Lansing, MI – December 1, 2020 – Today Governor Whitmer held a news conference to talk about legislation, funding, and more regarding COVID-19 and the MDHHS. You can listen to or watch the full news conference here or listen to and read along with the Governor’s opening statement below.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer:
Good afternoon. Today is Tuesday, December 1st. I am joined today by Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, our chief medical executive. We are now nearly two weeks into the MDHHS three week pause to save lives epidemic order. This epidemic order is geared toward stopping the spread by limiting indoor gatherings where COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person. This is the right thing to do, to protect our families, to protect our medical workers, and to protect small businesses from the virus. These steps are what public health experts say we need to take to avoid overwhelmed hospitals and death counts like we saw in the spring.
Earlier this year, Michigan emerged as a national leader in fighting COVID-19 and saving lives. We beat COVID-19 last time by listening to public health experts, and we can beat it again, but it’s going to take every one of us doing our part and working together, and it will take leaders from both sides of the aisle, working together in a bipartisan way to get it done.
Last week, I sent a letter to the Michigan legislature, wishing them a nice Thanksgiving with their families and asking them to join me in our work to defeat our common enemy. This is the most urgent public health emergency our state has faced in any of our lifetimes, and it demands our full, immediate and unified attention. In my letter to the legislature, I requested that they work with me on three key priorities during the few remaining session days of 2020.
The first is passing $100 million Michigan COVID relief plan. Week after week, we have been urging, the nation’s governors on both sides of the aisle, have been urging Congress and the White House to pass a bi-partisan and sign a bi-partisan relief bill so that we can provide for our families, protect our frontline workers, help our restaurants, support our educators, and give small businesses a hand during this tough time. But leaders at the federal level still have not been able to agree on a plan, and that’s why we need to take action at the state level. It’s crucial for us to come together now to pass a targeted, state based economic stimulus plan of up to $100 million that will provide direct financial support to the families and small businesses that have been hit hardest by this pandemic.
Michigan is facing a budget shortfall of up to a billion dollars next year. So we’ve got to make some hard choices. We’re right now prioritizing our families, our frontline, and small businesses, while avoiding spending too much on non-critical projects.
I also urged the legislature to pass a permanent extension of unemployment benefits. On the heels of the last recession, the legislature cut workers’ economic lifeline from 26 weeks to 20 weeks and let inflation whittle away the $362 maximum weekly benefit. Michigan’s benefits are in the bottom third in the nation and the lowest in the Great Lakes region.
Earlier this fall, I worked with legislators from both sides of the aisle to pass legislation that codified my executive orders to provide temporary extension of unemployment benefits to 26 weeks. But this legislation, unfortunately, expires at the end of this year. House Democrats have already drafted some bills to get this done. And just yesterday, they invited their Republican colleagues to join forces with them to protect unemployed Michiganders. If we don’t take this bi-partisan action now, thousands of Michiganders who are unemployed could lose benefits right after the holiday. Let’s work together and get this done.
Last, I urged lawmakers to pass legislation to protect public health. Since COVID-19 first showed up in Michigan, I’ve taken swift action to save lives and protect people. This virus has infected more than 350,000 Michiganders, and sadly it has taken the lives of over 9,000 people in our state. This virus, as I’ve said many times, doesn’t care if you are rich or you are poor, if you are young, or if you’re old, you’re a Trump Republican or a Biden Democrat. And then that’s why it’s so important that we focus on the fact that we are all Michiganders and our common enemy is this virus. And we need to work together to save lives.
That means passing legislation to require masks in public places, to receive bipartisan support, this policy would greatly improve compliance, would help our law enforcement, and it would slow the spread of COVID and support our businesses. I want to acknowledge representative Tommy Brann for standing up in favor of this policy. As a small business owner, I know he has a unique perspective here.
And as federal coronavirus relief funds expire at the end of the year, I’ve urged the legislature to work with me, to focus spending on direct public health costs like hospital overflow, staffing needs, testing, PPE, and mitigating the spread of COVID in our prisons and congregate care settings, in our veterans homes, adult foster care, and nursing homes.
In the absence of federal funding, we also need funding to begin preparations for vaccine distribution and administration. So we, as the state, need to step up and make this a priority now, so we’re ready when the vaccines are available.
