DHHS Outlines Latest Vax Strategies As 60% Have First Dose

As Gongwer reports, with 60 percent of Michigan residents 16 and older receiving their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the Department of Health and Human Services said its goal is to get 70 percent vaccinated as soon as possible.

While the state reached the 60 percent threshold this week, the number of people receiving their first doses continues to decline, data from the Senate Fiscal Agency shows.

Data shows that 21,708 people in the week of May 24 were getting their first doses daily. The week of June 2, that dropped to 10,291 and this week, it dropped again to 8,843.

To reach 70 percent of the 16 and older population vaccinated, a key metric tied to herd immunity and the federal government’s goal by July 4, it would take 813,200 more doses administered. This would take until September 8, 2021, at the current rate.

DHHS defines its official goals in an interim strategy presentation posted this week as getting 70 percent of the 16 and older population vaccinated as soon as possible. The agency also seeks to have 95 percent of people get their second dose within the expected time frame and have zero disparity in vaccine rates across racial and ethnic groups or by social vulnerability index.

Additionally, the agency wants to ensure no resident has to drive more than 20 minutes to reach a vaccine site.

To get more people vaccinated, DHHS is working to support mobile clinics, school-based health centers, community vaccinators and more to specifically target vulnerable populations.

For homebound, disabled, migrant and transient populations, DHHS is utilizing EMS, fire departments, mobile strike teams and other partners to implement strategies.

Additionally, the agency is working to assure broad access to the vaccine at pediatrician offices, family practice offices and dialysis centers while also working with pharmacies, colleges and universities to offer vaccines in targeted areas.

Finally, the agency will work to leverage existing nontraditional spaces like casinos, nail salons, barber shops and syringe service programs.

Lynn Sutfin, spokesperson for DHHS, said it is focusing on bringing vaccines into the communities where Michiganders live through community clinics, primary care physicians and mobile clinics.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer praised the state reaching the 60 percent threshold in a statement on Friday.

"We can all feel a sense of optimism thanks to the tireless efforts of countless frontline workers who put their own safety on the line to keep the rest of us going. And we are tremendously grateful to the medical community who kept us all safe and created the safe, effective vaccines, all miracles of modern science," she said. "As we cross the 60 percent milestone in vaccinations, we are seeing cases, deaths, and hospitalizations continue to fall fast, which has helped to poise our economy for a strong recovery. I know that we can give Michigan the economic jumpstart it needs with the billions in available federal funds and our multi-billion dollar budget surplus. We will emerge from this once-in-a-century pandemic stronger than ever, and I am confident that we can make lasting, transformative investments in our schools, small businesses, and communities to help them thrive."

Huge May Brings State Another Billion; July 1 Deadline May Be Delayed
An unprecedented surge of revenues in May that exceeded a three-week old forecast by $1 billion means Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature now have $4.5 billion in unanticipated state revenues to consider when putting together the upcoming fiscal year budget as well as supplementals for the current year.

From a technical standpoint, the surplus is still $3.5 billion because that’s what was agreed to at the May 21 Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference.

But the reports released Thursday from the House and Senate Fiscal agencies on May revenues unquestionably changes the complexion of the budget process. The HFA report shows General Fund revenues were $752.1 million above the forecast and $258.7 million above expectations for the School Aid Fund. The SFA report said General Fund revenues were $709.6 million above the expected level with School Aid Fund revenues $298.7 above the forecast. The Department of Treasury puts revenues at $920 million over the estimate.

While budget target negotiations are said by sources to be going well, doubts are creeping in that the Whitmer administration and legislators can complete the entire budget by the July 1 deadline. That prompted Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Track, to introduce a bill (SB 537) Thursday to lift that deadline for this year, effectively pushing it to September 30, when the current fiscal year ends.

Annual payments from the individual income tax accounted for more than 80 percent of the difference with the stock market recovery also driving revenues upward. The tax deadline was moved from April 15 to mid-May this year, but forecasters knew that would change the usual revenue to the state when they met for the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. The fiscal agencies said annual payments in May were the highest on record for any single month.

For revenues to exceed the forecast in a single month by as much as $1 billion is unheard of. Even more remarkable is that the forecasting differential occurred in the month of the actual revenue conference, when the forecast is usually at its most accurate.

This means Ms. Whitmer and the Legislature now have $4.5 billion more in General and School Aid fund revenues available to spend than expected at the start of the calendar year for the current 2020-21 and upcoming 2021-22 fiscal years.

The $3.5 billion more they thought they had after the May 21 revenue conference already was historic.

"It’s the annual payments that are the driver," House Fiscal Agency Director Mary Ann Cleary said. "I think we’re all looking at why."

Treasury spokesperson Ron Leix said other states and the federal government have seen the same revenue surge.

At the May 21 conference, there was a recognition among those who set the forecast that all of the federal coronavirus relief injected into the economy for the past year could have unexpected effects. There was also the movement of the federal and state income tax deadlines from April 15 to May 17.

"We were concerned that we were obviously going to miss something," she said.

Asked if analysts in her office were shocked by the May numbers, Ms. Cleary said, "We’re surprised, yes."

What is unclear is how much of the $1 billion from May is a one-time surge and how much will be ongoing, she said.

Mr. Leix warned there is some risk because some of the surge in May annual income tax payments could be offset by lower annual payments next year.

