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Stamas: No Whitmer nominations until reopening

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Randy Freier serves up some homemade lasagna while working at his restaurant, Freier’s Pizzeria, in downtown Alpena on Wednesday. Freier is anxious to reopen his dining room as soon as he is allowed to. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer indicated Wednesday that, if current COVID-19 trends hold, indoor dining service could begin on Feb. 1, with restrictions.

ALPENA — A state senator representing Northeast Michigan is calling on his colleagues to block Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s appointments until her administration allows restaurants to reopen.

Restaurants have been barred to indoor dining since November as Whitmer pushed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Jim Stamas, a Republican from Midland who owns a restaurant there, said in a statement on Wednesday all appointments should stop until the state is reopened and businesses are back to operating in full.

He said his request to delay appointments is to bring the governor to the table on COVID-19 issues.

His comments came on the same day Whitmer loosened some regulations and teased the possible opening of restaurants for indoor dining as soon as Feb. 1.

Whitmer also announced more funding for small businesses and underemployed residents.

“The governor is continuing punitive lockdowns and jeopardizing lives and livelihoods, while the state government has largely been unaffected,” Stamas said. “People have suggested that the governor and her department heads not get paid until they allow restaurants and other family businesses to reopen and their workers to earn their paychecks.”

The state Senate must consent to many of the dozens of appointments needed to fill out various state boards and commissions.

Besides indicating that she is considering loosening restrictions on restaurants, Whitmer announced during a press conference on Wednesday that two new programs will kick off soon, and she urged business owners and eligible employees in some business sectors to take advantage.

The governor announced the Michigan Strategic Fund Board will vote on $55 million in small business survival grants that will come from the COVID-19 relief package the Legislature approved last month.

The state has already distributed over $180 million to more than 18,000 struggling small businesses in the state receiving support, Whitmer said.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. will roll out the grant application process today, Whitmer said.

The governor stated that 15 regional economic development organizations will handle the consideration and distribution of the funds.

Economic development firm Target Alpena has participated in the process in previous rounds of state funding distribution, and will do so again.

Whitmer also announced employees who have lost their jobs, been furloughed, laid off, or had hours cut could be eligible for employee assistance grants. The one-time grants can be for up to $1,650, and employees in the hospitality, entertainment, recreation, and food services sectors, among others, will be eligible.

There is a 10-day window to apply for the grant. People can begin applying Friday until Jan.25. The applications will be reviewed in February, and checks will be issued in March.

“Michiganders have made great sacrifices, and continue to make great sacrifices,” Whitmer said. “This program will help to offset some of the financial losses they have suffered.”

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