More of Michigan’s professionals will get hazard pay this year. Plus, job training, a free tuition program, and widespread mental health services for residents.
LANSING, MI—Michigan has officially entered a new fiscal year with a $63 billion budget approved by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on September 30.
In a year characterized by the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, a struggling working class, and Michigan being denied federal aid, the 2021 budget is even more critical to getting local families the services and programs they need.
This year’s budget prioritizes teachers, re-energizing the economy, mental health services for first responders and nursing homes safety.
We’re breaking down the line items most likely to benefit the most Michiganders and looking at what gaps remain in meeting families’ needs.
10 Key Budget Items that Will Impact Michigan Families
The budget Michigan will use for the next fiscal year is far more lean than originally hoped, but there was enough in the coffers to revive, enhance or shore up some old programs and implement a few new ones thanks to the flexibility the state had with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding.
Childcare is becoming more affordable for Michiganders. The income eligibility limits for childcare subsidies has increased, meaning a family of four making up to $39,000 per year is eligible.
Schools are given some additional funding. Teachers will get hazard pay this year, and schools will get a modest $65 per pupil additionally for 2021 only. Money is also allocated to virtual learning and settling outstanding student lunch debt.
Moms will get a boost as well, with the budget bolstering Medicaid’s maternal health services. Postpartum coverage through the program will be extended from two to 12 months under the new Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies initiative.
Community colleges also are getting attention from the budget. The Michigan Reconnect scholarship would cover career retraining for adult Michiganders through community college tuition, which could be useful as Michigan recovers from record-setting job losses during the early days of the pandemic.
Job training wasn’t overlooked either. The Going Pro initiative funds grants to employers to help skill up new workers. The initiative isn’t new, but like Pure Michigan, it went unfunded in the last budget.
Mental health services got prioritized as well, from counselors for children to state psychiatric hospitals. First responders will get access to a special allocation for mental health services as well.
Nursing homes also got attention in the budget. Direct care workers will see a modest boost to paychecks for hazard pay, and nursing homes got an allocation for coronavirus-related expenses.
Rural broadband is a priority in the new budget. The coronavirus highlighted the digital divide in Michigan, so the budget has set developing broadband in communities underserved by internet providers in the state is getting attention through the Connecting Michigan Communities grant program.
Fixing the damn roads got funding as well. With fewer Michiganders on the roads than at any point in living memory, the money gained by gas taxes has been far lower than usual. But this budget makes good on a 2015 law that dedicated money from the general fund to road repairs.
Pure Michigan is back. The award-winning, meme-spawning tourism campaign was shuttered in 2019, but using buy-in from the tourism industry, the campaign will be back with a smaller budget in the upcoming fiscal year.
What Goes Into Making a Budget During a Pandemic
In a normal year, the process of settling on a state budget is contentious and challenging, often being approved just hours before the state would have to shut down in the absence of a spending plan. Like so many things about normal years, 2020 was exceptionally more challenging.
The coronavirus both added massive expenses and collapsed the state’s tax base, straining the state’s financial situation to the breaking point. Essentially overnight, the state’s rainy-day fund evaporated and what money came from the CARES Act didn’t come close to covering the shortfalls the state faced. In light of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer repeatedly pleaded for more federal assistance. She never got it.
“This was not an easy process for anyone,” Gov. Whitmer said during a press call. “COVID-19 created many challenges for us this year, and those challenges made for a very unique budget development process.”
That CARES money helped buoy the sinking budget process, funding things like the Michigan State Police while the state’s dwindling cash went to things like schools and local governments, both of whom were bracing for dramatic cuts during the pandemic.
The Gaps in Michigan’s New Budget
The added support for schools is only a win graded on a curve. As Kalamazoo teacher Holly Bruning explained to The ‘Gander, it remains unclear where funding for the additional costs to provide personal protective equipment and pandemic-level cleaning for classrooms is going to come from, on top of the other financial strains teachers face.
And while the lower crime rate has prompted cuts to the Department of Corrections, which is ostensibly good news, there are concerns about where those cuts were made. Rep. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods) objected to the closure of the Detroit Re-Entry Center, a place where incarcerated Michiganders completed programs needed before release.
Gov. Whitmer acknowledged the budget’s imperfections.
“It’s not what I wanted, it’s not what my administration wanted, it’s not what the legislative leaders wanted, but it’s what we had,” she said. “And the good news is that we succeeded. We developed a budget amidst a global pandemic, amidst all these challenges, and it’s a budget that will move Michigan forward. It was robustly supported in a bipartisan way, which in this current political climate, is quite a feat.”
And the state’s budget director, Chirs Kolb, cautioned that though this year was a major accomplishment, next year’s budget might be a Herculean feat. On the same press call as Gov. Whitmer, he braced Michiganders for a grim 2022 budget process.
“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,” Kolb 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 healthcare industries, but also for state and local governments as well.”
You can find a detailed breakdown of the budget here.