Panel OKs $1.2B coronavirus bill; visitation rules relaxed
LANSING (AP) — Michigan lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday that would allocate more than $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding, including $200 million to help small businesses restart as stay-at-home restrictions are loosened.
The state, meanwhile, relaxed rules so people can visit patients in hospitals and accompany them to physicians’ offices as long as they are screened. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rescinded an order that allowed governments to delay responses to public-records requests during the emergency, effective June 11.
The $1.2 billion supplemental budget legislation unanimously cleared the House Appropriations Committee, which added $700 million that was not included in a Senate-passed version. The measure would set aside $500 million in case the unemployment benefits fund drops below a certain balance and allocate $200 million to businesses — $188 million to qualifying small businesses with 500 or fewer workers and $12 million to agriculture processing plants.
Grants would be capped at $1,000 per plant employee and $5,000 per small business.
The federal funding also would be used to give a $3 an hour raise to nursing home employees and home care workers, up to $1,000 in bonus pay for first responders and grants to child care providers to reduce costs. There also is money to provide testing supplies and personal protective equipment for nursing, home health and day care facilities.
The Republican-controlled House held off on voting as discussions continued with the Democratic governor.
State Department and Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon issued exceptions to allow visitors inside hospitals, outpatient clinics and doctor’s offices. There must be designated entrances, screening for COVID-19 symptoms and mask requirements. People are strongly discouraged from visiting those at risk of severe virus complications, such as older adults and patients with underlying conditions.
Hospitals also must make available onsite and offsite alternatives to in-person visits like video or audio calls.
“Sometimes a visitor can be just the medicine a hospitalized patient needs to help them through their recovery,” Gordon said in a statement.
In early April, Whitmer issued an order suspending strict deadlines for complying with Freedom of Information Act requests to account for public employees not working in person. She also let governments defer responses by up to two months if COVID-19 or related response efforts interfere.
On Wednesday, she extended the order by six days and repealed it starting June 11.
The state reported 17 additional coronavirus-related deaths, for a total of 5,570. There were 304 more cases, raising the total to about 58,000. The seven-day rolling average of new cases was the lowest since late March, when cases were surging and the governor issued stay-at-home and other orders to curb the spread.
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, urged Congress to give the state more funding to hold August and November elections during the pandemic. She testified remotely to a House Judiciary subcommittee that while Michigan received $11.2 million for elections from a federal relief bill, it is “not enough to fill the $40 million gap that these new challenges create for our state.”
Benson’s appearance came a day after Whitmer spoke to another House panel.