"In other words, the fact that we are up $920 million for the month doesn’t necessarily mean that we are going to have revenue totals come in $920 million above the overall CREC agreement we just put together," he said.

After the ugly fight over the 2019-20 fiscal year budget that went past the October 1 deadline, Ms. Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders agreed to set a July 1 deadline in statute for passing and presenting the budget to the governor.

However, the requirement was skipped for 2020 after the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it might be skipped again.

Usually after the May revenue conference, completing the budget is about meeting in the middle between the House, Senate and governor and taking care of some of each entity’s priorities. With $3.5 billion more in revenue from the revenue conference, combined with $6.5 billion in American Rescue Plan aid from the federal government, the administration and legislators in some ways are starting the budget process from the beginning plus trying to figure out supplemental appropriations bills of staggering dimensions. And now there’s another billion in the state’s coffers that was unexpected.

Mr. Stamas said the move to push back the budget deadline requirement is the opposite problem of 2020, with this time being an issue of determining how to craft the budget given the large increase in available dollars and over what federal relief funds to use in the budgeting process. He considered the bill as being a precautionary measure.

"I think we’re going to get a good part of it done," Mr. Stamas said. "But I’m not confident at the moment we’re going to be able to get the whole thing done."

State Budget Office spokesperson Kurt Weiss said the administration had no comment regarding the July 1 deadline.

When asked about reaching budget targets, Mr. Stamas said it’s "very possible" those could be reached yet this week.

As to the increased revenue reported by the House Fiscal Agency, Mr. Stamas said he does not believe that would change the budget discussions much since budget leaders are going off of the May consensus revenue estimate. Those additional funds could come into play in January 2022 and moving forward on a future budget as it relates to ongoing expenses, he said.

House Appropriations Chair Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said the revenue numbers revealed Thursday are more of the same in what the state has seen during the last six months.

"But the strategy doesn’t change, I’m still very cautious about how the next year might go, so we’ll still look at making strategic investments where we can and try to put ourselves in a good position if the economy goes south over the next year," Mr. Albert said.

When asked about the bill from Mr. Stamas, Mr. Albert also said he is working night and day on the budget and still focused on finishing work by July 1.

Without revealing many details, Mr. Albert said he expected targets to be set "in the near future."

"We’re getting very close," he said.

News of the additional billion only added to what one person following the budget described as a "feeding frenzy" of stakeholders trying to get their priorities funded.

For the month, sales tax collections were the second-highest on record and above $100 million for the third consecutive month and ninth month since June 2020.

Regulatory Reform Panel Discusses Marijuana-Related Packages
Two bill packages related to marijuana licensing and regulations for an intoxicating synthetic hemp-derivative not covered by the state’s recreational pot laws were discussed by Senate committee Tuesday, the latter of which was passed by the House late last month.

Members of the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee Trackon Tuesday also heard testimony on a slate of several bills unrelated to marijuana, including a bill to curb executive branch use of the state’s emergency alert system, new interest rates for pawnbrokers and two that would assist policing of the Detroit public transit, and another to create a state holiday celebrating Juneteenth.

Regarding marijuana, the committee heard continuing testimony on a large package that would regulate the Delta-8 THC derivative found in industrial hemp that is currently being sold as an unregulated intoxicating substance in convenience stores, smoke shops and gas stations – facilities that cannot sell licensed adult-use or medical THC products.

The package includes HB 4516, HB 4517, HB 4740, HB 4741, HB 4742, HB 4743, HB 4744, HB 4745 and HB 4746. Each of the bills passed in the House in late May (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 27, 2021).

Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) and Rep. Jim Lilly (R-Park Township) gave brief testimony on behalf of the various other sponsors, reiterating that their bills would address the Delta-8 THC issue while the remaining slate would update definitions regarding hemp in a swath of acts regulating marijuana, as well as the Public Health and Liquor Control codes.

Mr. Rabhi said the chief concern is not that people have access to a new THC product, but that it is currently untested, unlicensed and exists in a space outside of existing marijuana regulations. There were also concerns from the bill sponsors and stakeholders that consumers might not know that they are purchasing an intoxicating marijuana product that is produced synthetically.

Testifying in favor of the changes was Marijuana Regulatory Agency Director Andrew Brisbo, who echoed Mr. Rabhi’s testimony and concerns.

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said that the package was a step in the right direction instead of outright banning Delta-8, though wondered what would happen to product caches if stores purchased them in high quantities to sell – cashing in on what appeared to be a good investment – but could no longer do so under the pending legislation.

Mr. Brisbo didn’t say whether the state would confiscate those products or if operators had to trash them if and when the legislation became law. He did say, however, that the bills do not offer a grace period to stop selling the products as minimizing the risk to public health and safety was paramount.

Unrelated to that package, the committee heard opening testimony on SB 461 and SB 462, sponsored by Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) and Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren), respectively.

The bills would amend the Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act to require proof of financial responsibility for legal liabilities and to modify language related to licensing, making approval of an application contingent on compliance with the new financial responsibility requirements.


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Marijuana News, Updates, & Articles of Interest

DCD continues to exist as the premier resource helping municipalities navigate the waters of cannabis policy. We would be more than happy to answer any questions you may have regarding medical or recreational cannabis policy, procedure, and more. DCD is available for presentations to municipal boards, for one-on-one meetings, and for consultations.

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