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Trump OKs Michigan disaster declaration, Whitmer says it's 'a good start'

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 3/28/2020 Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press

Gretchen Whitmer standing in front of a laptop: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer © Provided by Detroit Free Press

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer


President Donald Trump has approved Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's request for a federal major disaster declaration related to the coronavirus, the White House announced Saturday.

Whitmer said in a news release she appreciates the approval as "a good start," but said the federal government has not approved Michigan's request in full.

Separately, Whitmer announced Saturday that Michigan has received a shipment of 112,800 N95 masks from the strategic national stockpile, with an additional shipment of 8,000 masks on the way.

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The approvals came despite Trump's public complaints as recently as Friday that Whitmer has not shown sufficient appreciation for what his administration has done to fight the pandemic. Trump attacked Whitmer on Twitter Friday and said on Fox News Thursday that Whitmer's criticism of federal planning and action has not been "pleasant."

The major disaster declaration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency makes the state eligible for statewide crisis counseling and provides funding for state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, the White House said in a news release.

Whitmer said Michigan requested much more.

"While Michigan made a broad request for aid in every individual assistance and public assistance program from the individual assistance category, funding was approved for the crisis counseling program and funding for emergency protective measures from the public assistance category was also approved," Whitmer said.

“This is a good start, and it will help us protect Michiganders and slow the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

“I’m hopeful that the president will review my request for individual assistance programs that would provide meals to families who need them and rental assistance and temporary housing for families. I look forward to the federal government’s continued partnership as we work to fight this virus.” 

More: Trump to Mike Pence: 'Don't call the woman in Michigan,' aka Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer said Thursday she had sent the disaster declaration request to FEMA, one day after the Free Press revealed that Michigan had not yet made such a request, despite the fact several other states had already received major disaster declarations from Washington, D.C.

Whitmer said Thursday that if her request was granted in full, it would help the state provide meals, rental assistance and temporary housing, mental health therapy and counseling, and "much-needed additional capacity" as the state's health care system struggles to keep up with the expanding coronavirus pandemic in Michigan.

On Saturday, Whitmer said the crisis counseling program the White House approved provides services for those whose mental health has been impacted by the spread of COVID-19.

The federal government also granted Whitmer's request for emergency protective measures, including funding for transporting and positioning equipment, Michigan's emergency operations center, medical supplies and personal protective equipment, medical care and transport, and childcare, Whitmer said. The governor’s request for hazard mitigation assistance to help provide relief during planning for recovery is under review, she said.

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Whitmer said the relief package approved by Congress Friday will provide relief in some of the requested areas of individual assistance, including unemployment insurance and nutritional food assistance under the Stafford Act. But she said FEMA can also provide aid in these areas where they do not overlap with existing programs.

Michigan requested assistance for both disaster unemployment assistance and nutritional food assistance that have not yet been approved, she said.

Michigan has the fifth-most cases of coronavirus in the nation, with more than 3,600, and at least 92 deaths, as of Saturday.

The Trump administration has already declared major disasters for states and territories including New Jersey, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, California, Washington, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico.

Whitmer has been critical of a lack of federal preparation for the pandemic and what she has said is a lack of a national strategy and inadequate assistance in helping Michigan and other states procure needed test kits, masks, gloves, personal protection equipment, hand sanitizer, ventilators, and other items.

Friday night on Twitter, Trump said: "I love Michigan," and although the White House was doing a great job helping the state, "your Governor, Gretchen 'Half' Whitmer is way in over her head, she doesn’t have a clue. Likes blaming everyone for her own ineptitude!"

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Earlier, at a White House briefing, Trump said that Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of the coronavirus response, calls all the governors, but Trump tells them not to call the governors of Michigan and Washington state, who have been critical of him.

"I want them to be appreciative," Trump said.

Whitmer has said she is not trying to get into a fight with the White House and there must be "all hands on deck" to fight the coronavirus.

The arrival of 112,800 masks from the federal government Saturday is "great news for our front line health care workers,” Whitmer said. “We’ll keep working hard along with FEMA and the White House to get more of the personal protective equipment we need to keep Michiganders safe.” 

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4Read more on Michigan politics and sign up for our elections newsletter.  

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Trump OKs Michigan disaster declaration, Whitmer says it's 'a good start'

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