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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Gov. Gretchen Whitmer COURTESY PHOTO

State officials criticize Senate GOP relief plan; Grand Rapids moves out of high-risk category

BY Tuesday, July 28, 2020 03:42pm

State officials are again calling for direct federal assistance to support state, local and school budgets that have been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, saying this week’s proposal from the U.S. Senate is inadequate.

“The plan on the table does not accomplish the goal of helping states,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said during a press conference today, referring to a COVID-19 relief plan unveiled yesterday by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

State Budget Director Chris Kolb also criticized McConnell’s plan, calling it “woefully lacking in many ways. … Frankly, it’s pretty unbelievable.”

Kolb also noted the $1 trillion relief package, which has faced opposition from Democrats and some within the Republican Party, includes education funding that’s tied to schools’ reopening for in-person instruction.

“I’ve never seen anything like that in my career,” Kolb said.

Since the early weeks of the pandemic, state officials and economists have said direct aid for state and local budgets is necessary to avoid widespread layoffs and shrinking public spending that would prolong the recession.

Although nearly $500 million in federal funding has been loosened to recover budgetary shortfalls, more is needed, officials argue. The Whitmer administration and lawmakers from the Republican-led state Legislature have agreed on a spending package that resolves a $2.2 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year, though Kolb noted the fiscal year 2021 budget — which starts Oct. 1 — could have a more than $3 billion deficit.

Both Whitmer and Kolb praised the Democratic-led U.S. House’s $3 trillion relief package that passed in May, which Kolb said would provide Michigan with $13 billion in direct budget support over the next two years.

“The fact of the matter is department budgets are already skinny,” Kolb said. “There’s simply no way to cut the budget in fiscal year ’21 without impacting essential services,” he said.

GR region no longer high-risk

Although Michigan has seen an uptick in the number of positive COVID-19 cases since last month, the number of new daily cases has plateaued over the past two weeks, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun announced today.

And despite a rise in case numbers, the state continues to see “low levels of deaths and hospitalization rates remain steady — both very good signs,” Khaldun said.

The Grand Rapids region, which has seen a steady two-week decline in new cases, is among the positive case studies. Khaldun said today the region would be moving out of the high-risk category in the MI Safe Start Map. The area includes 13 counties in West Michigan.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Michigan had 79,176 positive cases of COVID-19, an increase of 669 from the day before, and 16 new deaths, bringing the cumulative total to 6,170. Kent County has reported 6,288 cases and 151 deaths.

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