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Lame-duck COVID-19 aid a win for workers, businesses

On Monday, the Michigan Legislature wrapped up the 2019-20 session by delivering some major gifts to Michigan residents in the Alpena area and around the state.

That included the bipartisan passage of $465 million in supplemental budget funding to provide immediate help to Michigan workers, families, and businesses struggling because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

That money was desperately needed to address the various impacts of COVID-19 on our families, our workers, our businesses, our public health, and our economy.

But the politics of lame duck — the time between elections and the start of a new legislative term — can always be tricky, sometimes resulting in sound compromises, other times in disappointing stalemates.

Luckily, lawmakers kept negotiating and never lost sight of their responsibility to tackle this crisis and provide support to those hit hardest by the pandemic.

The end result was widespread, bipartisan support in both the state House and state Senate and a number of wins for Michigan residents.

It’s is a huge amount of funding and supports an extensive list of important priorities that needed to be addressed now. The supplemental bill includes funding for COVID-19 vaccines as shipments start coming in and being administered, as well as money for additional testing and personal protection equipment.

The legislation also addressed a number of needs for workers and their families.

Money was included for child care funding for providers to school-aged children as kids’ and parents’ schedules continue to change. Funding for hazard pay and other raises were included to acknowledge the importance of direct-care workers and educators of kids of all ages right now, and the additional challenges and health risks that their jobs come with right now. The budget bill also created and funded grant programs for certain businesses and workers who have been hit hardest by the pandemic.

Perhaps the most urgent need addressed by the supplemental bill and companion legislation, Senate Bill 604, is funding to provide six more weeks of emergency unemployment for thousands of struggling workers who were about to have their benefits run out.

That is a need for workers and their kids. A new national KIDS COUNT report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation last week showed that an average of 62% of Michigan households with children have lost income since the pandemic began. As of Nov. 9, that percentage is still hovering at 56%.

There are still other COVID-related struggles kids and residents are facing right now that still need to be addressed by the Michigan Legislature, and are now the responsibility of the next legislative class and its more than two dozen new lawmakers.

We hope the COVID-related needs of our state are a top priority in the next budget supplemental that is expected as early as January. That includes state funding to address eviction assistance and other housing needs and allocating more federal funding for expanded food assistance benefits for school children who would have received free/reduced-price meals through school if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 emergency and move to virtual schools.

While the budget supplemental was the most pleasant surprise of lame duck, there were a number of big positive policies to come out of the final days of the legislative session. That includes Senate Bill 241, which will establish a moratorium on water shutoffs for the more than 300,000 households around the state who are behind on their water bills.

The Legislature also passed several key criminal justice reforms that the Michigan League for Public Policy and a number of our partners have been working on for years. That includes making more occupational licenses available to individuals with a criminal record, eliminating unnecessary driver’s license suspensions for a number of offenses, and ending a lifetime ban on food assistance for individuals with certain drug convictions.

This is one of the toughest times in our state’s and our Legislature’s history.

But, from tackling the state’s most pressing COVID-related needs to helping justice-involved individuals move on from their past mistakes, the members of the 100th Legislature have left a legacy they can be proud of.

Alex Rossman is external affairs director at the Michigan League for Public Policy.

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