The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced new guidance for schools Jan. 8 to keep students, staff and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while providing the in-person instruction that is crucial to learning and development. Photo courtesy the Office of the Governor
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced new guidance for schools Jan. 8 to keep students, staff and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic while providing the in-person instruction that is crucial to learning and development.

The relief Gov. Whitmer gave families in 2020? Republicans are letting it expire. 

LANSING, Mich.—At least 85,000 nursing home staff, home health aides, and other direct care workers in Michigan will lose a $2 hourly pandemic pay raise next week if the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer do not enact COVID-19 relief aid.

The raise is due to end Sunday.

If it is allowed to lapse, the additional funding will not be extended, effectively cutting the pay of direct care workers starting Monday morning. Reinstating the raise would need to run through the legislative process again, leaving workers in the lurch for potentially weeks even if a deal can be reached. 

The state Senate passed a much smaller version of Gov. Whitmer’s relief reauthorization Thursday. Their partisan proposal drew harsh criticism from Democrats, reports the Detroit Free Press

“The Senate Republicans left $4 billion dollars on the table in federal resources meant to get our kids back in school, keep families in their homes, and ramp up vaccine distribution and testing,” Gov. Whitmer’s press secretary Bobby Leddy told the Free Press. “The legislation includes language that could mean Michigan gets fewer vaccines from the federal government, and hampers our ability to provide COVID-19 testing to student athletes, nursing home residents, and keep our state safe.”

And leaving that money on the table hits nurses hard.

Disability advocates sounded the alarm ahead of lawmakers’ return to session Tuesday.

Medicaid-funded caregivers, including those who help people in their homes, first got the wage hike last April through an order issued by the governor. The increase was extended in July to direct care workers at area agencies on aging and an estimated 35,000 to 37,000 nurses, nursing assistants, and respiratory therapists in nursing homes under a bipartisan law.

Sherri Boyd, executive director of The Arc Michigan, an advocacy group for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said inaction “would have drastic consequences”—especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Direct care workers provide essential services and their work is more important than ever. The clock is ticking, and we urge the Michigan Legislature to avoid this massive pay cut and support our most vulnerable,” she said.

Advocates said the average starting hourly wage for a direct care worker is $11.44. On Feb. 11, Gov. Whitmer proposed keeping intact the $2 increase for the rest of this fiscal year and through the entire 2021-22 budget year, noting that the workforce is plagued by low wages and high turnover.

Coronavirus relief legislation pending in the Senate would extend the pay hike through June and boost it by 25 cents an hour. A House-passed bill does not include funding for the higher wage, though it could be changed during legislative negotiations.

Gov. Whitmer and Republican legislators have been at odds over the disbursement of $5 billion in federal coronavirus aid and the allocation of hundreds of millions in state pandemic funding. The standoff also has left in limbo more than $660 million in federal aid to help people with rent and utility bills.

The state budget office says the funding is more than 10 times a previous COVID-related rental assistance program, which assisted 16,000 Michigan households and was funded with federal dollars. Republican lawmakers have proposed releasing a quarter or a third of the new rental-assistance funds, with the rest to be held in reserve until later.

“This is federal money for supporting our people to keep them from being evicted. Let’s get that $660 million appropriated now so we can keep people in their homes,” said Sen. Rosemary Bayer, a Democrat from Beverly Hills.

Additionally, Leddy pointed out that without funding from coronavirus relief legislation, Michigan could run out of food assistance money within one month. 

The package of relief measures expires after weeks of impasse where Lansing Republicans have insisted Gov. Whitmer end pandemic protection measures before coronavirus relief money sent to Michigan by the federal government could be spent. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.