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Michigan lawmakers compromise, allocate more than $6.6 billion in federal pandemic funds

Michigan lawmakers in both legislative chambers approved massive federal pandemic relief measures on Tuesday, paving the way for more than $6.6 billion to go to schools and families in need. 

The House and Senate passed separate, multi-billion dollar bills with essentially unanimous support, indicating the legislative logjam on distributing COVID-19 relief funds is coming to an end. 

The legislation could get a final vote this week.

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The bill approved in the Senate includes more than $4.3 billion for Michigan schools. Most of that money, about $3.3 billion, comes from the latest round of relief passed by Congress and under President Joe Biden.

“This supplemental would invest $4.3 billion in federal assistance to help our children recover from any learning loss they experienced and to ensure that our schools and teachers have the resources necessary to provide their students with the instruction and support they need,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Stamas, R-Midland, said.

The measure passed in the House includes more than $2.2 billion in relief, with $1.4 billion in food assistance and another $378 million intended to help families stave off evictions. 

“The people of Michigan faced some of the toughest COVID restrictions in the nation,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said.

“Many are still struggling. This is another significant step to get families, communities and students the help they need after an extremely difficult year-and-a-half.”

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As Albert noted in a news release, the Legislature needs to allocate this money soon in order to avoid giving it back to the federal government. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Democratic lawmakers have pointed this out for months while indicating many families needed the money as soon as possible. 

“I appreciate the movement that we are seeing on supplemental funding and there is a lot more work to do,” said State Budget Director Dave Massaron in a statement.

While Republicans passed bills earlier this year that distributed some of the available federal funds, they also used the remainder of the funding as a way to bargain for more control over future emergency pandemic orders. They tied some funding to measures that stripped power from the health department, prompting Whitmer vetoes

The education funds in the bill passed by the Senate are distributed to schools through the existing Title I formula. Districts receiving the money must use at least 20% of it to try and mitigate learning loss exacerbated by the challenges of learning during the pandemic. 

The measure also includes approximately $180 million intended for private schools. Earlier this year, Whitmer vetoed about $87 million in federal aid intended for these schools, along with another $840 million in funding that is also included in this new Senate bill. 

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Robert McCann, executive director of an organization that represents school superintendents throughout Michigan called the K-12 Alliance, said the legislative action is welcome but more work is needed. 

“While it’s nice to see this funding move closer to being made available to schools across Michigan — albeit months overdue — the reality is that federal relief money alone is not going to allow school districts to plan for the upcoming year,” McCann said in a statement.

“We need the legislature to take action on a full 2021-2022 school aid budget immediately so districts have the certainty they require to prepare for the challenges ahead this fall.”

Recently, legislative leaders and Whitmer announced they had arrived at the makings of a deal on the budget, distributing the rest of the federal relief funds and on the Legislature’s role in future emergency health orders. In theory, lawmakers plan to have budget bills sent to the governor by the end of June, but it’s unclear whether that will happen. 

Contact Dave Boucher at dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

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