Is Relief in Sight? What New COVID-19 Relief Bill Means For Detroit

President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, also known as his $1.9 trillion COVID Relief bill, is quickly winding its way through the Senate and is expected to be voted on within the next two weeks or so.

State and local officials insist it’s still too early to know definitively how much Michigan and Wayne County will receive because possible amendments may be negotiated.

However, Michigan was awarded $5.6 billion as its share of the $900 billion COVID relief bill combined with an $1.4 trillion omnibus government spending bill, known as the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2021, signed into law on Dec. 27 by then-President Trump.

Of that total amount, Wayne County received 12 percent and Oakland County eight percent; the first and second-largest portions doled out by the state.

A local official said on background that one could extrapolate from Michigan’s cut of the $900 billion relief in December what the state’s portion from the passage of the American Rescue could be.

The counties only began to receive their money from the state around two weeks ago, with much of it still held by Republican partisan politics in the state legislature. Importantly, none of the money in the Trump relief bill was allocated specifically to help state and local governments. That means the money, which came from various federal agencies, is dedicated to specific projects and programs. State and local officials have little discretion to shift money to cover other human non-COVID emergencies no matter how urgent they may be. That includes extra money for schools, public safety or the salaries of public servants who have been laid off as fallouts from the pandemic.

Critically, the Biden American Rescue Plan has proposed $350 billion in state and local aid to be used at their local discretion. It would be a rich source of additional funding for state and county officials. Most importantly, it provides far more flexibility when it comes to prioritizing their budgets.

“President-elect Biden understands that to build our economy back better we must join forces to end the COVID-19 pandemic. His American Rescue Plan will help us do both. I have been calling on the federal government to pass crucial funding for state and local governments for months, and I am glad that the incoming Biden Administration has heard those calls,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer said in a recent television interview.

Of the money allocated to Michigan, $574,827,340 came from CDC Funding targeted for COVID-19 testing and another $90,239,771 from the CDC for COVID-19 vaccination activities, a spokesperson for Sen. Stabenow stated in an email to The Michigan Chronicle. She pointed out that Sen. Stabenow secured an extra $19.9 million for five Detroit-based community behavioral health organizations to meet the growing need for mental health and addiction services.

A large portion of the $5.6 billion allocated to Michigan is held up from distribution by Republicans in the state legislature. They are demanding Governor Whitmer relinquish much of her emergency powers in exchange for them releasing all of the money to help Michigan’s cities and towns struggling under the burden of the deadly pandemic. It includes hard-hit communities like Detroit, Flint, Saginaw and other urban areas.

Sen. Stabenow not only insists all funding be released by the state legislature as intended, but her Republican colleagues in Washington are working with her for the swift passage of the American Rescue Plan.

“More than 10 million Americans are out of work, and millions more are worrying about how they’ll pay the rent or mortgage, keep the lights on and provide food for their families. Democrats know that American families and communities need a bold plan to combat the pandemic, address the economic crisis they face and get our children back to school safely. We are ready to pass the American Rescue Plan and get our country back on track,” said Sen. Stabenow in a statement to the Chronicle.

President Biden has emphasized his actions are part of a comprehensive effort to provide relief to millions of American workers who have lost their jobs and had their hours or wages slashed through no fault of their own.

Biden said they will help working families feed their children and keep a roof over their head ensuring that unemployed Americans no longer have to choose between paying their bills and supporting themselves and their families. They will also help more unemployed workers pay for training and college to find better jobs and succeed in an increasingly competitive job market.

This all-of-government effort will:

  • Address the growing hunger crisis facing 29 million Americans — and as many as 12 million children – by asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs.
  • Ensure equitable and effective delivery of direct payments by asking the Treasury Department to consider changing its delivery structure and focusing on getting relief to the 8 million Americans who still have not received the financial assistance they are entitled to.
  • Help approximately 2 million veterans maintain their financial footing by asking the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts.
  • Help ensure that unemployed Americans no longer have to choose between paying their bills and keeping themselves and their families safe from COVID-19 by asking the U.S. Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers who refuse unsafe working conditions can still receive unemployment insurance.
  • Enable effective and equitable distribution of government assistance by establishing an interagency benefit coordination structure.

“Once again, President Biden has proven that he will work around the clock to end the COVID-19 pandemic and build our economy back better. I’m proud to have a partner in the White House who will help us get things done for Michiganders,” Whitmer said.

Regardless of politics, the American Rescue Plan is expected to pass mostly intact. And that can only be good news for Michigan and Wayne County whose officials may find themselves in the strange position of being flush with money, for the first time in a very long time.

 

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