A Quick Un-Pack of Executive Order 2020—160

The Midland Business Alliance continues to help our members stay on top of Governor Whitmer’s Executive Orders related to COVID-19. We believe a little extra attention is in order for Executive Order 2020—160, issued last Wednesday, July 29th.

In a nutshell, the Executive Order sets the maximum number of people for indoor gatherings, for the entire state, at 10.

You may recall that Regions 6 (northern lower peninsula) and 8 (upper peninsula) of the state, as shown on page 3 of the Governor’s MI Safe Start Plan, were moved to Phase 5 on June 10th. Phase 5 allows for indoor gatherings of up to 50 people, and gives the green light for movie theaters, gyms, and salons to open. Under Phase 5, most outdoor gatherings are capped at 250.

While the Governor moved Regions 6 and 8 to Phase 5, the rest of the state was kept in Phase 4, which has much lower caps for gatherings. However, the widespread expectation—and this is where the current confusion has stemmed from—was that the rest of the state would all advance to Phase 5 by July 4th. That did not happen, and still has not happened.

Midland is located in Region 4. We have been, and still are, capped at 10 people for indoor gatherings, and 100 for outdoor gatherings (Regions 6 and 8 retained their 250 cap for outdoors). It is important to note that the cap applies to “organized gatherings,” and not “chance gatherings,” which is what happens when, for example, you go to the grocery store and clearly see many more than 10 people indoors. Additionally, restaurants have their own, separate limitations.

Another important excerpt from this Executive Order needs your attention, as well. On page 3 of the Executive Order, item number one states “ …Any work that is capable of being performed remotely (i.e., without the worker leaving his or her home or place of residence) must be performed remotely.” This is an important deviation from a previous Executive Order, which stated that work should be performed remotely. Based on our conversations with other business organizations, we have interpreted this change in wording as a very important distinction.

On a related note, earlier this week, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Directive 2020—08, which is designed to increase enforcement of the Executive Orders she has issued relative to COVID-19. The Directive was drafted in such a way that will even allow officials to consider potential violations as they determine eligibility for licensing.

We will continue keeping you informed of all public policy decisions stemming from the COVID-19 crisis. And, you can visit our website at anytime to access the many resources we have available to businesses as they re-open.

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Midland Business Alliance Supports Midland County Millage Renewals in August 4 Election

The Midland Business Alliance (MBA) approved support of the county-wide millage requests presented to Midland County voters during the election on August 4, including mosquito control, Road Commission, Midland County Central Dispatch (9-1-1), and County Connection.

“The business community in Midland benefits both directly and indirectly from the public services provided by the four county-wide milllage renewals, including 911, mosquito control, roads, and County Connection,” said Tony Stamas, MBA President and CEO. “But, these services also enhance the quality of life for residents, and are a few of the many amenities that make Midland a great place to work and live. The proposals are simply renewals; not an increase. We encourage voters to vote yes on all four millages.”

The MBA works as the voice of Midland’s businesses, advocating on behalf of 3,000 businesses on issues related to business, and supports sound governing policies; therefore the MBA’s Business Advocacy Council and then MBA Board of Directors supports these millages because of these main reasons:

  • Midland County Central Dispatch (9-1-1) provides the only primary emergency services answering point for all of Midland County, with an annual call volume of approximately 83,000, or one call per resident of Midland County, proving its essential nature in our community.
  • Midland County Central Dispatch (9-1-1), as a separate authority from Midland County, is funded by millage, technical surcharge, and training.
  • The County’s two road millages, each 1.0 mills and renewed in alternating even years, are designed to aid the City of Midland, City of Coleman, Village of Sanford, and the Midland County Road Commission in helping to maintain and improve existing roads and bridges, culverts, drainage systems, and signs and signals.
  • The Midland County Road Commission has played a critical role in restoring the safety and transportation systems to the residents and businesses of Midland County following the dam failure of May 2020, requiring the Road Commission to quickly and completely pivot its staff and resources, and re-prioritize its 2020 work plan.
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Finish Line for Revamped State Budget is Within Sight

As we reported last week, the state Legislature and Governor Whitmer’s administration have been negotiating to address the $2.2 billion deficit in the state’s current year budget. On Wednesday, a solution was all but finalized when the Legislature approved both HB 5265 and SB 0373 and signed off on Executive Order 2020—155. The next step is the Governor’s signature on the legislation.