We must also work to support our schools. Our public schools have played a critical role within our communities since the onset of this pandemic. They not only have continued to provide learning opportunities for our students in whatever manner is available, but they have stepped up to provide food, emotional support, and other critically needed services that help countless students and their families across Michigan. The work of our school administrators, our teachers, and support staff over the past year has been critical in helping students find as much normalcy as possible, enabling parents to return to work and our economy to begin to recover. But our school officials are scrambling to make ends meet. Providing some support for them is going to take a commitment at every level of government. That means the bi-partisan recovery package at the federal level to help our schools.
The nature of this virus demands that we all work together to protect the people that we serve. We cannot wait to get it done. Yesterday, my administration announced the Pure Michigan Small Business Relief Initiative. This program will put $10 million of Cares Act dollars to use, to award grants of $15,000 to Michigan small businesses that have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. Businesses will be able to apply for grants starting December 15th. It’s first come, first serve, so small business owners, mark your calendars for December 15th. And to determine whether your business is eligible, please visit the MEDC website.
As we head into the holiday season. I want to remind all Michiganders, if you are shopping for loved ones or friends or neighbors, consider, strongly consider, supporting businesses in your community.
Last week, the MEDC launched the Support Local campaign, reminding Michiganders to shop small during the holidays and throughout the winter months. There are a number of ways that we can support local businesses this season and stay safe. Buy your holiday gifts from small businesses that you love or find online in your area. I, for one, have sent Detroit Basket Company gift baskets to my sister and her family in New York. They’re going to have burners and Faygo and better made chips and a lot of other good stuff. I also ordered a bunch of candles from Kalamazoo Candle Company that I’ll be given to people. I went shopping at October Moon in old town Lansing. And you can help a small business restaurant by ordering and buying gift cards for loved ones. My brother is getting a [Crunchies 00:09:58] gift card. I encourage you all to seek out small businesses here in Michigan and give them-
… To seek out small businesses here in Michigan and give them your business and treat your loved ones to a cool Michigan gift. Our small businesses are truly the lifeblood of our communities and we must do everything we can to help them and to support them.
I’ve spoken to people all across Michigan about the impact of COVID-19, about the immensity of the impact of COVID-19 on them, their families and their businesses. My job is to work on behalf of all 10 million people in the state and I’m committed to making sure that your voice is heard here in Lansing.
Yesterday, I had a call with nurses who have been taking care of people throughout this pandemic. Last week, I spoke with postal workers as they geared up for the busy holiday season, just finishing the elections. Spoken with business owners from Detroit to Marquette, who are desperate for some support from the federal government and I know every one of us is tired; tired of this pandemic. Me too.
We’ve been fighting this for a long time, but we have to be resilient enough to see this through. We’ve got to continue working together to eradicate this virus. I’m not going to sugar coat this. The next couple of months are going to be hard.
Last Sunday, I spent my time as with our leadership at DHHS, including Doctor Khaldun and a number of others here who are working so tirelessly to keep people safe, on calls with national experts. We had a number of calls back to back and spent a lot of our Sunday, trying to make sure that we’re asking the smartest people, to give us counsel, as we are forging our path here in Michigan.
We all know the next two months are going to be hard. Too many people traveled for Thanksgiving and we will see our numbers increase very likely because of it and that’ll coincide with the next big holiday, Christmas, and too many people are considering traveling and I’m reiterating please don’t. About four weeks after that, we will see the impact of that.
So the next two months are going to be hard. Our case numbers, our hospitalizations and deaths are dangerously high already. And even with our targeted and temporary actions to slow the spread, we expect to see numbers increase over the coming weeks and months, as more people travel for the holidays.
To our families, to our medical frontline, and our small business owners and our essential workers everywhere, I will continue working around the clock to try to make your job a little less hard. I’ll continue to follow the data closely and I’ll listen to public health like Doctor Khaldun, as I continue to make decisions to protect people in public health.
The good news is there is hope on the horizon. There truly is significant progress being made in the realm of vaccine development, from Moderna, from Pfizer, and from a few other companies that are in that process as well. We will continue to work 24/7 to ensure any effective and safe vaccine is distributed safely and in a way that follows the CDC guidance.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer:
There is light at the end of this tunnel. We’re going to get through this. It’s going to be hard but you know what? We’re Michiganders and we have grit. We’ve come this far. Few more months and we will see the light at the end of this tunnel. We’re tough enough to beat any crisis that comes our way. We’ve done it in the past. We can do this. So let’s mask up. Let’s take care of one another