Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill Tuesday morning, vetoing a large portion of the initial $483 million coronavirus assistance bill approved by the Michigan House of Representatives and the Senate last week. 

Rather than signing the bill as it was passed by the legislature, Whitmer used a line-item veto to counter certain parts of the bill, while signing the rest of the bill as it was presented. 

Of the $225 million Whitmer vetoed, $220 million is allocation of tax revenue into the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund — which holds the money used to pay unemployment benefits — and $5 million is part of a property tax deferral program. 

In a briefing Tuesday morning, Whitmer said these were “giveaway(s)” for employers. 

We have helped, but this went too far," Whitmer said "The funding that I vetoed has nothing to do with extending benefits.”

According to The Detroit News, this move was met with criticism from Republican lawmakers, who said vetoing the money for the fund would make extending unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks impossible. They cited a connection in the bill’s language tying the $220 million to an extension of unemployment benefits. 

Whitmer signed a different bill extending unemployment benefits for Michiganders who have lost their jobs to 26 weeks, until the end of March 2021. It is unclear how the veto and this bill will affect the programs. 

Whitmer also halted legislation allowing trucks to carry hazardous material across the Ambassador Bridge.   

$45 million of the signed bill will go towards direct payments to unemployed individuals, $55 million will go toward supporting small businesses and $3.5 million will be reserved for live music and entertainment venues.  

Whitmer’s signing of the bill was expected, as she repeatedly emphasized the need for COVID-19 relief for families and small businesses.

In a press release Tuesday morning, Whitmer said the bill would provide families and businesses a means to stay afloat as vaccine distribution proceeds. 

“There is still more work to do to eliminate this virus and grow our economy,” Whitmer wrote. “All Michiganders have a personal responsibility to do their part and mask up, practice safe social distancing, and avoid indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. We will beat this virus together.” 

Information senior Guadalupe Gonzalez, a member of the University of Michigan’s chapter of Students for Biden, said he is happy a bill was passed but is concerned there may not be enough direct payments to those who have been furloughed or laid off.

“I think it’s great that we are getting something from the state legislature,” Gonzalez said. “I was surprised that they were able to achieve it but I’m glad they did. Maybe the combination of these payments and the $600 from the federal government will help, but it certainly could have been more.” 

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, who spoke to the Daily after the initial $483 million bill had been sent to the Governor, said he believes there is still a lot of work to be done to provide adequate assistance to residents. 

According to Rabhi, the legislature has not taken enough action on certain issues, including extending Whitmer’s moratorium on evictions which is slated to expire on Dec. 31. 

“Thankfully, we’ve been able to operate under some gray area with the federal government’s guidance and the CDC guidance that people shouldn’t be evicted,” Rabhi said. “But that doesn’t always hold up in court, and so the legislature really could have and should have protected people from eviction.”  

Rabhi also hopes the legislature works to prevent the negative impacts of health-polluting industries in minority communities.  

“(This pandemic) hits communities of color much harder than it hits other communities,” Rabhi said. “Part of that is the heavier occurrence of polluting industries in communities of color, and so we see higher rates of asthma and other health conditions that are precursors to being more susceptible to this respiratory illness.” 

Ryan Fisher, LSA junior and chair of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans, reflected on the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic and said the relief bill made him recognize the importance of state and national legislatures. 

“I’m cautious about strong central executives, mainly governorships and presidents and the issues that can arise,” Fisher said. “Whitmer took some measures that I would not have taken, and Trump did some things during the pandemic that I’m not in love with. Between the two, I think it shows the value of legislatures both at a state and national level.”

Whitmer said in a Dec. 22 press release the recently-passed federal congressional relief bill, which was signed by President Donald Trump Sunday night, will help supplement the aid passed by the Michigan Legislature. 

“I am glad that Congress has passed legislation that includes stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, rental and eviction relief, money for schools, and small business loans,” Whitmer wrote. “This support will help so many Michiganders who have borne the brunt of the pandemic at an individual level, including small business owners who are worried about how they’ll make it through the winter, people who have lost work as a result of the pandemic, and more. I’m glad Congress was able to work together to get this done, but there is more work to do.” 

Gonzalez echoed parts of Fisher’s statement, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the state legislature. 

“I was already a staunch proponent of the state legislature (and) understood just how important it was,” Gonzalez said. “It’s been very frustrating for me throughout this time to see the lack of bipartisanship and the way that leadership on the Republican side has been acting towards the Governor. (It just shows why we should) be more involved with our state legislators.”

With much of the focus on the federal government’s stimulus package, Gonzalez said he is glad to see the Michigan Legislature working to provide relief as the session came to a close Monday. 

“While everyone else is upset with what is happening at the federal level with $600 checks and asking if it is really going to cut it for people, it is comforting at a certain point for people here in Michigan to have this relief passed,” Gonzalez said.  

Daily Staff Reporter Celene Philip can be reached at celenep@umich.edu

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