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Biz group floats work grant; federal aid higher than thought

5/11/2021

AP News 

By David Eggert 

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s biggest local chamber of commerce floated a plan Monday in which $400 million in federal COVID-19 relief money would be spent on incentivizing people to return to the workforce and to get vaccinated, while officials learned the state’s overall aid package will be larger than expected.

The Detroit Regional Chamber’s proposal would cost the same as a plan pending in the Republican-led state House but would be structured differently. Rather than pay up to 400,000 unemployed workers $1,000 to go back to work instead of collecting benefits, as the House suggests, the state would give $2,000 to as many as 100,000 people.

Employers would get $1,000 for each returning or new employee, to use as a signing bonus or for training. They would receive $100 for each employee who is vaccinated in the future, offsetting the costs of clinics or paid time off to get a shot.

“Building on your strong proposal, the chamber believes a bipartisan solution to accelerate employment growth, economic growth, support vaccine efforts, and replenish our (unemployment) fund is possible,” Sandy Baruah, president and CEO, wrote in a letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees.

Industry groups say a “return-to-work” incentive would help businesses find desperately needed workers who, due to supplemental federal pandemic aid, can get $662 a week in unemployment funding, which is the equivalent of more than $34,000 a year. Others say businesses, including restaurants, need to raise wages.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has vetoed the GOP-led Legislature’s previous attempts to soften future higher taxes on employers by depositing general funds into the unemployment fund.

Also Thursday, the U.S. government said Michigan’s state government will get $6.5 billion in coronavirus funding, which is nearly $900 million more than had been anticipated. Billions more will go to local governments and schools.

Because Michigan’s unemployment rate is not significantly higher than its pre-pandemic level, the state is eligible to receive just half of its allotment immediately, with the rest being provided one year later. That could change if Michigan waits to request its money after new jobless figures are released.

Municipalities will get half their funding in May and half a year later. Detroit, the state’s largest city, will receive nearly $827 million total. Wayne, the biggest county with 1.7 million residents, will get almost $340 million while Keweenaw, the smallest at 2,100 people, will receive $411,000.

Governments can use funds to support the coronavirus public health response, address the pandemic’s economic pain, replace lost tax revenue, boost pay for essential workers and upgrade water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

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