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Whitmer: States need additional federal funds to battle COVID-19

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asks for more federal aid to battle the COVID-19 pandemic on July 28, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday called for the U.S. Congress to pass a plan that provides more federal funding to states.

Whitmer said the current plan offered by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t enough and called for lawmakers to “stop the partisanship” and pass a relief package supporting states.

Michigan Budget Director Chris Kolb echoed Whitmer’s concerns, saying the state and local governments would have to lay off essential workers without additional federal money.

The state is waiting for an August revenue estimating conference before lawmakers address a $3 billion budget shortfall for fiscal year 2021, Kolb said.

“Federal funding was key to balancing our current fiscal year budget,” Kolb said. “But now that federal year is gone, and fiscal year 2021 is staring us in the face.”

Over 90 percent of the general fund and School Aid Fund supports schools, colleges, universities, public safety and health care, Kolb said.

Kolb called for the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act, a $3.3 trillion bill that would give Michigan more than $13 billion.

Under McConnell’s $1 trillion proposal unveiled Monday, Kolb said that “severe” budget cuts to education, public safety and health care services would be “unavoidable.” McConnell has said the federal government will not bail out states whose finances were already murky before the pandemic.

COVID-19 cases have been increasing, but hospitalizations and deaths have remained low, Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said.

Khaldun said of 78 coronavirus outbreaks identified last week, about 25 were in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.

But it’s still unclear if schools will return to in-person learning.

Whitmer said 800 school districts in Michigan have various experiences with COVID-19 and can use her plan to prepare for in-person and distance learning.

“We can’t dictate for all 800 districts precisely what a day looks like,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer encouraged Michiganders to wear a mask to provide the best possible chance for kids to start school in-person.

Several school districts, including Lansing and Grand Rapids, have already decided to begin the year with distance learning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged to reopen.

Long periods away from school, the AAP says, interrupts support services for children and often results in social isolation. These factors make it “difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” they add. “This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk.”

Whitmer didn’t provide an exact date when schools would know if they should open in-person or return to remote learning.

That complicates the decision for parents who are unsure if they may have to quit their job to care for a child who is learning remotely.

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