Taken altogether, the Executive Order and the two bills referenced above, along with a handful of appropriate adjustments, fills the huge funding gap. All totaled, the measures utilize make use of $1.3 billion in federal funding, nearly a half a million in cuts, and a $350 million withdrawal from the state’s rainy day fund.

The $1.3 million in federal funding was used to backfill funding cuts and provide funding for the Michigan State Police, per pupil funding for K—12 schools, state universities, Medicaid, General Fund spending, revenue sharing to cities, and community colleges.

The rest of the strategy includes a complicated combination of budget adjustments (i.e., from one fund to another), a pause on some state work projects, savings from temporary layoffs, hiring freezes, discretionary spending freezes, cuts to specific programs (such as road fixes, economic development, transportation, and some much smaller programs), and allocation of the $350 million that was pulled out of the rainy day fund.

Comments by legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle are heralding the revamp effort as bipartisan… and a very hefty undertaking. Our gratitude to Senator Stamas and Representatives Glenn and Hauck, as they all voted in favor of both SB 373 and HB 5265. Senator Stamas is the Senate Appropriations Chair.

The next big step with budgeting is the August Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. And, states are still waiting to hear whether Congress will authorize another federal aid package in response to the financial crisis created by COVID-19. By all accounts, Congress will take some action, but it is undetermined if our how much aid to state and local governments that aid package may include.

As the state Legislature winds down the current fiscal year, the task for Fiscal Year 2021 looms even larger: That shortfall is expected to be $3.1 billion.

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Midland County to Receive Portion of $3.5 Million Awarded for Regional Small Businesses

In response to the economic impact of COVID-19, the State of Michigan has allocated $100 million of CARES Act funding to implement the Michigan Small Business Restart Program to support the needs of Michigan businesses directly impacted by COVID-19. Midland County will receive a part of $3,545,455 distributed to the counties of Region 5, including Arenac, Bay, Midland and Saginaw.

The Michigan Strategic Fund authorized distribution of the funding across 15 local or nonprofit economic development organizations (EDOs) covering all 83 counties in the state to providing a base amount of $3.5 million per EDO for grants up to $20,000 each to support certain small businesses that have realized a significant financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

“The economic impact of COVID-19 continues to hurt small businesses not only across the nation but right here in our community,” said Tony Stamas, President and CEO of the MBA. “The Michigan Small Business Restart Program will help get them the funding they need to get through these hard times and will help rebuild our local economy.”

Applications are now open and will be accepted through 11:59 p.m. on August 5. The MBA and a local team of reviewers will review and recommend distribution of these grant funds for qualifying businesses in Midland County. Funds can be used as working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses or other similar expenses.

This is not a first-come-first-served grant process. All applications will be reviewed following the closure of the acceptance period on August 5. Local award recipients will be notified no later than September 30.

Eligibility Criteria

  • 50 or fewer employees, worldwide, located in Michigan
  • Is a business or nonprofit that can demonstrate it is affected by the COVID-19 emergency
  • Needs working capital to support eligible expenses
  • Demonstrates an income loss as result of the COVID-19 emergency
  • Businesses who have received support through other COVID-19 relief programs, including the Michigan Small Business Relief Program loans, are eligible to apply for Restart grants.
  • At least 30 percent of the funds awarded will be awarded to women-owned, minority-owned, or veteran-owned eligible businesses.

Businesses interested in applying can do so by visiting the MEDC website: www.michiganbusiness.org/restart/; Midland County businesses that have questions or need assistance in applying can contact Nicole Wilson, Vice President of Economic Development at nwilson@mbami.org.

 

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Midland Area Farmers Market Sees Large Increase in SNAP/EBT Usage

Midland, Michigan – So far throughout its 2020 season, the Midland Area Farmers Market has seen a large increase in usage of funds from food assistance programs such as SNAP/EBT and Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB).

“We are thrilled to see the usage of these programs increasing,” said Emily Lyons, Farmers Market Manager. “This shows that the Market is giving residents of all income levels access to fresh produce while supporting our local farmers. It’s exactly why the Farmers Market is such an important part of our community.”

