MI bill would withhold funds for health departments with K-12 mask mandates

NOW: MI bill would withhold funds for health departments with K-12 mask mandates

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. -- Michigan’s 2022 budget bill could strip funding from local health departments that issue mask mandates in schools. 

After protests and some school boards deferring to health departments for orders, the state legislature is stepping in.

In Senate Bill 82, there are two provisions regarding COVID-19.

Any state public agency cannot require vaccination for employees or customers, except as provided by federal law or as a condition for Medicare or Medicaid funding – such as hospitals and congregate care facilities. 

State funding could be withheld from local health departments if they enforce K-12 school mask orders come Oct. 1, when Gov. Whitmer is expected to sign the bill. 

That does not apply if a board of commissioners passes “a non-binding resolution by a record roll call vote to support any emergency orders” by a local health officer.

“It is very difficult for health departments to have their state funding at risk because they’re taking action in their local jurisdictions to keep people safe from coronavirus, specifically in school,” said Gillian Conrad, MPH, Communications Manager at the Berrien County Health Department.

The Dickinson-Iron District Health Department in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula made a release saying they “regretfully” had to rescind their mask order because it “jeopardizes future health department funding” including “health screenings, food management and infectious disease control.” 

Gillian Conrad at the Berrien County Health Department said officials are only acting under their legal authority.   

“The boilerplate language is directly contrary to what’s written into law in Michigan’s Public Health Code, our legal review has determined that it is most likely unenforceable as the governor has said.”

State Sen. Kim Lasata voted in favor of the bill and did not directly address the COVID provisions when asked for comment, but did say, “The final product is a bipartisan effort between the Senate, House and governor’s office that addresses the most important needs and issues facing our state.”

In Berrien County,  right now the mask mandate can be lifted once the county gets back to moderate community transmission for at least 21 days.

It’s an order the health department has not taken lightly.  

“Local health departments that have put orders in place requiring masks in schools didn’t do that just because they wanted to or it was an easy decision, we did this because we know it’s an important layer of protection,” said Conrad.

Even though masks are required in Berrien County schools regardless of vaccination, staff who got the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago are now eligible for a booster shot. 

Pfizer has also just submitted its trial data for ages 5-11 to the FDA.  

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