Michigan House Approves More Pandemic Grants for Businesses

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gyms, movie theaters and other businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic would receive state grants under a $185 million spending bill that won initial legislative approval Thursday.

The 96-6 vote in the House came more than a month after the Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer enacted $409 million in aid for businesses that lost money — funded with federal discretionary COVID-19 aid. Applications for those grants are due by April 1 and must be disbursed by July 1.

The next round of proposed grants, which also would be paid for with federal funds, would go to fitness centers, convention bureaus, community development banks, cinemas, and live music and entertainment venues. The bill would also offset lost revenue if separate legislation is passed to waive 2022 liquor license renewal fees and refund licensing fees for workers and restaurants hampered by past pandemic orders.

The Senate will consider the legislation next.

“We still have job providers and workers suffering from the economic consequences of government shutdowns and the slow return back to normal. It has hurt many industries across our state, some more than others,” said the sponsor, House Appropriations Committee Chair Thomas Albert. The Lowell Republican said the $185 million is “exactly how we should be using these federal relief dollars that are available to the state.”

The bill includes $53 million for fitness centers, $30 million for convention and visitors bureaus, $25 million for community development financial institutions, $18 million for movie theaters and $6.5 million for businesses that sell tickets to live music or entertainment events. There also is $10 million to help train and certify servers in places selling alcohol.

The measure would cap the maximum grant to a fitness center at the sum of modified occupancy costs in 2020 — including rent, insurance and equipment taxes — or $250,000, whichever is less. The maximum grant to a live venue would be $100,000. Cinemas would get $15,000 per screen.

Democrats in the GOP-controlled House unsuccessfully tried to add $1 billion in funding that would give bonuses to frontline workers, bolster an affordable housing program, provide grants to artists and museums that were impacted by the coronavirus, and let nonprofits such as the YMCA also qualify for aid in addition to for-profit exercise facilities.

“Supporting the hardworking people who continue to keep us safe, our shelves stocked and stores open is not a hard choice,” said Rep. Alex Garza of Taylor.

The state sent more than $240 million to over 25,000 small businesses following earlier rounds of pandemic funding, with nearly 75% of the support going to restaurants, bars, retailers and other businesses in the service industry, according to the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office.