Michigan Republicans who helped themselves to pandemic relief funds return money after public outcry

Michigan Republicans who helped themselves to pandemic relief funds return money after public outcry

In Michigan, it isn't hard to find Republicans who have been railing against the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 — the pandemic relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law earlier this year — and slamming Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for supporting Biden's COVID-19-related policies. But according to Rolling Stone, the Guardian and other outlets, that didn't stop GOP commissioners in Shiawassee County from helping themselves to Rescue Plan funds. And it took a lawsuit and a public outcry for them to give the money back.

Rolling Stone's Peter Wade explains, "The Shiawassee County commissioners awarded themselves as much as $25,000 each for their in-person work during the COVID-19 pandemic while lower-income county employees received between $1000 and $2000 each. The funds were part of $557,000 of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds earmarked for hazard pay, and elected officials allocated 'the bulk of the funds to themselves, the Argus-Press in Ossowa, Mich. reported. But those funds were intended for workers whose jobs put them at risk of contracting coronavirus and whose jobs were greatly affected by the pandemic."

Wade notes that "six top-level officials, including Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeremy Root and Sheriff Brian BeGole, received $25,000."

"Other elected and appointed officials received $10,000 or $12,500 payments," Wade reports. "Four other commissioners received $5000 each."

The lawsuit came from Hemlock, Michigan resident Nichole Ruggiero. One of the commissioners, Marlene Webster, has said that when she voted in favor of disbursing the funds, she thought they were strictly for payments to essential workers and that she didn't think they would be going to commissioners. In a Facebook post on July 23, Webster posted, "Some of us believed we were voting to give about $2148 to county employees."

M Live quotes Webster as saying, "It's a blow to county workers' morale at a time when it's difficult to keep good workers ... I think (it shows) a serious lack of acknowledgment of what people did (during the pandemic)."

Webster also said, "That's an insult to the citizens of Shiawassee County."

Shiawassee County prosecutor Scott Koerner received $12,500 but is giving the money back and is saying that he believes the payments were illegal under Michigan law. In an official statement on July 23, Koerner said, "Not only am I not entitled to this money because of the Michigan constitution, but me giving the money back is just the right thing to do. I still hope that the hard-working frontline employees of the county continue to benefit from these moneys. They are the ones who deserve it."

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