Ryan Little/Daily. Buy this photo.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed off on at least $2.4 billion for COVID-19 relief spending on Tuesday after weeks of negotiations and disputes between the governor and Republican lawmakers, who currently hold the majority in the state legislature. 

Whitmer also vetoed a bill — Michigan House Bill 4049 — that would have made it difficult for her administration to pass pandemic restrictions. If passed, those provisions would have included barring local health departments from closing schools and halting sports practices, among other restrictions. 

Whitmer has repeatedly been criticized by Republicans for her extensive pandemic restrictions, with the Michigan Supreme Court ruling in Oct. 2020 she did not have the authority to extend many of her COVID-19 executive orders. 

Her most recent veto is part of an ongoing conflict with Michigan Republican legislators. In Dec. 2020, Whitmer vetoed Republican-supported parts of a previous funding package, sparking outrage among the Michigan GOP. 

The legislation passed includes a $2.25 hourly wage increase for direct care workers that will extend through September. The bill also includes $223 million in federal rental assistance, $650 million in federal funding for vaccine distribution, $555 million in federal support for COVID-19 testing and a 15% boost in food assistance benefits. 

“As Michigan goes all-out to finally beat back this awful pandemic and turn the page to recovery, we need every last dollar to work for us before the Legislature takes its spring break,” Whitmer  wrote to lawmakers Tuesday. “I look forward to teaming up to make that happen, and that’s why I’ve asked my budget director to convene a meeting to start negotiations as soon as possible.”

Whitmer’s veto of Michigan House Bill 4049 also denied roughly $650 million of COVID-19 relief following disputes between Whitmer and state Republicans over federal relief money and the administration’s control over pandemic restrictions. Republicans attempted to override Whitmer’s veto in the House, but failed to do so after Democrats who supported the bills voted no, according to the Associated Press.

The Michigan Republican Party released a statement Wednesday criticizing Whitmer’s veto. 

“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shamelessly threw school children, small businesses, and unemployed Michiganders under the bus by vetoing much needed portions of the COVID Relief funding bill Tuesday,” the statement reads. “Whitmer’s decision to pick winners and losers will hurt Michiganders looking to make it through the pandemic as we work to safely re-open.”

In an attempt to convince Whitmer to sign the Michigan House Bill 4049 in its entirety, state GOP lawmakers made  offering $840 million in federal K-12 funding contingent upon the reduction of state pandemic powers, which Whitmer ultimately vetoed. As a result, $87 million that would have gone to private schools and $10 million that would have gone to parents whose children enroll in summer school was not approved. 

A $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package is likely to be passed in the coming days, which includes provisions for $1,400 stimulus checks. The stimulus package passed the House a second time Wednesday afternoon and will be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature. 

In a Tuesday letter to legislators about the funding bill, Whitmer said that 97% of schools in the state of Michigan had set goals to return to in-person instruction by March 1. In response to the proposal to give up epidemic powers, Whitmer said statewide orders are necessary, especially when school district decisions often work alongside local health departments. 

The Ann Arbor Public School district is set to offer in-person instruction starting March 25 after AAPS voted to return to classrooms on Feb. 24. 

Daily News Editors Emma Ruberg and Kristina Zheng can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu and krizheng@umich.edu

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.