Registered nurse Erica Fairfield, right, works at the Hackley Community Care COVID-19 curbside testing site at 2700 Baker Street in Muskegon Heights on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. (Cory Morse | MLive.com) Cory Morse | MLive.com
A $1 billion plan to direct federal coronavirus aid towards COVID-19 testing, address health care worker shortages and make it easier for Michigan residents to obtain monoclonal antibody treatments cleared the Michigan House Tuesday.
House Bill 5523, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland, would direct more than $500 million towards COVID-19 testing overall, $150.8 million of which would be dedicated to getting test kits to schools. Another $150 million initially included in the plan for school testing will now be included in an end-of-year spending bill to get it to the governor’s desk sooner, according to a spokesperson for House Republicans.
Of the money allocated to COVID-19 testing, $100 million would go to employers testing unvaccinated workers, and $90 million would contribute to vaccination efforts — although language currently included in the bill would prohibit the funds from being used for “marketing, education, outreach and other community engagement strategies.”
Related: House Republicans propose $1.2B plan to spend federal COVID-19 aid
Other funds would be put towards buying monoclonal antibodies and other treatments for COVID-19 and expanding eight COVID-19 testing sites to offer monoclonal antibody treatment free of charge for high-risk individuals.
Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-Casco Township, said Tuesday ensuring more COVID-19 patients have access to early treatment options if they could benefit from it is critical and lifesaving, sharing her family’s experience with the disease during a speech on the House floor.
“Over and over again, I hear how difficult and sometimes impossible it is to get,” she said.
The proposal would also put $300 million towards recruitment and retention of health care employees in an effort to address worker shortages in the health care industry.
Health care organizations have praised the proposed spending, noting additional resources for the industry “can’t come soon enough.”
The spending bill that passed Tuesday is the latest pitch on how to spend billions of dollars in federal aid provided to Michigan through various Congressional COVID-19 stimulus programs. The state also has a surplus in state revenue, as additional unemployment benefits and individual stimulus checks during the pandemic helped prop up consumer spending.
House Democrats, who have long called for allocating more of the federal funding available to state lawmakers, called the bill long overdue.
“As our hospitals are filled to capacity, health care staff are pushed to the breaking point and people go without life-saving care because beds are occupied by COVID patients, it has never been more urgent to bring these taxpayer dollars back home to Michigan and out into the communities where they can help treat and mitigate this disease,” Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, said in a statement.
The legislation passed in a 98-4 vote, with Republican Reps. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, Steve Johnson, R-Wayland, Matt Maddock, R-Milford, and John Reilly, R-Oakland Township voting against it.
In a recent interview with reporters, House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, said he’s not in a rush to allocate funds before the end of the year, noting his goal is to be “methodical” to ensure the money is getting put to good use.
“Unless we actually find the areas where we can make a difference and focus on that, it’s not going to do anybody any good,” he said.
Other spending proposals for the federal funding currently pending in the Legislature include a $300 million bill to boost law enforcement programs and a $3.3 billion plan aimed at improving the state’s water infrastructure.
Lawmakers are expected to send a separate spending bill to the governor’s desk before breaking for the year.
Read more on MLive:
Michigan House approves $300M bill to boost police hiring and other law enforcement programs
Michigan Senate passes $3.3 billion water infrastructure bill
Whitmer proposes $32M for police retention; lawmaker calls it watered-down GOP plan
House Republicans propose $80M for recruiting, training local law enforcement
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