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Whitmer signs COVID relief plan, vetoes jobless measure

LANSING (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a $106 million plan Tuesday that will provide relief to businesses and fund efforts to fight the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Though the plan was a collaborative effort between the governor and the legislature, Whitmer told reporters that the legislature strayed from the original agreement and that the $465 million plan the legislature sent to her desk had been cut.

Unemployment benefits will be extended from 20 weeks to 26 weeks through the end of March by signing a separate bill. But Whitmer used a line-item veto to get rid of a $220 million allocation that would have helped businesses fund unemployment benefits.

“This will not impact individual workers,” she said. “General fund dollars have got to be used to fund essential services like vaccines and PPE, not to give tax breaks to big businesses, right now.”

But Republican legislative leaders argued that by vetoing the $220 million, Whitmer made the benefits extension void. Incoming GOP Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth issued a statement saying “the madness has to stop”.

“The governor took a bipartisan bill that easily passed with widespread support and cut critical funding to support workers with extended unemployment assistance,” Wentworth said. “She either doesn’t understand the legislation in front of her or her actions today are just as cruel and tone deaf as so many others have been during this pandemic.”

“Once again, the Governor has made reckless use of her veto pen, jeopardizing much needed relief for the many Michiganders struggling to make ends meet,” state Rep. Sue Allor, R-Wolverine, who represents Northeast Michigan, said in a written statement. “How she can praise a bipartisan plan to extend unemployment benefits, while slashing the very funds set aside to enact it is as confounding as it is shameful.”

Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for the Democratic governor reiterated the governor’s comments from the news conference in a statement Tuesday and said the line-item veto has no effect on current unemployed workers or their benefit weeks.

Under the plan, the Michigan Strategic Fund will receive $55 million to distribute survival grants of up to $20,000 to small businesses that were forced to close and grants of up to $15,000 if the businesses partially closed.

The relief plan also allocates $3.5 million for grants of up to $40,000 to help entertainment venues and $45 million in payments to workers who were laid off during the pandemic.

Republican Senate Majority leader Mike Shirkey took to Twitter Monday morning to air his grievances about Whitmer’s timeliness with the plan. She received the bill Dec. 22.

“Every day that goes by, 20 restaurants close their doors for good and more Michiganders — out of work due to her orders — suffer,” Shirkey wrote. “This bill should have been signed the moment she received it,”

Brown said in an emailed statement Monday that Whitmer proposed the stimulus plan to the legislature in November and Republicans stalled the process.

“The Republican legislative leaders did not fully negotiate this bill with our administration and, because of that, our team is going through a careful legal and policy review,” Brown said. “This is a standard procedure for bills that haven’t been negotiated.”

Whitmer said Tuesday that the legislature needs to work with her to create more permanent plans to help Michigan as its health systems and economy struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Michiganders should not be used as any sort of a bargaining chip or tied to other priorities that the legislature might have outside of protecting public health in our economy,” Whitmer said.

The Alpena News contributed to this report.

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