initiative -- to help stabilize restaurants and small businesses with grants.
  • Michigan Microenterprise Support Initiative -- to provide more support for small businesses with nine or fewer employees.
  • Business Accelerator and Resiliency Initiative -- to provide grants to high tech business startups.

“Small businesses are critical to the recovery of our communities,” said Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley. “As we approach upcoming reopenings, the Main Street Initiative will target much needed support for some of the hardest hit local businesses.”

The Michigan COVID Recovery Plan also calls for a permanent unemployment benefits extension to 26 weeks, more food assistance for families and rental assistance for families struggling to pay for housing or utilities. Whitmer plans to create a new Office of Rural Development to coordinate help for small towns among all state departments.

Whitmer is calling for more employment training by connecting unemployed or underemployed Michiganders with resources to obtain gainful employment again. Residents in underserved or economically distressed communities would receive a priority.

She also wants to boost support for 400 single parents taking part in the Michigan Reconnect and Futures for Frontliners programs.

SCHOOL SUPPORT

Schools would receive the most financial support under the Michigan COVID Recovery Plan. The federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund includes $1.7 billion for Michigan schools and Whitmer is calling for an additional $300 million in state School Aid Fund spending to reopen schools safely.

Some of that funding would provide schools with the resources necessary to offer in-person learning again and support students who suffered learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic.

“In order to safely educate Michigan students, schools and educators must have the funding necessary to put virus mitigation measures in place and adhere to them,” said Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart. “COVID-19 has impacted every district in the state and every district needs resources to continue educating Michigan students.”

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