Gov. Whitmer signs $62.7 billion Michigan budget for 2021, highlights money for mothers

It was not the process anyone wanted or expected, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday everyone did the best they could to finalize a budget during a pandemic that created massive economic uncertainty. 

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“In an ordinary year, there would be a lot more committee meetings, there would be a lot more opportunity to weigh in, and yet because of COVID-19 and the incredible public health crisis, we’ve had unique challenges to address here,” Whitmer said. 

Gretchen Whitmer standing in front of a building: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the Aretha L. Franklin Memorial Highway dedication ceremony in Detroit, Monday, August 24, 2020.

© Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the Aretha L. Franklin Memorial Highway dedication ceremony in Detroit, Monday, August 24, 2020.

“I recognize that, in an ordinary year, there’s a lot more ability for the public to participate. I regret that that wasn’t able to happen in the midst of all the crises that we are confronting. … I feel good about where this budget landed.”

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 Whitmer formally adopted next year’s state budget on Wednesday, one day before the start of the new financial year. At $62.7 billion dollars, the 2021 budget includes a $65-per-pupil funding increase for school districts while cutting only $250 million from an array of agencies and programs.  

The governor specifically highlighted several initiatives, including millions to help pregnant mothers receive the resources they need and adults obtain affordable training or certificates for jobs in a skilled trade. 

Earlier this year, Whitmer proposed allocating $37.5 million for the Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies program. The new initiative is aimed at cutting infant mortality rates while eliminating barriers to care that disproportionately affect communities of color. 

While the final budget includes only $12.6 million for the program, Whitmer said it’s a plan that will still help families. 

“Healthy Moms and Healthy Babies will provide needed tools across our state to reduce infant mortality rates, keep families together and provide women — whether considering, expecting or caring for a new child — with vital health care coverage and access they need,” State Budget Director Chris Kolb said.

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The deal represents a far less dire financial situation than previously predicted; lawmakers and analysts had feared the economic collapse created by the coronavirus pandemic may have necessitated billions in cuts. 

Whitmer noted that the addition of an additional meeting in August to review budget estimates helped the state more accurately calculate how it could invest and where it needed to save. The influx of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal aid also staved off draconian cuts. 

The late estimates and shifting financial picture forced lawmakers to act with less transparency.  This year, the budget bills were introduced and passed on the same day, in theory giving lawmakers only a few hours to read hundreds of pages of dense legislation. 

While the state avoided a budgetary disaster this year, next year is already worrying Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio. 

“We know that going into fiscal year ’22, which we’ll start to work on in just a couple weeks, that we are looking at potentially $1 billion less revenues than we think we might have. We’ll just have to see what happens with the economy,” Donofrio said. 

“And it’s also why it’s so important that Washington passes a fifth stimulus package, so that we can have money for our workers, for our businesses, for our schools, for our health care industries, but also for state and local governments as well.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Michigan overwhelmingly supported the budget proposals, although some noted the truncated process for crafting and passing the measures.

Rep. Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods, was one of the few vocal critics of the governor and the budget. She derided lawmakers for agreeing to close the Detroit Re-Entry Center, a prison where many who were incarcerated have completed required programming prior to their release.

While the move is expected to save $12.3 million next year, Yancey said the facility could quickly become an eyesore in the city. 

“This Democratic governor was a part of these negotiations to close the facility in Detroit, and it is very disappointing to know that. Once again, showing a lack of respect for Black voters who helped elect her,” Yancey said, referring to Whitmer from the House floor when lawmakers voted on the budget. 

“Black people are tired of being used and thrown away like trash.” 

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On Wednesday, Whitmer said she remains dedicated to the needs of the people of Detroit, adding there will always be several dissenting voices on a final budget proposal. 

The governor also left intact several funding priorities she’d previously vetoed. 

She previously nixed 2020 funding for the Pure Michigan tourism promotion campaign and the Going Pro program for employer-based training of Michigan workers, but allowed new funding in 2021. 

The budget creates up to $25 million for Pure Michigan, with $15 million coming from the state general fund and other funding coming from the tourism industry and local agencies.

Going Pro, a program that awards grants to employers to train workers, initiated under former Gov. Rick Snyder, would be funded at $28.7 million. 

Additional funding increases and cuts in the budget include: 

  • About $994 million in increased funding for the Healthy Michigan plan, which provides coverage through Medicaid expansion made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act. About $122 million of that amount is state funding.
  • $896 million extra to cover Medicaid costs, with some of those extra costs related to the pandemic.  Only $100 million of that is state money, with the rest coming from the federal government. 
  • $135 million to give a temporary $2-per-hour raise to direct care nurses and related workers. This follows a similar hazard pay benefit offered earlier in the year to health care workers directly assisting patients during the pandemic. Lawmakers had proposed $150 million for the program. 
  • $600 million in general fund money to help pay for road repairs, representing the full amount called for in the 2015 road funding agreement. The amount of general fund money going to roads has increased gradually each year in order to reach the $600 million cap.
  • A reduction of $120 million from what had been described as one-time 2020 funding for drinking water initiatives, including compliance with lead and copper requirements and remediation of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as “forever chemicals”) contamination.
  • $30 million for the Michigan Reconnect program, created to pay for skills training and certification for residents 25 and older who do not have a college degree.
  • An additional $53 million in hazard pay for K-12 teachers related to the coronavirus pandemic, with payments capped at $500 per teacher.
  • An extra $20 million in payments for school support staff, with payments capped at $250 per employee.
  • $14.3 million to expand broadband Internet connectivity in underserved communities. 
  • $4.2 million to implement parts of the jail and pre-trial incarceration task force recommendations, with about $2.4 million going to support for crime victims and about $1.8 million going to behavioral health crisis training for police, dispatchers and jail officers.
  • An additional $4 million for training of corrections officers, on top of about $9.5 million appropriated for that purpose in the 2020 budget. The money allows for the training of about 700 new corrections officers, mainly to offset retirements.
  • $5 million for a retention stipend for first-year teachers who complete the 2021 school year. Provides $1,000 per teacher in a district where at least 70% of students are economically disadvantaged and $500 per teacher in all other districts. Requires districts to provide a $500 match per teacher.
  • A $5.6 million increase to behavioral health services for students and $2 million for districts to improve virtual learning. 
  • An extra $23.5 million to expand maternal and infant health and support programs, including lengthening Medicaid coverage for new mothers and infants to 12 months from 2 months, enhancing access to behavioral health care, and expanding home visiting programs for pregnant women, new mothers and at-risk families.
  • Almost $40 million in additional pandemic-related funding for the Family Independence Program, which provides temporary financial assistance to families with children to pay for essential expenses such as food and rent. 
  • An extra $20.6 million for business attraction and community revitalization.
  • Approximately $1 million to eliminate school lunch debt. 

Contact Dave Boucher at [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Gov. Whitmer signs $62.7 billion Michigan budget for 2021, highlights money for mothers

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