The number of SNAP/EBT funds distributed in May of 2020 was $3,266, more than triple the $955 of May 2019. June 2020 saw a similar increase: $4,104 versus $1734 in June 2019. The number of new SNAP/EBT users at Market also increased: 36 in May 2020 versus 9 in May 2019; 32 in June 2020 versus 18 in June 2019.

What is SNAP, EBT and DUFB?

The goal of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly referred to as food stamps, is to help those with low incomes maintain a healthy diet by making relatively expensive items like fresh fruits and vegetables more attainable. In Michigan, those funds are distributed to recipients on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, also known as the Bridge Card.

Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) makes SNAP funds go even further by giving shoppers extra dollars to spend on Michigan-grown produce when using a Bridge card. For every $1 spent on fruits and vegetables, DUFB gives users $1 free. This year, there is no daily limit on DUFB.

DUFB usage has also increased in the 2020 season:

  • May 2020: $3,264 versus May 2019 $880
  • June 2020: $4,102 versus June 2019 $1,650

Having a strong local bank partner in Isabella Bank allows the Market to offer a wide variety of payment options, including: Cash, check, EBT (for tokens), credit or debit (for tokens), Double Up Food Bucks (tokens), WIC Project FRESH (coupon) and Senior Project FRESH (coupon).

“Partnering with Isabella Bank makes it easier for everyone to shop at the Farmers Market,” Lyons said. “Whether you simply forgot cash and get tokens with your credit card or can utilize the DUFB and Project FRESH Programs to get even more fresh produce for your family.”

Importance of a Resilient Market

This uptick in usage solidifies the importance finding a way to be open through a challenging season that has forced the Market to adapt to COVID-19 safety requirements and flooding of its usual location. The Market is currently operating as a walking market at the Dow Diamond East Parking Lot during its regular hours: 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“Finding a way for the Midland Area Farmers Market to be open through many different challenges is not only good for our vendors and community, but also boosts our local economy and keeps these funds local,” Lyons said.

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Mask Up, Michigan

On Friday, July 17th, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Order 2020—153, which rescinds Executive Order 2020—147, and provides clear guidance on a new mask mandate for individuals and businesses that are open to the public. This Executive Order is a mask mandate for individuals and businesses that are open to the public. The new “mask up” mandate is in response to new COVID-19 case numbers that continue to tick upwards.

Key verbiage right from the Executive Order (EO):

Wearing a mask is an effective and low-cost way to protect ourselves and our families from a deadly disease. It should be—and is—the responsibility of every Michigander. Last week, I issued a mask order requiring individuals to wear a face covering whenever they are in an indoor public space or in a crowded outdoor space. As significantly, the order required any business that is open to the public to refuse entry and service to people who refuse to wear a face covering. No shirts, no shoes, no mask—no service.

This order reissues the original order and makes several minor changes. First, it provides that wearing a mask at a polling place for purposes of voting in an election is not required, though wearing a mask to protect yourself and others is strongly encouraged. Second, the order clarifies that businesses may not assume that an unmasked customer cannot medically tolerate a face covering, though they may accept a customer’s verbal representation to that effect. Third, the order addresses the interaction between the mask order and prior Safe Start orders that also required face coverings in indoor public spaces. Finally, the order clarifies that public safety officers must wear a face covering unless doing so would seriously interfere in the performance of their responsibilities.

Individuals are expected to mask up when in any indoor public space, when outdoors and unable to consistently maintain social distancing of six feet, and when utilizing public transportation or ridesharing. Individuals failing to mask up could be subject to a fine of up to $500.

Businesses open to the public (i.e., if you have persons entering who are not employed with the business) must post signage at entrance(s) instructing customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering while inside. As stated above, the EO requires these businesses to refuse entry or service to people who refuse to wear a face covering. The EO lists the nine different exemptions to this mandate; the most significant being those persons under five years of age, and those persons seated at food & beverage establishments.

While the EO does not provide guidelines on how businesses should handle individuals who refuse to mask up, it does state that businesses failing to comply could be subject to penalty, and provides the authority for several types of agencies—state and local—to impose those penalties.

Want to establish a policy for your own business, on how employees should handle individuals who refuse to wear a mask? No need to start from scratch! The Small Business Association of Michigan has developed a model policy, and even a sign that you can simply download, print, and post at all your entrances.

The EO cites research that shows the efficacy of the consistent use of masks, including the potential impact on the economy.

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