LANSING, Mich. – In a marathon virtual hearing Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defended her actions during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic while criticizing the federal government for not having a national plan to fight the virus.
Whitmer, who read prepared remarks and answered questions from members on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, said states were left to fend for themselves when it came to getting critical supplies early on in the pandemic. She said state governments were forced to compete against foreign countries, other states and in some cases the federal government.
In one example she said shipments of supplies often don’t match what the state was told by the federal government it would be getting. While she thanked federal agencies like FEMA and HHS for working with he administration she called the inconsistencies in the supply chain “challenges.”
“We expect 180,000 swabs of diverse swabs, we get 180,000 foam swabs, we're grateful for the foam swabs but it means we can't do those tests that require the other types of swabs,” Whitmer said. “I've talked to my counterparts, some of whom have literally gotten Q-tips, which are unusable in COVID-19 tests.”
The most heated moments came between Whitmer and Michigan Rep. Tim Walberg (MI-7) who pressed her on why she was asking for more flexibility in federal funding when the state had not spent all of the $3.2 billion already given. Walberg said other states via the federal government should not have to shore up Michigan’s budget, suggesting Michigan’s spike in the coronavirus was caused by improper actions and spending extending from Whitmer’s office.
“When we were living on literally one shift's worth of masks, we were in desperate times, and that's why we had to take aggressive actions and they have worked and they have worked!” Whitmer said. Walberg interrupted at one point to say other states were in similar positions but were not in similar situations.
Whitmer has asked frequently for more flexibility in how states can use the federal funding dolled out during the pandemic in order to help localities and counties. The other governors testifying agreed in different degrees.
Republican members of the subcommittee hammered Whitmer repeatedly on her nursing home policy. The policy of placing COVID patients in nursing homes without strict testing or immediately reliable data has been roundly criticized both in the state legislature and among GOP members of the Michigan’s congressional delegation.
When she was asked to defend her policy Whitmer said “in retrospect” three were “a number of things” she would have changed, but defended the lag in quality reporting saying they wanted to count deaths where COVID-19 was not only the primary cause of death.
She also touched on the state’s racial disparity task force in charge of helping minority communities recover from the pandemic and prevent future harm from similar situations. The task force is being headed by Lt. Gov Gilchrist. Whitmer said the disparities could not be ignored.