Rep. Julie Brixie, guest writer
It has been an incredibly difficult year. Everyone’s life has been upended and we have lost over 516,000 of our fellow Americans to COVID-19; more than the 418,000 lives than we lost over the four grueling years of our involvement in World War II.
With vaccines in place, we are finally in control of how quickly we can get beyond the pandemic and have some sense of normalcy. Yet, legislative Republicans have been holding Michigan’s $5.6 billion in federal COVID-19 funding hostage. Funding President Trump himself approved.
This includes funding our hospitals and county health departments need to establish vaccination sites with the capacity to get shots in arms and end the pandemic. If you have been to a vaccination site, like the one at the MSU Pavilion, it is only through federal funding that mass vaccination centers like these are possible.
Public health experts and medical professionals have been very clear: Vaccinating up to 90 percent of our population is the only way to stop this deadly virus. As we continue to increase production of the vaccines, the pandemic will only worsen if our health departments and hospitals are not able to get the shots in arms.
Sadly, after two months of political theater and threats not to appropriate the funds, legislative Republicans are finally passing legislation that resembles a hostage negotiation.
The bills being passed only utilize 75 percent of the federal funds, and nearly a third of the funding they appropriated cannot be used unless the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) gives up the authority to manage the spread of COVID-19 and other global pandemics.
Most appalling, two-thirds of the vaccine funding is held hostage, even if MDHHS were to shirk its duty to protect public health.
This will only cause more deaths and hardship. If we can’t come together to end the pandemic with such an easy choice before us, what hope is there for bipartisanship in the future?
The Republicans’ plan also holds two-thirds of the rent, mortgage, utility and food assistance hostage as many families do not know how they are going to stay in their home and provide food for their family.
Furthermore, the House Republicans’ plan holds 64 percent of the funding for testing, lab expansion, and contact tracing hostage. Resources we need to keep the curve flattened by quickly identifying outbreaks and mitigating the spread while we get shots in arms.
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They are also standing in the way of schools reopening safely by withholding 40 percent of the funding our districts need to implement their reopening plans. Schools across Michigan have been developing plans based on this funding since President Trump signed it into law in December.
We speak as proud Michiganders who took our respective oaths – two of us being doctors who follow the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm and another as a state lawmaker who took the Oath of Office to uphold the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions. Both oaths speak to our need to protect lives and contribute to the general wellbeing of our fellow citizens.
Legislative Republicans must realize that COVID-19 is our common enemy, an enemy we all face; their actions are causing unnecessary and self-inflicted hardship on Michiganders after a year of unprecedented hardship and death.
Let’s come together to defeat COVID-19 and return to normal. It starts with appropriating all of the federal COVID-19 relief funding.
State Rep. Julie Brixie represents the Michigan 69th District and is the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. Also contributing to this viewpoint: Dr. Christopher Chiou, MD and Dr. Harshini Jayasuriya, MD are family physicians in Greater Lansing and part of the Committee to Protect Medicare.