Whitmer outlines priorities for spending federal virus aid

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday outlined her priorities for spending billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid, saying the focus should be on long-lasting initiatives to help students and small businesses hurt by the pandemic.

Other priorities include upgrading neglected infrastructure, boosting public health funding, and making child care more affordable and accessible.

The Democratic governor chose not to propose specific legislation to the Republican-controlled Legislature, as she did with the last round of federal relief. At least $2 billion of that aid remains in limbo because GOP lawmakers did not negotiate with Whitmer or unsuccessfully tied some funds to vetoed bills that would have ceded or limited the state health department’s pandemic powers.

“Instead of putting together a whole proposal, we wanted to set forth what our values are and invite the Legislature to the table and consider negotiating and writing this together so we can actually get it done,” she told reporters. She said her outline “very well meshes with what the business community has suggested. Let’s think long-term, sustainability, transformational change, economic competitiveness.”

Whitmer said the $18 billion-plus coming to Michigan as part of a $1.9 trillion rescue package is a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.” About $5.7 billion is for state government, $4.4 billion is for municipalities and $3.9 billion is for K-12 schools.

Both Whitmer and legislators will need to agree before much of the funding is disbursed. The governor suggested child care as a starting point in what likely will be a series of supplemental spending measures to be negotiated this year.

“We know that this has always been an issue for families across Michigan and for employers across Michigan. But now it’s even more dire than it was before,” she told The Associated Press, noting how the pandemic has forced women out of the workforce.

The governor did detail one specific — expanding Michigan Reconnect, a new program that in February began accepting applications for tuition-free assistance from adults 25 and older to earn an associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate at a community college or private training school.

She otherwise largely spoke in broad terms about priorities such as expanding preschool access, addressing pandemic-related learning loss, increasing K-12 mental health funding, and providing incentives for teacher recruitment and retention.

Other priorities include additional grants for small businesses, which were issued through previous COVID-19 relief packages; the creation of a business accelerator to provide startup capital to entrepreneurs; attracting technology and mobility companies to the state; helping seniors stay in their home of choice; and expanding access to behavioral health supports

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