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Michigan House OKs $185 million in pandemic relief


The Michigan House voted 96-6 to approve $185 million of federal pandemic relief to businesses forced closed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

Appropriations Chair Rep Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said he wanted to pass House Bill 5524. “For many in the state of Michigan today, it is still not business as usual,” he said.

“We still have job providers and workers suffering from the economic consequences of government shutdowns and the slow return back to normal,” he added. “These businesses were prohibited by the government from operating and earning revenue for much of the pandemic,” Albert said in a floor speech. “It is critical that we step up and help them get back on their feet.”

Rep. Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo, offered an unsuccessful amendment to add $5 million to artists and $10 million to museums hurt by COVID.

On March 16, 2020, Whitmer ordered gyms and other private businesses to shutter statewide. Five months later, Whitmer said it was still “too early to say” when those businesses could reopen, yet they were still expected to pay taxes, bills and payroll.

Albert said one gym owner, Alyssa Tushman, lost two out of the three gyms she owned pre-pandemic. The state charged one gym owner who reopened early with 30 misdemeanors and fined him $18,000, but an Oct. 2, 2020, Michigan Supreme Court order tossed Whitmer’s orders and voided the penalties.

Michigan forced closed bowling alleys for 212 days in 2020 – or 58% of the year – but the establishments still are expected to pay property taxes that can be greater than $30,000. Court records show Forest View Lanes in Temperance lost more than $1 million during the shutdown.

The relief would come via grants, licensing and fee offsets to gyms, theaters and music venues. The package includes:

  • $53 million to fitness industry businesses hurt by COVID.
  • $30 million to promote tourism
  • $25 million to provide grants to eligible community development financial institutions.
  • $18 million to movie theaters hurt by COVID to pay rent, payroll, mortgage utilities, or normal costs, equaling $15,000 per screen.
  • $10 million to train servers at industries that serve alcohol.
  • $6.5 million to live music and entertainment venues hurt by COVID, with individual grants to support payroll, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses or normal business costs capped at $10,000.
  • $8.9 million to offset license and certification fee credits.

Michael LaFaive, senior director of fiscal policy for the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said “There are much better uses” for that $30 million for tourism, which would add onto an existing $20 million via the Pure Michigan program as well as $15 million in state and local subsidies.

“How much is enough?” LaFaive wrote in an email.

“The state would be better off using this $30 million to repair Michigan roads faster than they fall apart,” LaFaive wrote. “Research shows that such a move is more likely to create jobs than subsidizing the tourism industry.”

The COVID relief would follow $409 million in small-business relief signed into law in December 2021.

This article was originally posted on Michigan House OKs $185 million in pandemic relief

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